words are important

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I was reading the paper this morning on president Obama’s state of the union speech and realized the word “politics” has become a dirty word. “We can get things done so long as politics don’t get in the way,” the speech suggested. When issues are “politicized” there is gridlock.   (I suspect this isn’t too different from the word “religious” or “beliefs” in the Middle East.) In the U.S. the word “diplomacy” is not a dirty word. It still suggests gridlock but in a more positive fashion. Using tools to work together. Compromising. Give and take. The word diplomacy is more leader-friendly. I once read that America Indian chiefs were not the greatest warriors but the ones whose decisions were most likely to help the tribe. (A learning moment when I lost my fraternity election.)

Words are important. How the meaning of a word evolves is also important. Very important. When words are used as weapons, take note. That’s why brand planners make a living listening. Contextualizing. Truly hearing. There are hollow words. Words that mean the opposite, e.g., transparent, return on investment. And there are pregnant words, words layered with meaning — ready to be unleashed. The latter is where we play. Seek them out and let them sell. Peace.



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Twitter is right, one of its great advantages at the moment is its ubiquity and lovely harmony with mobile.  My gut tells me though, that if it starts putting spammy ads into the flow, more so than what it’s doing now, twitter will be dinged by consumers.  And I’m a guy with a house paid for by ads. I believe Twitter will create its greatest value by being in the data business. Why?  Because words matter. The words we use in our twitter feeds, more than pictures, videos and song are what deeply define us. People who use the word “should” a lot are bossy. Users of the word “hate” tend toward intolerance. Even those , for instance, who hate Oreos.

What Twitter knows is words. And if they sell those words, translated into customer insights, they will sell at a premium. I’m not talking about buying keywords here – I’m talking customer profile and customer insight stuff. Think Nielsen.

As the data world abounds and we figure out privacy issues (invest in those companies) we will land on some important positive applications, e.g., electronic medical records.  Once we crest that wave and look past advertising in the stream, we’ll see that the data Twitter can provide will provide weighty real-time and long-time selling insights worth billions. Peace-ful.

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“This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. He looks black” was a quote by George Zimmerman, taker of Trayvon Markin’s life last March 22. NBCUniversal is being sued for playing this snippet because it was edited together and aired without the dispatcher’s question “O.K. and this guy – is he white, black or Hispanic?”

Words are important, but context more so. Taking the dispatcher’s question out of the mix created a whole new context for Mr. Zimmerman’s quote.

Context is rarely the enemy of the brand planner.  For those who work on brands with limited budgets, context (an idea pregnant with meaning) is your friend. Contextual turns of a phrase, e.g., “We know where you live” for Newsday, orwebertarian” for Zude.com (combing libertarian and web), use things already in people’s brains to convey information. Webertarian was the Zude target. Though webertarain was pregnant with meaning the product name Zude had little. It rhymed with dude and was similar to Zune but that’s it.  Without millions of dollars to promote it, the name was a poor choice. 

I have a hard time remembering people’s names.  How many Brian’s can you meet in a lifetime?  The American Indians had it right: Crooked Nose, Crazy Horse, Runs Like Deer…these names are memorable, narrative and contextual.

In brand planning you can build it or you can borrow it. Building is better when you are well-funded. Borrowing is faster but can be less differentiated. For my brand ideas, I use context as an appetizer and push for the new big idea as main course. Peace!

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“Words are important” is something I have been saying a lot lately.  Misuse of words. Random use of words.  Repetitive use of words — all minimize the promise.  What we do in the marketing business and the advertising business is attempt to find a creative use of words.  Words marketing thought leader Bob Gilbreath might call meaningful.

Nine tenths of marketing is words, so you’d better get them right.  One of my colleagues read me an email he received yesterday from an unknown spamming technology company. The email explained they offered the lowest price and custom solutions, they cared about what he cared about (if they did, they wouldn’t have spammed him), and listed every other marketing promise in the book.  And for good measure they repeated one or two.  We both giggled. A colossal waste of time. It was customer benefits-palooza.  “How could anyone not want our product/service” a would-be marketing director might ask?

The answer is — no one would care.  Because the email was written in the contemporary foreign language called marko-babble.  You can’t connect with buyers by using words strung together in marko-babble. It’s not a language.

Now I’m going out to look for some authentic friends. Hee hee.


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I was listening to a radio commercial this morning in which Joe Torre and the president of J.H. Cohen are prattling on about professionalism and category experience in the consulting and accounting business.  And it’s bad, so I’m really only listening for how poor the performances are — not really hearing the words.  And then president or announcer recites a list of fluff ending with “unmatched integrity.”  WTF!  Is anyone reading this shizz?

Advertising Claims

There was a time when you couldn’t just poop out claims on the radio. Or in print.  I suspect they are a little more vigilant in the TV standards and practices depts., but today you can say just about anything on the radio. Maybe that’s why advertising is so ineffective.  Anyone can say anything.  “Unmatched integrity?”

If Coors Light can say it’s the “world’s most refreshing beer,” what does that make all the competitors?  Is someone sleeping at the switch?  Words are important; anyone in marketing will tell you that.  As we make words less important, is it any wonder that we need the algorithm to help us find our arses.  Peace.

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