Changing Minds by Changing Words

  Finding the right words – crafting an exact persuasive image – is like using your pen as a surgeon’s scalpel. Of course, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to craft a strong slogan, but those delicate shifts in word choice can certainly affect how people’s brains process the message.

I’ve purposely avoided political topics in this blog, which may explain my silence over the past week or so. (“If you can’t say anything nice…”) But here are a few interesting shifts in propaganda on hot topics worth noting.

GLOBAL WARMING: Is it getting cold again? The latest Farmer’s Almanac claims that we may have a long, cold winter this season. They cite lots of natural indicators, like early fog and more nuts on the trees than usual.  Globally, there are many scientific sources (from actual meteorologists) who fear that global warming may simply be popularized bad science. My three lousy science classes in college do not really qualify me to form an opinion on this matter – I’m just focused on the words.

So, when it’s February in northeast Ohio, where’s Al Gore when you need him?

Well, it’s tough to host a Global Warming rally in the snow. So the advocates carefully shifted the conversation to “Climate Change.” Smart move, as the climate is always changing. That’s what climates do. How can one argue against that?

The well-crafted shift from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change” helps keep their momentum.

WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE: Here’s a hot one… the abortion issue. How a bloody means of birth control has been linked to women’s status in our society and their economic well-being is beyond me. But the movement may be taking a more direct approach to their propaganda.

“A Woman’s Right to Choose” as a slogan may be losing effectiveness. To counter that, in comes “A Woman’s Right to Privacy.” From Choice to Privacy. A brilliant shellgame of words that completely changes the argument. After all, who dare take a stand that a woman shouldn’t have “privacy,” when what they really want to say is that they shouldn’t kill their unborn child. It changes the argument completely.

The scary thing is about such propaganda on both topics is that the public may hardly even notice the change in words at all, only that their opinions on the topic may be changing. The power of a strong word choice can be mesmerizing. 

If shifts in words can create shifts in public opinion when it comes to hot topics like these, imagine what a powerful slogan or tagline can do for you when it comes to your business.

You don’t necessarily have to change the argument to win. But the right words can help change minds and grow your base like never before.


Slogan Sandwich: Messages Have Layers

 Yesterday, as I drove past a deli in my neighborhood, I saw a banner advertising a brand of lunchmeat.

The sign read: “Take Back Lunch” with the company logo below.

Maybe my mind is wired differently than most, but I immediately thought that if you have to “take back” your lunch, then you must’ve lost your lunch for some reason.

Hmmm…

Associating “losing your lunch” with a line of deli meats may not have been the marketing team’s direct intention. Nonetheless, it follows the train of thought of some consumers.

I’m sure this company wanted to encourage people to pack their lunch, to make time for themselves while enjoying a great sandwich using their meats and cheeses. But so many other slogans could accomplish this goal without a hint of… well, vomiting.

On the bright side, it did get my attention… and it certainly helped tattoo the brand on my brain. It’s probably just not the initial impression they were looking for.

Moral of the story: Don’t be so married to a slogan that you block out other interpretations of your message. Invite opinions, test it out, and be open to the feedback. It helps build a stronger message… and that’s what it’s all about.


Patron Saints of… Marketing?

 It is better to be a hammer than an anvil.”
                                             – St. Dominic de Guzman

When you’re creating a brand, you’re crafting a message you hope will resonate and last for a long time. One that makes you stand out… one that is memorable.

I’ve always been curious about how the stories of people (and their messages) have been able to survive through the ages. When you consider historic saints, for instance, you typically have a crazy rebellious person of legendary actions. Heck, some were so persuasive that people today still devote their lives to them, or honor them in quiet ways. How many St. Francis of Assisi statues decorate gardens in your town? Quite a few in mine.

