A picture can paint a thousand words but the right words can sell a thousand pictures. So, what is the secret to effective word choice?
Advertisers and PR professionals have a lot in common; both desire to inspire their audience to make a positive decision, and both are in the business of influential communications. So what causes some communication outreach to succeed while other efforts fail dismally?
First and foremost, our communications must be customer or stakeholder focused, but there’s more. Legendary advertising giant, Leo Burnett, set out to define what made some ads successful and what caused others to fail. According to Burnett, “dull and exaggerated ad copy is due to the excess use of adjectives.” To prove it, he asked his staff to compare the number of adjectives in 62 ads that failed to the number of adjectives in Lincoln’s persuasive Gettysburg Address, and other age-old classics.
Here’s what Leo Burnett discovered:
Of the 12,758 words in the 62 failed ads, 24.1% were adjectives. By direct comparison, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address contains only 35 adjectives out of 268 immortal words – only 13.1% adjective-to-total-word ratio. Winston Churchill’s famous “Blood, Sweat and Tears” speech rates even lower and has a 12.1% adjective ratio (81 adjectives from 667 words).
Mr. Burnett found that similar ratios applied to great works such as The Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
CONCLUSION: Use more verbs, not adjectives. Verbs increase the pulling-power and believability of web copy, company communications and public conversations. Keep this “105 Power Verb Cheat Sheet” close-by:
Abolish Accelerate Achieve Act Adopt Align Anticipate Apply Assess Avoid
Boost Break Bridge Build Burn
Capture Change Choose Clarify Comprehend Confront Connect Conquer Convert Create
Decide Define Defuse Deliver Deploy Design Develop Diagnose Discover Drive
Eliminate Ensure Establish Evaluate Exploit Explore
Filter Finalize Find Focus Foresee
Gain Gather Generate Grasp
Identify Ignite Illuminate Implement Improve Increase Innovate Inspire Intensify
Lead Learn Leverage
Manage Master Maximize Measure Mobilize Motivate
Overcome Penetrate Persuade Plan Position Prepare Prevent
Raise Realize Reconsider Reduce Refresh Replace Resist Respond Retain
Save Scan Segment Shatter Shave-off Sidestep Simplify Solve Stimulate Stop Stretch Succeed Supplement
Take Train Transfer Transform
Understand Unleash Use Win
Communicators can learn a lot from effective advertising. When you draft your next press release, ad, letter, website, email campaign or discuss your features and benefits, use verbs from the list above. Remember, your audience wants to know “What Will It Do For Me” and these power verbs are proven to put the pulling action into it.
Source: Adapted with permisison from an article published by Howard Olsen, High Output Training Systems www.high-output.com
– Maria Loscerbo