The Words That Still Work

Jim Karrh On Marketing

The Words That Still Work

Are there words that you should be including in your messages and customer conversations?

The answer for your business might be "yes" — but the words probably aren’t "disruptive," "platform," "game-changer," "passion" or even "world class." Not that there’s anything wrong with those words and phrases (to borrow from "Seinfeld"). It’s just that only a relative handful of words have proven effective for marketing over the course of decades.

This is an Opinion

We'd also like to hear yours. Leave a comment below, tweet to us at @ArkBusiness or
email us.

Larry Viner, the co-founder of the Advertising Archives, a repository of U.S. and U.K. print ads, once researched all of the slogans in his archive from a 20-year period. Subtracting the function words like "the" or "and," he found that the most popular words in order were "you" (the most popular), "your," "we," "world," "best," "more," "good," "better," "new," "taste," "people," "our," "first," "like," "don’t," "most," "only," "quality," "great" and "choice."

That study focused on print advertising during the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. How about the social media platforms of today?

When the social media management service Hootsuite analyzed nearly 40,000 Facebook ads, the most popular word was — you guessed it — "you." Next in order were "free," "now," "new," "up," "more," "out," "today," "find," "shop," "business," "save" and "time." Notice that "you," "more" and "new" are common to both lists.

Why the differences? Before social channels and e-commerce exploded onto the scene, there was more separation in time and place between the seller’s message and the consumer’s opportunity to buy. Words such as "quality," "taste," "great," "best," "better" and "choice" fit that world. In our current hyperconnected environment, it makes sense that "today," "shop," "find" and "time" have become more popular for sellers.

Nevertheless, the differences pale in comparison to the commonalities. Over several decades, persuasive messages have consistently focused on how "you" can get more of something good, and the seller is sharing this information as if it were big news.

During my years as a consumer researcher, copywriter and corporate marketer, I saw many attempts to turn a profitable phrase. A few words have proven consistently effective. Here is my starter list:

►  "You." That one is easy; see above.

►  "Because." This appeals to our logical selves, helping the audience connect the dots and establish cause-and-effect relationships. (However, as a father of three I cannot report that telling your kids "Because I said so" will be effective.)

►  "New." What’s new? From fashion trends to the "New & Noteworthy" category of podcasts on iTunes, our attention goes rather automatically to what seems novel or different.

►  "Most." You can use this word to establish priorities ("What is most important to you?") as well as to offer evidence of social proof, or what is most popular with others ("most people in your situation choose this").

►  "Options." Most people (see what I did there?) want a sense of freedom, and they push back when feeling trapped. It is best to offer multiple options rather than to force a binary, take-it-or-leave-it approach. I prefer the word "options" over "choices" because the word "choice" also describes a decision that for some people produces anxiety. A common messaging mistake involves presenting options without appropriate guidance, so get comfortable with this next word …

►  "Recommend." A sound and empathetic recommendation is based upon both your expertise and your understanding of the customer’s situation. Recommending is better than merely suggesting, and much better than simply asking "What do you want to do?" without offering any direction. This isn’t about being pushy to close a deal, either. A true professional’s recommendation is offered to lead someone to a decision that benefits everyone.

I am not recommending that you or your team try to cram these words into every conversation or communication. Please don’t! But they can certainly serve as a useful comparison to the messages you are using today. Are you using the most powerful words in your precious conversational opportunities?

Jim Karrh of Little Rock is a consultant, coach and professional speaker as well as a consulting principal with DSG. See, email him at and connect on LinkedIn.