Words are Everything

I was in one of those conversations the other day.

You know, the kind where you drift off into your own version of 127 Hours and have total clarity about what you’d do? (As in: you’d rather cut off your own arm to escape this than stay around for one moment longer).

Taking the masochist route, I stuck around for one simple reason: this obnoxious twit was using SAT words to forcibly imply their intelligence. It was rank – like they had just gargled skunk. I think I tore something resisting an eye-roll after he sprouted off a word that would decimate any Words With Friends opponent.

Anyway, it hit me that words are everything – including masks.

There’s a place for SAT words – on the SAT. That’s not to say you can’t sneak in an elegant word here or there, but if you’re using your words as a crutch to hide behind stupid ideas, you’re really just kidding yourself.

Put another way: you don’t need fancy words if your ideas are clear enough.

My theory? Jargon is why we can’t have nice things. Take my work for a client on adding a new service to their lineup. Here’s what I originally wrote:

We understand the commercial landscape maintenance needs of a wide variety of businesses. No two businesses are exactly alike and no two commercial landscapes can be managed exactly the same way. Whether you have one location or one hundred, run an office, a retail chain, an HOA, or a warehouse, [client] can address your unique landscape maintenance needs.

Miserable, right? I thought so. Reworded as if this was a restaurant…

We understand the appetite needs of a wide variety of people. No two stomachs are exactly alike and no two palates can be managed exactly the same way. Whether you have one mouth to feed or a hundred, run a daycare, a brothel, or just reproduce like a freaking rabbit, Instafoodpoisoning Diner can address your unique culinary needs.

Yuck. Who’d want to eat there? It’s not exactly a fair comparison, you know – because a restaurant and this client have different customers with different needs. I tweaked it to speak directly to the customer without a mess of fancy words:

For businesses with one storefront or one hundred, we’ve got you covered. No two commercial landscapes are exactly alike, and we won’t treat yours like just another greenbelt. Whether you run an office, a retail chain, an HOA, or a warehouse, [client] will keep your landscaping clean and inviting.

I also used a pretty common technique from public speaking, the one-way, indirect, call-and-response. You issue a problem the reader is likely to agree with and then provide a solution. Check it out:

  • I have multiple storefronts, can you handle that? We’ve got you covered.
  • I don’t want to be treated like just another greenbelt. We won’t.
  • I run a [whatever the client is], can you help me? Not only will we help you, we’ll make it clean and inviting.

You might be wondering – because I just thought about it too – why didn’t I just use a direct call-and-response like I did above and just list out questions with answers like an FAQ?

When you dumb it down that much, people get uppity that you’re putting words in their mouth. Worse, if you make a bad assumption, you’ll be answering the wrong kinds of questions.

“Eat here. Food good,” is not exactly a winning tagline unless you’re running a Caveman-themed restaurant (and if you are, it’s a brilliant idea and for the love of all that’s holy ask me to market it!) If Casa Bonita ever goes out of business, I’m closing down this blog, buying it, and making my dream of a Caveman-themed restaurant a reality. Think Jurassic Park meets Flintstones and you’ve got my premise. Who wants to invest?!

Good words take time. The client’s copy is nowhere near perfect, but it’s good enough to test at the moment.

Speaking of which, I want to let you know: I’m going to be launching a self-paced Marketing 101 course in July. It covers all the really important things I teach my clients, condensed into a 6 week class. Here’s what’s covered:

  • How to identify your best client, how to find them, and how to speak to them so they want to work with you
  • How to create, measure, and adapt your sales process into something that makes sense and doesn’t feel yucky
  • How to tweak your website content to get your readers from A-to-throwing-money-at-their-screens
  • How WTF Marketing creates a marketing campaign, end-to-end
  • How to stop screwing around with freebies, webinars, e-courses (full irony appreciated), and coupons and actually create a plan that will drive business in your next 6 months

Sound like fun? Let me know if you’re interested by letting me know in the comments the one thing that you want to take away from my Marketing 101 course.