[Editor's Note: The following guest post was written by Jake Sorofman, founding partner of Marketlever, a boutique content and engagement marketing consultancy. Jake is a career CMO and software executive who has worked with early-stage and growth-stage companies.]
I believe in the power of words. For me, the rhythm of language—when words are crafted, composed, and committed with an artful intent and a conviction to clarity—is about as viscerally satisfying as anything else I know.
As a true word nerd, perhaps my reaction is extreme. But I believe language touches all of us.
Words stir emotion. They awaken our senses. They inspire us to do better. To take action.
Poets and songwriters get this intuitively because their craft depends on an economy of language and density of meaning beyond other forms. Every word counts. So do the spaces between the words—what remains unsaid to engage imagination. And perhaps most of all, the sound made by words set in combination—the rhythm of language that turns words into their own form of music—is also huge.
In my opinion, the marketing profession hasn’t been particularly kind to language. Of course, ad copy can be a form of poetry in its own right—and sometimes it’s artful and inspired. But the average content generated by marketing organizations is boring at best and shameful at worst.
The good news is that the rise of social marketing has brought free market forces that drive quality. By closing the loop through social engagement, we’re able to quickly identify the best and the worst of what we produce. In general, it’s a structural shift that has had a positive impact on the net quality of the content produced by marketing professionals.
But we can still do much better.
Our very best communicators and storytellers use language as a tool—to draw audiences in and to win their rapt attention. Suspend any political bias and consider President Obama for his impressive skill as communicator, particularly when he’s in campaign mode. Part of what he demonstrates is a gift, the inimitable combination of innate and experiential. But, I believe it’s also a careful and considered approach to the selection of words, construction of sentences, and cadence of delivery.
Like most of us, President Obama has an agenda to shape opinion. Like the best poet, he uses language to engage emotionally. So did President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill. They all understood that words matter.
All of this has implications for marketing. To be fair, sweeping campaign rhetoric may not have a direct role in your marketing programs. But you can take inspiration from the deep, abiding respect for the power of language to shape thought and influence action.
Gone are the days (mercifully) of the better-faster- cheaper platitude. So are formulaic problem-solution-impact case-study-style value statements and self-congratulatory claims that you’re “the leading provider” of all things “best in class.”
Today, audiences expect smart, authentic, and human. The substance of an idea is necessary, but not sufficient to the goal of creating true audience and community engagement. Think of the last time you heard a great idea that was communicated with style and grace, packaged to bring a simple clarity to an otherwise complex notion.
Chances are, you kept that with you. We’re drawn to simple and clear explanations, particularly when they help you make sense of a challenge or dilemma you care about. If you can help your community frame a problem and articulate a solution in a way that cuts through the muck, then you’ve won. You’ve spoken to your audience in a way they will appreciate and remember.
The goal is to use language to draw in your audience by being unexpected, interesting, and even a little poetic—but then to capture their attention by giving them the tools they can use to think.
The idea isn’t to brand your way of thinking in some restrictive and proprietary way; it’s to transfer ownership to your community, allowing them to make it their own and frame their world.
President Kennedy told you to “… Ask what you can do for your country.” Steve Jobs suggested we should “Think Different.” President Obama told us, “Yes, we can!” And you can, too. The point is that, in the age of social marketing, bad marketing can hurt you as much as great marketing can help you. You are judged for what you say and how you say it.
That’s why words matter.