What’s in a Name? A Lot!

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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?

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Lessons from Sony’s Hacked Emails

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Avoiding e-mail snafus

The revelation of racially insensitive comments in emails written by Sony Pictures Entertainment co-Chair Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin provide another lesson in what not to do with our most frequently used form of communication.

Their comments, suggesting President Obama would only like African American-focused movies, came to light because of a cyberattack on Sony. While most of us will never be the subject of a cyberattack, litigation and email snafus can easily expose our innermost thoughts, tasteless jokes and other ill-advised comments to the very people we would never wish to see them.

With auto-completer, it’s easy to accidentally send an email to the wrong person. Email recipients also can forward – either accidentally or on purpose – an email to others who may find the original emailed comments offensive or demeaning in some way. Litigation or complaints filed by a subordinate or employee can require disclosure of emails. The emails of public employees and contractors for public entities can be made public through reporters’ and others’ freedom of information or public records requests. In these cases, deleted emails may even be retrieved.

We’ve provided six commonsense rules for email in a previous post, so we won’t revisit those. But the media firestorm surrounding Pascal’s and Rudin’s emails remind us all – once again – that all communications should be professional. Being derisive, racist or sexist in comments not only opens us to litigation and damaging publicity – it’s just wrong.

Even with the most professional of approaches, we can still make errors or simply convey the wrong tone. Here are three easy tips to avoid such email snafus:

Re-read the email with the recipients in mind: Reading the email’s contents before sending the email and trying to put yourself in the position of the recipients will help gauge how the contents and wording will be received by them. If the email is especially sensitive or you’re still concerned about the contents, asking a colleague or friend to read it will provide the outside eye that may be needed to fully assess the potential impact of the language used.

Enter the email address last: This helps avoid sending the email prematurely. It also helps ensure the promised attachments are indeed attached.

Use the phone: Even with emoticons, jokes can often fall flat in print. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Pick up a phone if you wish to make a quip to someone or say something you wouldn’t want others to see in print. Pascal and Rudin claimed they were joking in their exchanges. Both have apologized, but speculation is swirling that Pascal’s days are numbered at Sony.

What Taylor Swift Can Teach Us about Marketing

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Taylor Swift masters marketing to her fans.With numerous awards, sold-out concerts and one of the country’s biggest fan bases, Taylor Swift is a proven marketing phenom at the age of 24. The launch of her latest record, “1989,” offers even more examples of how she’s mastered the PR and marketing game, all of which can be instructive for marketing other products. Here are four key lessons to learn from this brilliant young woman and talented songwriter.

Know your audience: Taylor Swift knows her audience. Her songs speak to the hearts of young women with their tales of heartbreak and the challenges of fitting in with their peers. She’s been open about her gawkiness and nerdiness – all very relatable traits for any teen or young adult. As one 21-year-old fan told the LA Times, “She’s describing my life right now.”

Create a buzz: Taylor debuted her newest record with small “secret” listening parties for select groups of her biggest fans. She determined which fans would be included based on how much they post about her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and other social media sites. This guaranteed the frequent posters would create a buzz among their peers with photos, tweets and more about this rare chance to meet in person with their favorite star.

Taylor’s also appearing on numerous TV and radio shows, including a coaching stint on the popular singing competition show, “The Voice.” All of these appearances are being widely promoted on social media by the programs hosting her and in broadcast ads, creating even more buzz about “1989.”

Capitalize on the mainstream media: While Taylor’s younger fans may never read the stories that appeared in numerous newspapers or watch ABC’s “Good Morning America” or the other news-related programs on which Taylor appeared, all of these stories and appearances create share-able content for the social media sites where Taylor’s fan base spends it time. Also, these are the places where she’s likely to catch the attention of her adult fans, many of whom admire her for reaching out to young people and avoiding the “bad girl” image that some of her peers have adopted.

Have a great product: While all of these are winning tactics for any product, perhaps most important of all is Taylor’s winning persona and the great product she is selling. She topped the country music charts in her teens and is winning over the pop music fans in her 20s with her great songwriting and performances. Having a great product maximizes the potential for all of these tactics to succeed beyond anyone’s expectations.