Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear



Shorter is Better

When it comes to slogans and taglines, what’s the goal?

MEMORY—you want people to think of you — remember you – buy from you, because it’s you they REMEMBER. The question is HOW?

Sometimes the answer is simply to just stop talking. Seriously.

When was the last time you purchased a product, shopped in a store or bought a service because they TALKED YOU INTO IT?

People hate to be sold, but they love to buy.

Now some of you might be saying “What about long sales letters?” – Long sales letters work because people SCAN them, and CHOOSE what to read. But each individual point must be simple and clear, and any good sales letter will be full of pithy, memorable, attention-getting quotes – especially when it comes to branding.

The truth is, sometimes we say too much—cross the line—out-talk the sale—over-pitch the product—lose the sale.

If you take nothing else away this week, REMEMBER this: Use small words and short sentences. Sometimes, it’s best not to use a sentence at all. Use a phrase instead.

Here’s a couple of examples where phrases are used as taglines instead of sentences:

Instead of “Do you have any milk?” the tagline is “Got milk?”

Instead of “Every drop tastes delicious,” the tagline is “Good to the last drop.”

See how clear the message is, and how catchy it sounds, when we eliminate all the noise.

Use language to clarify, not to obscure. If you’re going to sell to the masses, you’ve got to speak to the masses. Speak their language. And consider this: even as recently as the end of 2008, less than half of all Americans were college-educated. The average American is NOT going to respond very well to big words and long sentences. In fact, they won’t respond at all.

The key to creating great marketing taglines is to use short, snappy phrases rather than long, drawn-out sentences. Taglines get even more powerful when you add visuals. Visual cues naturally add clarity and credibility. That’s what’s we’ll look at in the next insight.

When I Say “Plop Plop”, You Say…

A simple visual aide could double your sales.

Alka-Seltzer did. Sales had slumped.

In comes Plop Plop Fizz Fizz—Oh what a relief it is! Prior to that stunning visual example, no one knew HOW MANY tablets to use!—That’s two plops—Sales doubled!

What about your product? What SOUND does it make? What does it FEEL like? How many people do you think saw those Alka- Seltzer commercials and thought, “I never knew that!” That’s the goal. Spin what they’re used to and make it NEW. It’s a brand new take on an old idea.

Then be consistent. Drive it home. Tell them again. And again. And again. ‘Til they can SEE it—VISUALIZE it.

And there’s four things you need to know when you’re creating the visual aids for your business.

  • Be Credible—say what you mean. Mean what you say.
  • Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
  • Offer something new.
  • Sound and texture matter.

Sometimes having something there for customers to actually see will make all the difference. And sometimes, we need to help them focus on something they’ve already been visualizing in their own minds. That’s exactly what Barack Obama’s presidential campaign accomplished, and it’s what we’ll look at in the third insight.

Speak Aspirationally

How many Barack Obama catch phrases can you name in the next 10 seconds?

e.g. “Yes We Can” “We are the Change” “We Can Change”

Now, how many McCain catch phrases can you name?

For better or worse, whether you like the guy or not, no one can deny the fact that President Barack Obama used words that work. Throughout his entire presidential campaign, he drew on the hearts and minds of voters from every age, race, and social status. His words grabbed hold of hundreds of millions of people, and never let go.

How did that happen? Because he speaks aspirationally. His campaign made people think about not just their lives, but how much better their lives could be.

What the right words did for Obama’s campaign is exactly what the right words can do for your business.

Dr. Luntz explains it perfectly as, “language taps into people’s idealized self-image, showing them a picture of the other, better life that they wish they had, the life that feels like it’s just out of reach right now… but that your product may finally help them grasp.”

You want people to be affected by your marketing materials in a way that gets them thinking some part of their life will be greatly improved if they buy into what you’re selling.


When we’re talking about affecting someone’s mindset, the best way to do that is by personalizing what you have to offer and reaching out to your customer’s vision.

Forget Your Vision… Empower Your Customer’s Vision

You probably have a vision for your future. A vision for your company. A vision for your customers. But that’s a trap. When you start using your own vision as a guide for selling to your customers, you’re not personalizing.

No one will want what you have until they can see themselves with it. So, your message must be PERSONAL.

Is there a way to make your message PERSONAL to each of the 300 million people who may possibly come in contact with it? YES.

The key to making things personal is by giving fewer details rather than more. Use interactive websites that let the customer decide where to go next. Ask questions to let them decide what they need rather than you telling them what they need.

Demonstrate a benefit of your product or service and then ASK, “How could this help you?”

Sometimes it’s not what you say but what you ask that really matters. Asking questions gets the customer thinking, visualizing, and personalizing your product to their own situation. This ties directly to what we discussed a few weeks ago in SPIN Selling.

Besides asking questions, we’ve also got to use the right words. There are some words that add power to whatever your message is. We’ll look at those for the last insight.

Use Power Words

How many great slogans you can bring to mind?

Got Milk?   Good to the Last Drop More Bars in More Places    Can You Hear Me Now?     Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand

The list goes on and on. But, what makes them unique? MEMORABLE?

They all have the plain and practical qualities of words that work: Simplicity, brevity, credibility, consistency, novelty, sound, aspiration, visualization, questioning, and context.

There’s more to it than that, though.

There’s also the matter of USING the RIGHT words. Words that work are the ones who use the mind of the audience more so than the mind of the speaker in order to accomplish a task. Rather than saying, “I am imagining…” using the word “IMAGINE…” puts the most personalized image of the product in each and every consumer’s mind.

Throw the grammar book out the window. Short, snappy sounds work. If the grammar rules don’t fit—forget ‘em! You’ve got to work with the words until you find that magical combination that sticks.

It would be nice to be a master at wordsmithing. But if you’re just not that great with words, sprinkle your copy with some power words. These are the words that make just about any marketing material work.

  • Imagine
  • Hassle-free
  • Lifestyle
  • Accountability
  • Innovation
  • Renew, Revitalize, Rejuvenate, Restore, Rekindle, Reinvent
  • Patient-Centered
  • Investment
  • Casual Elegance
  • Independent
  • Peace of Mind
  • Certified
  • All-American
  • Prosperity
  • Spirituality
  • Financial Security

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