How to choose the exact right words

Did you know that there are over 200,000 words in the English language? Or that the average native speaker has around 20,000 words in their active vocabulary? That’s an awful lots of words, even for a copywriter! So how do you choose the exact right ones to describe what you do and help your brand stand out from the crowd?

One of the things I love most about the English language is the fact that you’re never limited to just one way of saying things. A meal can be tasty or it can be delicious, it can be succulent, scrumptious, finger-licking good, or even just plain yummy. They all mean pretty much the same thing, but the one you choose can substantially alter the essence of what you’re saying.

This ability of words to change the way a sentence feels makes them powerful tools when it comes to marketing, helping stir emotion and drive action in our target audience.

So the question is, faced with so many options, how do you know which words to choose?

Step 01: Know your audience

Words have the power to connect with people, but if you don’t know who you’re trying to connect with then you’re at a disadvantage. A 50-year-old is probably looking for a flattering dress, for example, where a 19-year-old is looking for the hottest one out there. Clients based in Bristol won’t blink if they hear the word ‘lush’, whereas a Londoner might be bemused. A business client will appreciate the importance of a target or a goal, while a life coaching client will probably be more comfortable with a dream or a vision. Really understanding who you’re speaking to is vital before you start writing.

Action point: Develop detailed client personas to ensure you really understand exactly which words will resonate with each one.

Step 02: Define your brand tone of voice

Your target audience needs to get a sense of who and what your brand is through every element of your marketing, and that includes the words you use. We recently worked with a highly trained and experienced nutritionist to help her launch a new online programme. One of the goals was to communicate the scientific basis of her skill to help her stand out in a relatively unregulated industry and build trust with her audience. So we talked about nutritional medicine instead of just nutrition, and used words like consultation, clinic, and diagnostic tools. We even talked about how she had ‘distilled’ years of experience to create her new online course, where we could have said ‘brought together’ or ‘perfected’, neither of which would have subtly conjured up images of a lab as ‘distilled’ does.

Action point: Spend time working through your brand values, offering and personality to create easy to follow brand tone of voice guidelines.

Step 03: Decide what emotion you want your audience to feel

We’ve already talked about how words can stir emotion, so the question is, what do you want your audience to feel? At a copywriters’ conference I attend recently, we heard from Kerry Thorpe, Communications Lead at Ben & Jerry’s Europe. She talked about how they describe their Cookie Dough ice cream as having ‘gobs’ of cookie dough in it – not chunks, or nuggets, or portions. Gobs is far more emotive, you can almost feel it in your mouth and it makes you smile, just like a spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s does. It’s just one word, but it makes a huge difference to that product description and the way their audience feels about it.

Action point: Look at the website content of some of your competitors and think about which words make you feel something.

Step 04: Work out what you’re really trying to say

The quickest way to kill your marketing copy is to stuff it full of buzzwords. These are words that are used so frequently – and often with no real basis – that we’ve become immune to them. Things like innovative, unique, solution, exclusive… in the majority of cases, they’re lazy choices. Likewise heavy jargon is a real turn off, and meaningless cliches. Always ask yourself, “What am I really trying to say?” That way you’ll avoid waffling about your new app’s “pared back user interface” and instead simply tell people that they’ll find it really easy to use.

Action point: In language a six-year-old would understand, write down three things you want people to know after having visited your website.

If you’re still struggling to find the right words to communicate with your target audience, it could be time to call in a copywriting agency.

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