power of words

How a Single Word Can Grab — or Repel — Your Audience

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People are constantly faced with an onslaught of text; more than 500,000 tweets, 12,000 blog posts, and 188 million emails are created every minute. Content creators struggle to break through the noise and reach their target audiences.

To cope with the vast amount of information presented to us, we’ve turned to skimming text for fascinating tidbits. If a word or phrase sticks out, we might pause and actually read the rest of the article. But if we find nothing of interest, we’ll move on and never look back. That's the power of words.

In this sense, one word can captivate an audience, affecting the influence of an entire article. Words also have the ability to influence our responses. In the book “Words Can Change Your Brain,” Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman argue that a single word can even cause physical responses, depending on what area of the brain the word stimulates.

We’re always learning more about the power of words, and in business, even a single word can determine the fate of your content.

Keep Your Copy Clear, Concise and Clean

Complexity alienates users. When users have to struggle through content that’s difficult to understand, they think less of your brand. Siegel+Gale found that 66% of people assume that copy that’s vague or complex is deliberately written that way to hide information. Plain language is more engaging and makes your content more attractive.

Companies sacrifice millions of dollars in revenue each year because of poor user experiences. This has a lot to do with imagery, layout (38% of people would leave an unattractive website), and user-friendliness, but copy also affects appeal. No one will trust a website with spelling or grammar mistakes, and no one wants to read boring, unhelpful blogs.

It’s difficult to win people back after a bad experience. That’s why it’s important to care about every word in your content. When the stakes are high, you have to be clear, concise and compelling. Choosing words that precisely target your audience is the solution to unappealing content. If you have a narrow but deep understanding of who you're trying to move with an article, you’ll be able to use words that speak to them.

For example, Glossier pushed boundaries by adopting emojis and shorthand slang that’s popular with its target demographic. This usage would be catastrophic if the brand sold insurance — levity is not appreciated when people are making serious life decisions — but it worked great for beauty products. Millennials and Gen Zers see a brand that really understands them.

At my company, Qordoba, we discovered that one of the most powerful words we can use with the content strategy audience is “predictions.” If we had used the term while targeting performance marketers, it may not have done as well. But content is an evolving role in many companies, which means less certainty about the future. As career pioneers, content strategists desire stability moving forward and want to know where their roles will take them (hence, predictions).

Hitting the Target

Finding the perfect word that will grab your audience’s attention requires an intimate understanding of the people you’re trying to reach. Making bold choices is riskier when you’re not sure how a word will be received. Here’s how you can discover which words will resonate with your audience.

Imitate Them

You don’t just need to know where and how your audience spends time — you also need to join in. Mirror their social media habits. Like the same Facebook pages, follow the same Instagram accounts and imitate their LinkedIn activity in a B2B context. Trying to spend time in your audience’s shoes helps you speak like them, and speaking like them is how you show your company is for them. As you explore the power of words, don’t be afraid to embrace niche terms and slang if that’s how your audience talks.

Get Personal

Take things to the next level. Think about common experiences among your audience, especially ones that are rarely discussed. Can you touch on a common networking pain point for B2B audiences? Do your competitors avoid talking about any topics where you can be a strong force for good or education? By addressing overlooked struggles and issues, you’ll appeal to people in need. These unique insights into the user experience set you apart from competitors and build trust with your audience.

Make Your Party Exclusive

Nothing attracts interest like exclusive access. If you have insights or offerings that people can’t find anywhere else, then they’ll be drawn in. This is as effective with business professionals looking to get a leg up on their rivals as it is with teenagers who feel like no one understands them.

Showcase Your Emotional Side

Emotional bonds are powerful. Commercials featuring mothers watching their kids grow up or dogs and their infinite loyalty have drawn many tears. Although we complain about cheesiness, we still love emotional stories. Figure out what language hits your audience close to home.

And don’t forget that laughter can be just as powerful and even more intimate. Jump on chances to share inside jokes with audiences, which is a tactic that relates to exclusivity and emotionality. If you’re sharing a joke about a common problem, take it a step further and build engagement by asking people to share stories or solutions.

It might be hard to believe that one word really matters in the grand scheme of content creation. But when you truly know to whom you’re talking, one word can make all the difference.

May Habib

May Habib is co-founder and CEO of Qordoba, an AI writing assistant that helps everyone at a company write with the same style, terminology, and brand voice. She is a Harvard graduate and an expert in the fields of natural language processing, machine learning and next-gen content management technology.

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