One of my favorite saints is Saint Dominic, who must have been fantastic at the art of persuasion. He started the Order of Preachers back in 1215. Born of wealthy parents, he traveled parts of Europe, sharing stories with people and correcting false information about Christian teachings. To help make his point about the perils of a worldly life (versus living simply), he practiced extreme self denial, wore uncomfortable clothes and slept on the floor instead of the beds provided.

In other words, he wrapped himself in his message.

Saint Dominic and others like him are fine examples of how personal branding can last for centuries – if your message is authentic and if its done right, with the right intentions. Here are some examples:

1) Logo and image – A dog with a torch in its mouth, and a star from his chest are both visions his mother is said to have seen around the time of Dominic’s birth. Now they’re part of his iconic images.

2) Consistent message – History books say that Dominic never spoke a work unless it was to praise God. Not a word. No “do you think it will rain?” No “these sandals are killing me.” Not a word that was not consistent with his message and his mission.

3) Stand out in the market – Dominic was passionate. He knew his market, who he wanted to persuade, and he was inspired to be as different from the existing “brands” (heretics) as possible. In his dress, in his behavior, in his message… “It is not by the display of power and pomp, cavalcades of retainers, and richly-hosteled palfreys, or by gorgeous apparel, that the heretics win proselytes; it is by zealous preaching, by apostolic humility, by austerity, by seeming, it is true, but by seeming holiness. Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth.”

4) Words supported by image – He wrapped himself in his brand, and he acted in a manner completely consistent with his message.

When you consider your own branding approach, both personally and corporately, what messages do you send? Are they consistent with the mission and goals for your business – and for your life?

When you offer “the full package,” you may not earn sainthood, but you’ll certainly be a top choice in your market to reach the clients who need you most. Be inspiring, and may your journey be Blessed!


The Marketing F-word: Focus

  Many small businesses make marketing changes on blind faith. They read a business book, or hear the gurus say things like “Change is good.” So they ponder and plan, then launch themselves into uncharted waters.

One of my favorite cliches is “You can’t expect different results by doing things the same way.” But you do have to be smart about it. And there’s a single element that can make all the difference, for more intelligent marketing.

It’s called Focus. Pick your path… one path… and go with it.

Those trash-mouthed marketing folks throw this F-word around all the time. But for some small businesses, Focus really is a dirty word. They remain stuck in neutral because of fear – fear of the changes that come when honing in on a single specialty area, or fear that their business will suffer by not promoting all of their services. No matter what the experts tell them, they truly believe that changing their marketing, focusing on the one thing they do best is too risky, or too expensive.

When you’re a small business trying to make a dent in your market, it’s vital to take a clean, focused approach. Of course part of you wants to cling to old ways and old ideas. So you hesitate… you want to hedge your bets… cut your losses. Bad idea.

Only when you focus in a single concept in your marketing messages will you begin to see better results.

Advertising and marketing is all about teaching your audience about your brand. It’s kinda like college. Offer a lecture of too many topics and your “class” of clients will glaze over, zone out, and forget everything you just said. But stick to a single focused topic and you have a much stronger chance of the message taking hold.

Focus also goes beyond mere slogans and tagline messages. Better results come from having a strong identity… knowing what you do best, and for whom. Marketing that reveals your confidence, along with a clear message, only strengthens your marketing approach.

That tricky F-word can make all the difference.


The Zen of Marketing

 Sometimes we become an obstacle to our own success. The trick is to get out of your own way to allow great things to flow. For marketing messages, this means the flow of ideas… of creativity… of uniquely effective wording. When crafting better marketing, what we think we know (our assumptions) ends up limiting us from potential brilliance.

Over the weekend, I picked the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,” by Shunryu Suzuki. My friend Monica Day recommended it to me a couple of months ago. She once told me that I should approach each project with a “Beginner’s Mind,” a fresh outlook. Ignore your past impressions, stereotypes, experiences and prejudices. See the thing as it truly is – as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Once I did this, amazing things began to flow, to the delight of my clients!

