I’m a word guy. Not a big word guy – I don’t claim to have a prodigious vocabulary (and yes, I did get prodigious from an online thesaurus). Mostly, I just love good words, the ones that make the common man feel something reverberate in his inner dictatal gland, which is the organ that stores and secretes words.
Down the street from my house, some dapper young whippersnapper is opening a joint called The Goodnight (pictured). I’m imagining it to be very similar in concept to the Highball, with one key addition. The Goodnight, on their highly visible street-front signage, promises “revelry” in addition to the standard bowling & dining combo (see their full menu of revelry).
“Revelry” alone is enough to make the promise of The Goodnight stand out as interesting and different in a city saturated with bar and dining choices. Sure, the experience will matter – it would take quite a bit of merrymaking and general carousal and glee to make up for crappy drinks and frozen corn dog nuggets – but if The Goodnight’s owners can pay as much careful attention to the details on the inside (decor, menu, service, consistency) as they have to the word choice on the outside, they can count me in for a shekel’s worth of skeeball and a chicken fried antelope (I wish I made that up – it’s actually on the dining menu).
I’ve heard this called creating a moment. A moment is when you do something (positive, hopefully) that makes your customer take notice, and if you’re lucky, tell someone else about. Not to be confused with a movement, which is when . . . well, try the chicken fried antelope and wait a few hours, you’ll see.
Writing this article, two things stand out: 1.) Antelope sounds like it is just one letter shy of cantaloupe, and chicken fried cantelope sounds oddly appetizing (it’s salty, sweet, and juicy!) and 2.) Words never went out of vogue. In fact, marketers just stopped trying. With all the buzz around Pinterest and infographics and visuals, I’ve heard the “word are dead” argument quite a bit as of late. Twitter + content strategy + search engine optimization are three clear proof points that they are far from dead – we just haven’t done much innovating with them lately.
Marketers are cage fighting over the same old words – and they aren’t even good ones
There are 400,000 words in most big dictionaries, and when you add in slang and jargon and tech speak, you have a million or so to choose from. The word revelry isn’t in the common vernacular of most dining and entertainment establishments – The Goodnight searched for a word that would resonate and differentiate them from the rest. The industry I write for – information technology – is arguably suffering from a collective nervous tick. We keep spewing the same words, over and over. And they aren’t even great words we are all cage fighting over. Innovative, revolutionary, next-generation, proactive, automate, empower.
Look, I’m not saying I’ve solved this problem. Quite the contrary – I think and work on this every day at my company. We’re as guilty as the next scrappy little company with a multi-billion dollar market cap.
Key takeaway: There are tons of companies doing mostly the same thing. One way you can stand out is how you talk about what you do, and the experience you create in doing it. Start with good words, and deliver on the promise of those words in every decision you make.
Want to get my attention? Catch me (slightly) off-guard
One of the reasons “revelry” is so great in this context is that it fits into the rule of “one of these things is not like the other.” Combine that with the rule of threes, and psychologically, we are born to respond to it, IMHO.
Bowling. Dining. Fun.
Bowling. Dining. Revelry.
The subhead to this section says to catch people slightly off guard, and I think that’s an important point. Revelry isn’t entirely random or ridiculous in the context of a place that offers high-brow cocktails, shuffleboard, and fried game animals. Effective word choice means picking something both unexpected and welcomed to your target audience. My colleagues Chris Rixon (@messagemonger) and Alena Bowen (@IT4GenY) talk about this regularly regarding email subject lines and web copy headlines: particularly in B2B, humor or eccentricity alone are not enough. You have to add relevance to the equation. Some of the most effective subject lines I have written have struck a very nuanced balance between having a unique, interesting, or humorous angle while simultaneously containing enough context and substance to pass the refined b.s. meter that people in our industry seem to possess.
A top performer we wrote a few years back for cloud computing was:
Watch the birth of a cloud service, captured on film for the first time in stunning detail
The open rate on this email was very high compared to our own baselines. The call to action was a short video demo that showed BMC Software’s cloud management software in action. Our subject line struck the balance between relevance (watching the deployment of a new cloud service) and being just enough left of center (the play on nature videos) that it worked incredibly well.\
Honesty in marketing? Why you should always deliver on the promise of your amazing words
I shudder at the use of the word innovative, or next generation, or cutting edge, or heaven forbid bleeding edge, because almost none of the brands and products that choose these words actually exhibit the qualities of these words. Detroit automakers were claiming innovation and style and durability at a time when their products were absolutely none of these.
If The Goodnight opens and the place is packed out with blue hairs playing canasta, the promise of Revelry is broken, and every time I drive by it on my way home from work, I will remember a broken promise. I love nothing more than honesty in marketing. One of the most memorable ad campaigns I saw in the last decade was for a three wheeled motorcycle contraption that came out right in the middle of the recession. It was a hopped up, testosterone fueled play toy, and it would have been impossible to pass it off as something anyone actually needed, or even as a viable replacement to the practicality of a motorcycle. So the ad agency chose words that were so dead true, that it changed my perception of the ridiculous contraption they were marketing from a negative to at least a slightly positive. The headline was something to the effect of, “Of all the things you don’t need, you need this the most.”
Pick an amazing word and build a brand around it
How long is your elevator pitch? If you can’t articulate your brand or product’s promises in a handful of well-chosen (and true) words, you haven’t been surgical enough in the art of subtraction. Yes, you can have two words, or even three. Zappos.com has “amazing service.” The Goodnight has “bowling, dining, and revelry.”
My now defunct clothing line, ClothMoth, was built around the promise of Clothing + Kindness. At the same time Blake Mycoskie was starting TOMS, I was designing offbeat t-shirts with slogans like “YAY! Serotonin” and “Craft Girls Get Me Hot,” and (in a model much less innovative than Blake’s deservedly celebrated buy one, give one charitable structure) encouraging both random acts of kindness and performing them as part of the brand. I hand wrote notes with inspirational quotes to my customers, donated proceeds to amazing causes in their honor, etc – and the juxtaposition of “clothing” with “kindness” carried the brand quite far for a small start-up. I’ll talk more about the ClothMoth experience and how we differentiated our brand at trade shows, through our email lists, and even in the process of buying our products, in a later blog post. It was the most fulfilling work I have ever done, and had I been more savvy with mathematics and not spent every penny I earned on hair brained schemes, I could still be doing it today.
Are you a drive thru oil change garage? “Oil changes” is true, but common. “Five minute oil changes” is appealing but probably not true. “Oil changes + massages” is creepy. Sometimes, the best words are those that counter the common misconceptions of the business you are in. When I think of getting my oil changed, I think of stale coffee. A tiny waiting room full of people in a hurry. Not so friendly technicians eager to upsell me, or to ignore me. A word like “happiness” feels opposite to oil change, and a stark contrast to dirty, goopy oil. Hassle-free is a great promise, but is overused and seldom delivered upon. What if it was simply nice people? Friendlier oil changes is a nice promise. It adds the all important human component – we aren’t just a faceless product or service, we are people, and we care about your experience. I’m not striking gold here, but I’ve been working on this for exactly 15 seconds and I’m already at a better brand than 3/4 of the quick lube places. (Branding note: lose the word lube if you are starting an oil change place. It’s also very, very creepy.)
Why settle for me-too words? If everyone is claiming the same thing, be different. Stay tuned for how we do this at a major software company. I promise you, I practice what I preach.