My brother heads up an advertising agency in New York. Yesterday he sent me the following message: “We just asked consumers about cheese on their pizza. When we asked them which pizza had more cheese – the one with 12 ounces or the one with half a pound — they unanimously picked half a pound…”

Huh? Run that by me again?

With so much discussion about the dumbing down of America, do you think they just couldn’t do the math between ounces and pounds? Or do you think there was something more at play? For savvy marketers this outcome is not a surprise. The word pound carries with it more ‘weight’ than does the word ounce. And though technically a half pound at 8 ounces is less than 12 ounces, it doesn’t matter, because the brain zeroes in on the word pound.

Don’t you just love marketing?

Choose your words carefully

So what does this mean for B2B marketers? It means that the very words used to describe your business really matter.

I work with many of eMagine’s clients to create the clarity they need to effectively message who they are, what they do, why they matter, and more. In every engagement I emphasize just how much the words chosen will matter in effectively delivering those messages. Here are some of the rules we follow:

Create Initial Impact –A lot of clients start out by saying they want something clever and memorable; and then proceed to rattle off a bunch of B2C examples. That’s not what you should aim for with B2B. Instead, your message should be impactful and grab the audience’s attention. Nowhere is this more important than on a website home page where you get a mere 7 seconds to engage. Impact is created by challenging the status quo, speaking directly to audiences, and using powerful words. It is also created by using the fewest words possible to make your point.

Be Relevant – “Don’t comment until you walk a mile in another man’s shoes”. Think about your audiences and how they see their world. What do they want to hear and how do they want to hear it? Getting it right down to the actual words they use is crucial. Start by talking with your markets before trying to create a single message. Ask open ended questions to see how they describe things. Then message it right back at them with the same language.

Active not Passive – Be strong. Nothing falls flat faster than passive words. This is one of those things that operates at the lower levels of consciousness. The words you use contribute to the gut feel that defines your brand. Simply put, if you sound passive you open the door for doubt. Everyone likes a winner. They want to choose a partner that will make them successful. A partner that will be there for them when the going gets tough. Use the right words. Do you “Help to enable client success”? Or, do you “Drive client success with measurable results”?

Emotion Sells – In B2B it’s easy to think that just because your company delivers science or technology or skyscrapers that emotion doesn’t come into play. That emotion is just for B2C. Emotion is powerful for B2B too. Stop thinking that reasoning is the only approach. Sure, what you sell has to work, it has to be based on logic and backed up by facts and performance. But you’ll never get to that discussion if you don’t first appeal to human emotion in creating a need to take action. Remember this quote, “reason leads to conclusions, while emotion leads to action”. I say more emotion, more action.

Order – The ordering of words matters too. Take the cheese pizza example above and note that the question was phrased with half a pound coming after 12 ounces. There is more weight associated with the words that sentences end with. The brain can only remember so much and almost always can remember the last item mentioned. If you are listing three advantages let the most impactful be the last one.

Bringing it all together

Franklin Roosevelt was a master with words and knew how to use them in persuading a country when the need arose. Perhaps his finest hour came when he would address Congress on December 8th 1941 — the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The speech had been written the night before, but only after a long debate over its length. Roosevelt, insisting that brevity would be more impactful, won out over his advisors who thought such an event deserved an hour at the least.

Few people know that on his way to the podium Roosevelt made two last-minute changes to the single sheet of paper he would use. The original script had read; “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in world history – the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” The two changes he had made were to replace ‘world history” with the single word “infamy”, and “simultaneously” with the word “suddenly”

For impact, Roosevelt had used the speech’s strongest and most memorable word, infamy, at the end of a phrase that would so permanently define the event. His choice of suddenly, in the second phrase, infused great immediacy to the situation at hand. Both changes invoked emotion and relevance to what the people listening were thinking. The hook had been set. Just minutes later he ended to thunderous applause. The rest was history.