It was much later in my sales career that I really started to realise the importance of learning to write persuasively. One of the first big books I read was 'Words that Work' by Frank Luntz. Its a big but fascinating, book about the powerful impact of word choice and positioning of language. Words have helped to win elections, get a raise or even get an seat upgrade on an airplane. It reflects the reality that many times "it's not what people say, it's what people hear that matters".
If you know of Frank Luntz many people applaud him for being honest about the communication strategies used in politics. Underneath it all he has simply exposed the truth of how we receive and interpret words that work. It's the person with a clear, simple and succinct message that wins most of the time.
There are a number of lessons to be learnt from this book. Just like a politician, to be an effective communicator we must understand our customers/audience completely in terms of their reality, beliefs, needs, demographics, education, social standing, gender, and economic status. All this can play a huge part in our communication.
How do you influence what people hear? Well the book outlays some helpful rules of highly effective communication. Rules that, if applied, will greatly increase your ability to influence and get people to move.
- Simplicity: Use small words and keep it simple. Practice if you need to and use speech most often used by every-day people. The most effective language clarifies rather than confuses. The more understandable it is the more credible it will be.
- Brevity: Use short sentences. One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes says "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead". Writing concisely is a learned skill and a vital one for business communication. Evaluate your regular messages to colleagues or clients. Are you being brief? Where could you improve?
- Credibility is as important as philosophy. Be honest about what you can deliver. People won't buy from you if they don't believe you. President Lincoln once said "you can't fool all of the people all of the time". If your words lack sincerity or contradict accepted facts, they lack impact.
- Consistency matters! Don’t just say it once, say it a thousand times. You'll find the most recognised personalities and brands in the world have one core message. They may speak on different topics but their message or theme is stated where ever and whenever they speak. For Barack Obama it was 'Hope and Change'. For Avis as far back as 1962 it was "We try harder". Four decades later they are the number 2 rental company in the world. What is your one core message?
- Novelty: Offer something new. Avoid clichés and stating known ideas that people would dismiss. Frank Luntz reminds us that "words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea". Jesus himself used parables to challenge known practices in a different way. In the 1950's Volkswagen started a campaign called 'Think Small' at a time when promotion of larger cars was prominent. For many of our businesses we need to be novel to be heard. What new question or way of breaking away from the norm can you use to be heard by your customers?
- Sound and Texture matter. Rhyme, cadence, assonance and alliteration can all improve the memorability of your message. Why do we use things like alliteration and acronyms? They're easier to remember. Probably the most alliterative man on the planet is Jesse Jackson, e.g The Million Man March. Some world-class brands use alliteration: Krispy Kreme, Coca-Cola, Ted Talks and Mickey Mouse. Consider phrases like profitable package, tedious tasks, money matters and deathly disease.
- Speak Aspirationally. Speak to your audience’s emotional desires. What do they really want? Messages need to say that you understand someone's hopes, fears and dreams. This takes real empathy, real research and real conversation. Many of us have heard the quote "people will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel". How do you want to make your audience, wife, child or customer feel?
- Paint a Vivid Picture (Use language that lets your listeners visualise what you’re saying). Lets take M&M's message, "it melts in your mouth not in your hands". This is extremely sensual and provocative. Lexus' slogan is"the passionate pursuit of perfection". Imagine is probably the most powerful communication tool, because it allows people to create their own vision. Check out this link to many ways you can use the word imagine. HERE
- Ask a Question. People react best to language that is participatory. Some of the most powerful and memorable ad campaigns of the past decade started with a question. Although usually rhetorical, we recognise the power of a great question because it gets us to think differently. Take the example of Ronald Reagan vs Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election: "Are you better off today tan you were four years ago?" How could you use a question like that in your customer engagement today?
- Provide Context and Explain Relevance. Tell people the why before you tell them the what. Gregory Bateson, the English anthropologist and scientist, said "Without context words and actions have no meaning at all". It is a skill to be able to extract and get to the root of context. It takes reflection, understanding and clarity. Without context you cannot establish a message's value, its impact or ,most importantly, its relevance. Before communicating ask yourself, why is this relevant now?
Do you know how effective the words you use are when communicating with customers, colleagues and clients?
Do you know what words might be getting in the way of you being even more effective?
If you're interested in knowing how to increase your influence with your customers and how to apply some of these principles to your own customer communication get connected to my customer growth email series HERE. You can start the process of learning a new framework of thinking to growth. www.jermaineedwards.com
Founder of the Key Account Hack System - New Key Account thinking that transforms customer relationships and creates predictable sales growth.