Choose your words carefully ­– picking the right words for marketing

A recent blog by business and marketing blogger Seth Godin about the power of positive words in marketing and customer relations, reminded me of one of my favourite topics – word choice.
I am a passionate believer in the power of words: not just any words – the right words. And the most powerful words are positive ones. I am talking about the art form of turning negative words, phrases or ideas into positively framed language.
Some may call it ‘spin’, and in a previous life, I have been referred to as a spin doctor. Actually I’m a persuasive content specialist or a wordsmith.
I don’t believe putting a positive spin on things is about lying or being untruthful. I don’t condone the use of deceptive language in marketing.
I do advocate framing communication in a positive light wherever possible, as long as what you are saying has a basis in truth and is believable. 
Using positive language in marketing is a powerful tool, whether you are trying to manage a difficult issue, crisis or topic, or you are trying to make the most of a marketing opportunity and want to influence consumer behaviour.
It is particularly useful to use positive language when addressing a negative situation. I have found that customers will forgive almost anything. I say ‘almost’ anything, if they feel they are being heard and you react to their problem in a positive way.
In our previous blog we talked a lot about how to give exceptional customer service, but none of it means agreeing to impossible customer demands. It means, instead of saying ‘no I can’t’, you focus on ‘what I can do’. Whether your business is at fault or not is irrelevant it is about leaving the customer with the feeling they have been heard and you are responding on a positive level. It can be as simple as saying ‘I’m sorry (customer’s name) you feel that way. What I can do is….’.
Seth Godin says it perfectly in his blog: ‘when you speak clearly and with respect, you not only communicate more effectively, but people are less likely to blame you when something goes wrong’.
Here are the examples Seth gives of how to turn negatives into positives.
‘ABSOLUTELY NO CREDIT CARDS vs To keep our prices as low as possible, we only accept cash. The good news is that there’s an ATM next door.
NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LOST OR STOLEN ITEMS vs Careful! We’d like to watch your stuff for you, but we’re busy making coffee.
BATHROOMS FOR PATRONS ONLY vs Our spotlessly clean restrooms are for our beloved customers only, so come on in and buy something! Also, there’s a public bathroom in the library down the street.’
Where there is an obvious negative you can use humour to turn it into an opportunity, as long as it is done carefully.
A few years ago a budget hostel in Amsterdam embraced its reputation for poor facilities by embarking on a marketing campaign of the best ‘worst hotel in the world’. They didn’t pretend to be anything other than a budget hostel for backpackers and used clever ads and signage including one that encouraged those who want to shower to dry off using the curtains to save on washing and in turn ‘save the planet’.
Positive marketing language tips
Here are some of my tips for powerful marketing language based on positive words:
  • Avoid the word ‘no’ or ‘not’
  • If you can’t do something, instead focus on ‘what we can do is…’
  • Instead of communicate and tell, try engage or consult
  • Instead of educate, try train, coach, mentor
  • Try saying challenges or opportunities instead of issues or problems
  • Instead of ‘we can’t until…’, try ‘we will as soon as…’
  • Instead of ‘Entry will not be accepted without a ticket’ try ‘Present your ticket to gain entry’
  • Check everything you write for ‘negative’ connotations or associations. Ask how do I feel when I hear/read this? What is my reaction? Ask someone else to check it before you finalise the communication and ask them the same questions.
  • It is incredibly important to check the written word for possible negative associations as it is difficult to convey tone in written language. This is even more critical now that so much is written and published almost immediately via social media, online and mobile.
If you still don’t believe me about the power of positive language, read this article at Psychology Today that explains why ‘no’ is the most dangerous word in the world.
The article refers to several studies and research that demonstrates that the use of the word ‘no’ can release dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters, interrupting the normal functioning of your brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing and communication.
It goes on to say that just seeing a list of negative words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse. It says negative language can damage key structures that regulate your memory, feelings, and emotions, disrupt sleep and appetite, as well as the ability to experience long-term happiness and satisfaction.
Goes to show you that every word counts in marketing!
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Kylie Fennell
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2 thoughts on “Choose your words carefully ­– picking the right words for marketing

  1. Great advice! A worthwhile read. Thanks Kylie.

  2. Thanks Nicole. Glad you enjoyed it.

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