When you consider your marketing, you may find that your approach has evolved from the campaign before it, and the campaign before that. But when you examine your message as it is today… without regard to its history… is it as strong a message as it could be?

Taking a “Beginner’s Mind” approach helps you see things in a fresh light when evaluating a fresh marketing approach. When working with your creative team, remind them of the “knowns,” but don’t limit them.

Encourage them to have a Beginner’s Mind as they work on your campaign. Only then do you see things as your customers do. Only then can you invite the flow of fresh creativity you deserve to help your business grow.


George Carlin’s Art for Words

  In the early ’80s when I was in high school, I had two strange hobbies. One was memorizing song lyrics. The other was memorizing comedy. Comedy movies, yes… and stand-up comedy, absolutely! As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the impact of the perfect phrase, the right wording that provokes a response.

One of my very favorite stand-up routines ever caught on film was George Carlin’s “Live from Carnegie Hall.” Cerebral… side-splitting… brilliant.

More than 20 years later, in what was probably one of his last interviews, George Carlin shares his take on his craft. Be it comedy or marketing – it’s all about artfully crafting the right words to trigger the reaction you’re looking for. For comedy writing, Carlin was a master.

Here’s an excerpt from that interview. You can read more at http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2008/jun/10/casals-comedy-doesnt-do-jokes/.

“This is my art. This is what I do. You wouldn’t ask Pablo Casals … let me tell you about Pablo Casals, … the famous cellist. He was considered the virtuoso of the cello, certainly the greatest cellist in the 20th century. He was in his 90s… and doing an occasional — an occasional — recital, but he rehearsed three hours a day, regardless.

Someone said to him, “You know, Pablo, you’re in your 90s now. You’re a past master. Everyone knows you’re an accomplished cellist. Everyone knows you’re a virtuoso. Why do you still practice three hours a day?” He said, “Well, I’m beginning to notice some improvement.”

That says it all about artists. You’re never finished. There’s always somewhere to go. There’s always deeper to dig. Artists are never satisfied. There’s always a vague dissatisfaction going on that they haven’t really said it yet, they haven’t really found it yet. I realize I’m just an entertainer, but when you write your own stuff then you’re dabbling in art — because writing is an art — and you’re composing and creating from nothing, from just your impressions. I do this because I love it. I’ll probably do it for a long, long time.”

A long time, but unfortunately not long enough. Thank you, Mr. Carlin. Goodbye.


Death of the fluffy tagline

I witnessed some “interesting” advice on taglines the other day. Last Saturday, I attended a leadership training for a volunteer organization. One of the handouts included an article about crafting your personal tagline, written by a woman who probably could use some tagline help herself. 

According to the article, she says:
My tagline for my counseling and coaching practice is this: “The permissionary – a visionary realist to help you discover and manifest your dreams.”

Maybe it’s me, but when I read that, I only see her as a phony-bologna constultant who’s full of beans. That’s probably not the look she was going for.

Can a visionary be a realist? (although I like the play on words by itself) Is permissionary a real word, and do I need to look it up? (I did… and it’s obscure.)

C’mon here! Let’s get real.

Perhaps a better approach is to take your “full of beans” tagline and dissect it to get at the heart of what you want people to know about your business – in language that makes sense to them. Save the fluff for your mission statement.

This sample tagline uses lofty vanilla concepts, and it’s a bit too long to be memorable. It’s time to boil it down to what’s essential… simplify it… and then say it.

Off the top of my head, I’d rather see something like:
“Dream… Plan… Do.”
“Your Dreams… with a Deadline.” 
“Get There, Faster.”
“Visionary Realists”
“Giving Focus to Your Life’s Vision.”
“Your Destiny by Design”

Okay, that’s enough for now. I could do this all day. (In fact… I DO do this all day at Slogan Studio.) 

So what do you think? What tagline would you suggest to our wordy consultant friend? Which one do you like best and why? And as I come up with more, I’ll post them in the comments.