by Jenna Kutcher
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There’s a lot of weight in the words we choose. Words are powerful, they can cut, they can cause fear, they can tear down JUST as much as they can empower, uplift, and brighten someone’s day.
As someone who’s obsessed with marketing and strategy, I’ve been deeply considering how much the words we choose play a part in the perception of our products, goods, and services and the human behind them
What it comes down to is that marketing isn’t just having a great offer — It’s the ability to POSITION your offer in a way that makes it not only irresistible to the right clients and customers, those people who without-a-doubt NEED what you’re selling, but also sells the value of what you’ve created in a way that clearly communicates its benefit and positions it correctly so people know if it was created with them in mind.
The words and messaging behind your brand shouldn’t be an afterthought. From the headlines on your website to the subject lines in emails to all the other messages, captions, posts, and promotions— basically, your words should be thoughtful, intentional, and written to create results. There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes down to how to share your stuff.
So let’s get into some marketing practices to portray the BEST messaging that not only supports your audience and encourages them to eventually click purchase with you, but that also positions your offers in a way that’s confident, clear, and cuts through all the noise.
My Copy Philosophy
My philosophy about copy is that it should always be a tool for honesty, integrity, and encouragement. One of the biggest things when it comes to marketing is to always lead with honesty and integrity and to not make people feel like they will fail if they don’t buy your product. It’s not always about the perfect marketing formulas or the psychological triggers.
While those can provide guidance and be helpful, you want your marketing to make people FEEL something and trust me, they will remember the way you made them feel far longer than they’ll remember the words you said.
Too many marketers position their services and products from a fear or scarcity-based marketing approach rather focusing on selling through empowerment, and a lot of marketers put so much pressure on the sale that they make people feel like if they don’t purchase they will never succeed or they are bound to fail.
I personally believe that selling needs to be more of an invitation that gives people an opportunity to opt out without feeling entirely left out. It’s ultimately their choice, and while it can be important to acknowledge the pain points, problems or the challenges someone might be facing that your product can help to solve, you don’t need to do it in a way that makes them feel desperate or called out in any way.
The truth is, there are a lot of reasons someone may choose to not purchase your offer at any given time. It might simply not be the right offer or the right timing or the right price point, and that’s okay! It’s not your job to convince people to buy, it’s your job to sell to the people who are ready to take that next step.
How to Position Your Offer
Let’s start with how we position the offer and lean on intentional messaging, first. Anytime we’re drafting up a sales page or cementing the wording around a new offer, we consider a few things when it comes to our messaging:
One, what is the end result for someone who purchases? Is our offer worded in a way that demonstrates a clear solution to a potential problem or problems?
Two, is it clear who this product has the potential to support and serve? Have we helped the potential purchaser qualify themselves as a good fit?
Three, does our language provide clarity around simplifying or streamlining something? It is clear exactly how our product will integrate into someone’s life?
Four, will the way that we sell allow people to feel empowered to purchase vs. feeling pressured to purchase?
And five, does the messaging directly show that while this product may solve specific problems, it’s an invitation for potential buyers to opt in, not a push that makes them feel like they don’t have a choice?
These five questions are our guiding light when it comes to our marketing strategy and the way we sell. Over the years we’ve honed in on how important those five pillars are and how they help us clarify our copy.
On the entirely adverse side of being too brazen in the way you sell, another mistake I see often made in the online space is people apologizing for or defending their business decisions, due to lack of confidence or insecurity in the sales process. If you want to focus on improving ONE thing only in your messaging, try to focus on communicating clearly who you offer is for and what the end result is for the purchaser instead of trying to justify or defend your products, pricing, or processes.
The Word “Just”
I don’t want to say we’ve never, ever used any of these, because like anything, I do believe there are exceptions and certain occasions where they may be fitting. Basically stated, sometimes I can be a walking contradiction, as we learn and grow and evolve so in my sharing this, it’s like a major blinking light for us to audit our own selling approach and ensure that we’re living up to the standards we’ve set.
In general, when you’re pitching someone whether it’s in person, via email, on a sales page, or even in your social media captions—these are the words to avoid if you want people to feel seen, heard, and understood.
First up, the word “just”. Consider saying “I’d like 20 minutes of your time to discuss my proposal” rather than “I’d like JUST 20 minutes of your time…” and see how much more powerful and confident that sounds. Same goes for when you’re describing people who may be your ideal client, you’d never want to say: I was just a photographer — it belittles the photographers out there who are working their booties off and makes them feel less than.
The Word “Only”
Next no-no word is similar, it’s the word “only”. It’s another one that downplays and cheapens what you’re really trying to say. Think about if someone tells you “It only costs $50” rather than “It costs $50.” The “only” adds an air of trying hard to convince someone of something, and it implies that you understand what something means to someone.
The truth is, you want people to be able to apply what value looks like on their own terms without implying something that may not be true for them. Drop the word “only” when it comes to marketing.
“I Feel Like…”
Next up, avoid starting sentences with “I feel like”… “I feel like you’re going to LOVE this product” or “I feel like you need this sort of system for your business.” I’m gonna be straight honest here, this is another tough on for me and it seems as though many millennials use “I feel like” as a way to express our opinions or offer advice without coming across as demanding or inflexible.
I used to have to audit myself on this, specifically in the way I would write and just take out those “feeler” references to make my writing more to-the-point and poignant. It’s fine and great to use when you are expressing actual feelings but when it comes to marketing or selling, keep the “I feel like” remarks out.
When you use it in front of a fact or some kind of powerful marketing statement, it can take away from the weight of the message by turning it into a feeling rather than an accurate standalone statement.
Another phrase to avoid is “hurry up,” like for example “hurry up and get yours today before it’s too late!”
