What’s in a Name? A Lot!


Flying book - orig“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Juliet from the play, “Romeo and Juliet.”

What’s in a name? A lot, as it turns out in the recent debate over the Santa Barbara News-Press’ use of the name “illegals” for “undocumented immigrants.” The newspaper’s leaders defended their use of illegals as an accurate depiction of people who are in the country illegally. Immigrant rights groups decried it as a pejorative term and called for a boycott of the paper.

No matter which side of the debate you may favor, it’s clear that words are powerful. A name, a word or a phrase can evoke entirely different emotions and leave entirely different perceptions among different groups of people and among different individuals.

The key to winning communications is to understand the audience you’re trying to reach and how the words you use will be received. What matters is what people hear – rather than what we say. In an successful communications plan, understanding the intended audiences will effectively guide your word choices and messages.

Listing those audiences, and then envisioning an individual in each audience will help you understand how your messages will be received. Creating a portrait of the individual can be done by answering questions like these: Who is that person? What is his/her age, background and educational level? What does s/he like and not like. What does s/he do for a living? Where does s/he live? Does s/he have children? If so, how many and what ages?

Once you have that complete portrait, here are some basic rules for developing the words and messages for each target audience:

  1. Keep it Simple: Use small words and short sentences. That’s how we talk, and that’s how we should communicate in writing, public speaking, broadcasting, etc.
  2. Be credible: Audiences will see through the bogus claims, and they won’t believe anything else you’re saying.
  3. Be consistent: Repetition is important in driving a message home. Finding slightly different ways to convey the same concept will ensure your audiences get the message without being annoyed by the repetition of the same phrases over and over.

While every communications program differs, the psychology department at Yale University has compiled what it says are the 10 most powerful words in the English language for advertisers. Perhaps some of these will help you:

  1. You: Listed as the No. 1 most powerful word in every study Yale reviewed. It’s a favorite for ad copywriters.
  2. Results: It rationalizes an action, a purchase or a donation.
  3. Health: Especially powerful when it applies to a product.
  4. Guarantee: Presents a sense of safety.
  5. Discover: Provides a sense of adventure.
  6. Love: Who doesn’t value this?
  7. Proven: Helps remove the fear of trying something new.
  8. Safety: Especially useful with products and new experiences.
  9. Save: Even more meaningful since the recession spawned more bargain hunters.
  10. New: Humans seek novelty.

What other powerful words do you use?