10 Rules for Effective Language

*Posted from ActiveRain Blog*

10 Rules for effective Language (another book review)

As some of you Active Rain bloggers know I’m an active reader. Recently I was at Borders and happened across this new gem. “Words That Work, It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear”, by Dr. Frank Lutz. What perked my interest was the inside book cover. There was a direct quote from Al Franken that made me laugh, “Language is like music. Unfortunately, the Republicans have a Paul McCartney in the person of Frank Luntz. Somehow, we Democrats got stuck with Yoko Ono.” That of course made me chuckle, and so I read the rest of the bio. He also helped the republicans with the wording of their 1994 victory in the House, ” Contract for America”, and also was instrumental in changing the debate on the estate tax, “Death Tax” as he coined it, which stuck and is used by others today.

Basically the guy is a brilliant when it comes to using language. He also makes sure that you understand that the common American isn’t into Harvard/Yale vocabulary, but they want it simple and concise. He said that we’re even moving further into a “picture” or video world, with communication of the written and verbal language being reduced to quick sound bites. Therefore the sound bites need to be carefully thought out, and allot more thought then I ever believed is put into the jingles and marketing that we purchase from companies every day. He also gave us 10 rules of language that I’d like to go over as well.

(10 Rules of Language ~ Dr. Frank Luntz, commentary in bold is direct quote, regular type is my commentary)

10 Rules for Effective Language

Simplicity, use small words…. basically he demonstrates that some of the all time highest rated products and companies have developed short and concise jingles. He basically points out how companies like Kentucky Fried Chicken have shortened their names to KFC, or Oil of Olay to just Olay. If you look at the movies we watch like T2,T3 (terminator movies), or MI2 or MI3 (Mission Impossible). Sometimes less is better in the name of your business.

Brevity:Use short sentences… basically he points out that 3 to 4 word sentences are great when it comes to describing your product or message. He points out that shorts beats long, and plain beats complex. And sometimes a visual beats them all.
Credibility is as important as philosophy… This was a great one, because of the example he used in regards to companies that love to recycle old idea’s and claim they are new. Basically he points out that your communication must be credible, and you cannot fool your audience.

Consistency Matters… This rules points to a repetition in your communication. He pointed out that too many politicians would insist on new talking points on a daily basis. This often diluted their message and the voters had a hard time understanding what they stood for. I’ve heard that a message needs to be repeated 7 times before it finally lodges in our craniums. Think of all the times you’ve watched a commercial, then try and remember how many times you watched the same commercial before the jingle or melody became something you remembered.

Novelty: Offer something new … I love this quote, “In Plain English, words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea”. At first I thought this rule conflicted with rule #3, I basically understood the difference in regards to the business actually being different or a business that truly uses a new way to teach old idea’s or concepts. Example is the Mortgage Planning movement. Some people have basically said, “What’s the big deal?, it sounds like your still a mortgage loan officer”. True, but if they had to ask that question then I have not been clear that the product is still a mortgage, but what is unique is that mortgage loan officers have really never risen to the “adviser”, or “planner” level.

Sounds and Texture Matter…. The sounds and texture of what you communicate should make your client or audience gasp! In other words that your clients will relate to, like the phrase, “Snack, Crackle, and Pop”, Rice Krispies. The funny thing is that a bowl of Rice Krispies actually sounds like that! He also suggested that music has a powerful affect on the message your relating. Example was Alka-Seltzers, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is”. Sound and texture do make the message much more recallable, I can’t count the number of times I’ve remembered a product because of how it made me feel, or a music jingle I remembered.

Speak Aspirationally… This was a nice rule regarding how the message makes you feel. As mortgage and real estate professionals this shouldn’t be too hard to think of when putting together a phrase. Think about the emotional benefit a home brings to your audience and then relate that in a your communication.

Visualize….. A picture is worth a thousand words, and if your message can get someone to visualize then your in good shape. Dr. Lutz used several political examples of this process, but one he used in commercial advertising was Dodge Pickups famous visual, “Grab life by the horns”, which basically conveyed to me that driving a dodge truck was manly, exciting, and I would be powerful behind the wheels of my new Dodge Ram Truck.

Ask a question… Everyone should remember this one from the 80’s, “Is it live, or is it Memorex”, or for those who are too young how about this one from Verizon Wireless, “Can you hear me now”. Basically asking questions are fantastic when it comes to marketing your message. Attorney’s call this rhetorical questioning and use it all the time. Robert Shapiro was great at using this type of questioning, he would use it on his juries in a brilliant way. If the jurist had believed that his client was guilty before hearing the actual case, Shapiro would quickly destroy that belief with a series of rhetorical questions.

Provide Context and Explain Relevance…. You have to give the people a reason why before you can tell them the reason to go forward. In other words their must be a need for the public to respond to your message, you need to indentify the why before you can explain your solution to their needs. Dr. Lutz used several great political and commercial examples, one of the most famous was James Carville’s famous quote that the Clinton campaign used successfully against George Bush Sr., “It’s the economy Stupid”, another good commercial example of this process is American Express with it’s, “Don’t leave home without it”. That strikes to the core of why we need our AMEX card, how many times when on vacation have you worried about your wallet or other valuables.

So again I’ve found another Gem of a book, and I’m only into the book 2 chapters. I highly recommend it just based on the two chapters I’ve read.

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