Word choice is a crucial component of any marketing strategy. In the realm of clean energy, a main focus of our communications firm, it’s arguably the most important component. When you’re trying to build a narrative to explain the tangible benefits of a project to people who don’t have direct experience, the words you choose will determine whether or not that narrative succeeds.
In our industry, that’s a constant consideration. To a layperson, there’s a huge difference between an "industrial wind turbine" and a "windmill." Using one of these terms might get a project off the ground while using the other might stall it indefinitely.
We can see countless examples of careful word choice in popular business-to-consumer marketing campaigns, but here’s a particularly profound example: Online retailer Fab was the subject of a case study in which they slightly changed the language on their shopping cart button (without changing the button’s functionality). The old button had "+Cart" text, while the new button contained the full phrase "Add to Cart."
Two words made a big difference. The new button increased clicks by 49%, a massive increase. Granted, this was a simple A/B test, not a scientific study, but the implications are clear: Customers were more likely to take an action when directly prompted.
Public Opinion Polls Show How Language Changes Perception
Word connotation can cause major changes in human behavior, and by looking at public opinion polls, we can understand the gravity of this effect. The average person cares about terminology, even if they don’t realize it.
For decades, pollsters have understood the importance of meticulous word choice, particularly when considering issues that could affect health and wellbeing. For example, in the 1980s, a British Gallup poll asked participantswhether or not they felt "safe" in regards to their country's nuclear weapons. Only 40% said "yes." Another pollster followed up on the original survey, replacing the word "safe" with "safer." This time, 50% of respondents said "yes." The pollster added a single letter to the question and saw a massive change in the results.
If that’s not compelling enough, consider Americans' views toward global warming. A few years ago, a USA Today article reflected on a question asked in a poll conducted in 1986: "Do you think the greenhouse effect really exists or not?" Nearly three-quarters of American respondents said yes. Pollsters also asked whether they believed climate change was happening in some sense. Most also affirmed yes. When asked if there was "solid evidence" the average temperature on Earth has increased over the past 40 years, the responses were substantially lower.
Reading this, you’d be forgiven for assuming that people change their minds depending on the question. That’s not exactly true. Their opinions might stay consistent, but the word choice forces them to focus on different aspects of the question. "Is there solid evidence?" prompts a different line of thought than, "Do you think the greenhouse effect really exists?" Their responses change as a result; their minds don’t necessarily change with it.
Strategies For Finding Better Marketing Language
To write effective copy, you’ll need to understand the nuances of your industry. In the renewable energy industry, we propose a lot of language changes aimed at improving understanding and driving clarity of various industry terms. Switching from "ratepayer" to "customer" is one example. The former better reflects how customers see themselves, and can help change the narrative from electric rates to electric bills, since most customers only care about how much they pay per month vs. kilowatts produced or utilized.
Every business can benefit from refined word choice. For a weight loss website, changing the language of a landing page from "Lose Weight Now" to "Lose Your First 20 Pounds in a Month" will likely result in more conversions -- customers will focus on tangible results. They’ll process the implication immediately and visualize how the product will affect them, and they’ll feel a stronger link to the benefits of the product as a result.
When people lack a reliable standard of judgment, they’re susceptible to the implications of phrases or specific words. In other words (pun intended), people pay attention to language, even if they don’t realize that they’re being pushed toward a certain viewpoint.
So, how can we put this into practice? We can all appreciate the importance of language, but we don’t always know which words carry the most weight. Fortunately, we don’t have to know everything. When developing your marketing strategy, keep these ideas in mind:
• Understand the connotations that each word carries. To your customer, "Sign Up Here" implies that they’ll be filling out a form. Nobody likes filling out forms. "Start Your Journey" keeps them excited about your service; "Are You Ready To Get Started?" challenges them.
• Keep it simple. Look at any tech-oriented website, and you’ll probably see language like this: "Better apps. Faster service. A human touch." These sites haven’t forgotten how to write full sentences, but they know that short, snappy language has more of an effect on web visitors. If you’re writing web copy, understand that most people scan the site -- they don’t read every word. So you’ve got a limited opportunity to get their attention. When you’re writing an article or print copy, you’ve got a little more leeway, but in general, shorter is better. Make sure you’re using strong verbs and nouns that give a clear impression of your product. And again, ask yourself whether any of those words could carry an unexpected connotation.
• Word choice is more important in certain places. Your call-to-action needs to be especially strong, so spend some time thinking about the correct approach. Likewise, you’ll want to make sure that the first sentences someone sees on your site give a clear idea of what your product or service does (and why it’s better than the alternatives).
To be a more impactful marketer, consider the implication of every word in your copy. Be ready to experiment, and if you’re having trouble getting conversions, don’t be afraid to make drastic changes. Words count!