While I’m a lover of urgency marketing techniques and providing scarcity is a proven marketing strategy, “hurry up” is just a pushy way to rush someone into a buying decision they’re likely not ready to make. I didn’t like being told to hurry up in the school line as a kid and I sure don’t like to be told it as an adult consumer investing my time and money into products.
Next up: steer clear of starting sentences with “honestly,” “truthfully” or “frankly.”
While we like to lean on these lead-ins in copy, these words can make it sound as though what you’ve been saying prior to that HASN’T been honest or truthful. If you’re honest in all of your messaging, there’s no need to call it out by saying “honestly” but this is another one that I know is tough and used allllll the time, likely more as a filler than anything else.
Try to get a little more creative with how you’re leading off your sentences and realize that while you might not intend to imply something, using the words: honestly, truthfully, or frankly can send the wrong message or invoke doubt in the consumer’s mind.
I also prefer not to use the word “obviously” in any kind of marketing materials because a lot of things that may SEEM obvious to me or you likely aren’t obvious to everyone in the world. You don’t want to assume anything about your potential client and you sure as heck don’t want to belittle them or make them feel like they aren’t comprehending something they should be.
Using the word “obviously” can just come across as unintentionally rude and presumptuous. Nothing in business is obvious for everyone, especially when you’re trying to get people new to you or your offers and ideas to trust you as a guide and someone who communicates thoughtfully and well.
Negatives and Uncertainties
Lastly, avoid using negatives like “don’t” and uncertainties like the words “maybe,” “perhaps” or “hope.”
First, when you say NOT to do something, it makes some people even more set in their desire TO do it, so avoid negative commands like “don’t do this or that.” It’s like when you’re at the doctors office and they tell you not to move and suddenly you’re overcome with the desire to only move? I can’t be the only one.
You want to get people saying “YES” on your page, not “NO” so pose your questions and copy in a way that gets someone nodding along to what you’re saying, not shaking their head.
And when you say something like “perhaps this could solve your problem” or “I hope this solves your problem”, you again aren’t confidently communicating your own resolve that your offer IS the thing to solve the problem. These words create uncertainty in your potential clients and definitely don’t reaffirm their confidence in you.
If you’re wondering how to position yourself, your offer and your business in a positive light that lifts up potential customers, here are a few language swaps you can use for stronger messaging:
- Instead of saying problem, use the word “challenge”
- Use the word valuable instead of cheap or even affordable
- Exchange pitch for presentation or training
- Use perfect, dream or ideal clients instead of prospects
- Use the words invest or own instead of buy or purchase
- When talking about money use the phrase: total investment instead of price or cost
- Lastly, phrase it “areas of concern” instead of objections
Any time you can invite people to confidently opt in and make a decision on their own, that’s the best move. You don’t need to over qualify them or push them… all you need to do is lay out exactly how your offer can benefit someone with your clear and direct messaging, using the principles you learned today! No apologies, no shying away.
And when in doubt, remember that above all else, as humans we connect with STORIES more than a slick call to action or witty headline. When you’re struggling to sell, lean on sharing stories will paint the possibility for your dream clients!
Hold space for and respect those who are different than you
Through my walk in intentionally learning and unlearning about racial and cultural biases this year, I’ve realized there are certain words and phrases that are simply never appropriate for me to use as a white, American woman.
For example, using different race’s emojis, calling something a spirit animal, referring to girl friends as sis, or even using phrases like “building something on borrowed land” which is how I used to refer to building a business on social media over email lists… These all can be misconstrued and labeled as not only insensitive, but also as cultural appropriation.
It’s easy to mess up. So many phrases burst onto the scene and get super popular super quickly without broader context or acknowledging that they may either come from a totally different background or race, or even offend a different culture than yours. Let’s be slow to jump onto the quote-unquote “fun and new” slang bandwagon and instead consider the weight of our words and whether it’s respectful to use them.
You never want your marketing to intentionally leave anyone out or worse, to offend someone else and so it’s important to do your research to understand how your language can be inclusive without being offensive.
Now more than ever, we need to be sensitive and inclusive in how we position ourselves and our brands, and we want to be an open door to ALL kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds. I have learned that misusing phrases and words from other cultures and races is considered a micro-aggression toward marginalized groups of people, no matter if that’s the farthest thing from your intention.
I’m still walking through learning and understanding what’s not mine to say and claim, and I’d encourage you to explore these types of language choices in your marketing materials AND your day-to-day conversations, as well. Even though marketing is fast paced, we should always slow down to learn.
The Big Picture
I know I’m not alone when I say that choosing our words carefully can easily become overwhelming in so many ways. It’s a heavy responsibility, and sometimes it can feel like there’s no RIGHT way to say what you need to say. That’s why I’ve made it my commitment to always fall back on clear, honest, and empowering communication in any and every way that I can and to not make my overwhelm become my consumer’s burden.
I want my community to feel welcome. I want them to feel empowered in their next steps and decisions. I want them to know I believe in them, and that while they may be facing hiccups or stagnancy or confusion or challenges, that they’re capable of getting through it, whether that’s with the help of my products and resources or not! That’s the core of my business AND who I am… and I want it to show in everything that we put out there for my audience to consume.
I urge you to find your own cornerstone of your messaging, and build everything around it. Tell stories. Share transformations. Communicate clearly. You’d much rather have empowered and confident purchasers than have people who bought because they felt pressured into the sale.
Trust me, it’ll get you a whole lot farther than any fear-based techniques or scarcity messaging strategies, I can promise you that. There’s plenty of goodness to go around for everyone, and your messaging has the opportunity to spread that notion in abundance! What an absolute honor, right? Let’s treat it like one and keep sharing the good that you’re creating for the world in a way that communicates just how awesome you and your creation are!
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