Let us begin by considering the basic building blocks of communication: words.
Robert Pirosh’s Job Application Letter
In 2009, Shaun Usher began the website Letters of Note, which he described as “an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos.” The letters range from the funny to the heartbreaking to the fascinating. Eventually, Usher collected 125 into a book of the same name: Letters of Note. Robert Pirosh, a writer attempting to move from the position of New York advertising copywriter to Hollywood screenwriter, wrote what Usher considers his “favorite letter ever.” The Guardian describes it as “perhaps the most sparse, tantalizing job application in history.” The letter begins:
I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl….
(Read the rest of the letter at the link above).
Words have their own character
What Robert Pirosh clearly understood is that words have character. In his confident grasp, they almost have personalities. Given this, words that appear to have absolutely no obvious relationship can be grouped in surprising ways. Words can have zing, they can have bite; they even have temperaments and moods.
Robert Pirosh clearly noticed and appreciated the difference between the bland and the not-so-bland. Moreover, he would go for the vivid choice every time. At the end of the letter, he demonstrated his confident mastery over language with his elegant little turn-of-phrase pitch, (“I have just returned [from Europe] and I still like words. May I have a few with you?”). Of course you would want to hire him! And indeed, this letter netted Mr. Pirosh three interviews and eventually a job as a junior writer at MGM. He went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on the war film, Battleground.
Use language that is precise, memorable, and vivid
We are positively awash in a sea of words. Advertisers, marketers, journalists, businesses, bloggers, and politicians used to compete for space. Now they compete for attention. Of course, the nature of your communication and audience makes a difference. Engineers, for example, generally cultivate different vocabularies than rock artists. But if doing so will suit your purposes, take the time to consider the mood a word may evoke. Does it convey any sensory imagery, such as smell or taste? The more precise your language, the better fit it will be for anyone searching with keywords and the easier to remember, too.
If you can’t find exactly the right word, consider making one up. Lewis Carroll coined a phrase for these: portmanteau words. (One of Lewis Carroll’s contributions to our dictionary was “chortle.”) Shakespeare coined over 1,700 words that we commonly use today by playing with language, “changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.”
What are some of your favorite words?
A professional blog offers the opportunity to demonstrate one’s expert knowledge. This expectation has perplexed me as I’ve considered and rejected possible blog topics. I’m still learning about marketing–but then I remind myself, so is everyone else. It’s such a fast-changing field that a professional marketer needs to work hard to keep abreast of the latest trends. Still, as this checklist suggests, sticking closely to the planned editorial calendar is a sign of professionalism. I’m publishing this blog post a day later than my editorial calendar dictates. The delay has been due to several understandable reasons, including the distraction of presidential politics. Haven’t they distracted everyone?
People more experienced than me have warned me that if I want to do a professional blog, “stay away from politics. You might offend somebody!” Certainly, this election has aroused a lot of bitter feelings. (In a future blog post, I’ll discuss the hard fact that sometimes picking the worthiest words means that you’re going to have to offend somebody.) Yet the best politicians try to use the most effective words for the ethical purpose of improving the world. Given that, a blog discussing worthiest words that ignores politics completely might be absurd.
As I mulled over this, I ran across this article about evaluating the political candidates for president, specifically, how to evaluate the candidates ethically. It occurs to me that a marketer could adapt these questions to evaluate a potential marketing campaign ethically, too.
Ethical considerations for marketing
Am I looking at the facts or my feelings? The marketer’s spin on this question: Don’t allow yourself to be carried away by the excitement of “that’s such a cool idea!” Is your campaign based on something that you can truthfully deliver to your customer?
Have I done the reading? For a marketer, this means, “Have I done the research?” Do you know the advantages and disadvantages of your product and do you know your customers?
What are some of the issues I should focus on? For a marketer: Have you segmented your customers? Does this marketing campaign concentrate on their specific problems?
Which way do I want the country to go? This translates to, “Which way do I want my business to go?” Does the campaign attract a type of customer you really can’t (or don’t want) to serve? Is the campaign too ambitious or not ambitious enough?
Which candidate understands and articulates my concerns? Thinking about this in business terms: Are you keeping the customer’s problems (and not yours) uppermost in your mind? Is your message clear?
Has that candidate proposed specific policies on how to address those problems? A marketer asks: Is your true intention solving the customer’s problems as the marketing campaign suggests? Or are you interested solely in their money?
Does the candidate have the ability to enact those policies? Recast this question like this: Do you have the budget for this campaign? Do you have the ability to deliver what you’re promising the customer?
What are the candidates’ negative qualities? Consider: Is there any aspect of your campaign that could turn off your customers, or worse, actively repel them? Is your message based on respect or on hurtful stereotypes?
Have I seriously considered a third option? Stop and think: is this really the right campaign? Do you need to redesign any part of it? Would it be best to go back to the drawing board entirely?
Is it better to not vote at all? Marketing is the lifeblood of any company because it leads to the sales that keep the doors open. But if you don’t have the necessary budget or capacity to handle the extra demands of the campaign, now might not be the right time to launch a campaign.