Archive for the ‘Words that sell’ Category

New Address for Word Currency

March 6, 2008

TO: Word Currency readers and cohorts –

This blog is now hosted on the Smith-Winchester website. New address:

Please visit and update your feed or aggregator. We’re launching a series on the impact of “potent messages”(as opposed to wishy-washy ones). Hope you can join us.

-David Gordon Schmidt

Listen Up!! (!)

January 8, 2008

Ragging on over-used words in business communications is one of the major purposes of this blog, but the business world isn’t the only place you’ll find weary vocabulary. The presidential campaign that is upon us reminds us of the annoying momentum that certain vocabulary builds amongst politicians.

Sure, there’s lots of catch phrases…it goes with the territory. But the one that gets me is the use of the word “Look!” at the beginning of a sentence when the candidate is making a statement, on camera. Almost every candidate uses it; some say it 5 or 6 times within a debate or during a substantive interview. It’s now the rote exclamation, seemingly chanted to signal that what is about to be said is meant emphatically, and the wisdom revealed is not to be questioned.

We hear it so often that it has no affect other than to add to the impression that the candidate is in the standard “candidate-speak” mode. It’s almost as unnecessary as the grossly-popular “at this point in time” back in the early 90s.

Eyeball Look Eyeball Look

Ordering us to “Look!” has the same tone as “Listen up!” and implies that the listener isn’t paying close enough attention, and that the words that follow have the importance of an edict, a proclamation, or perhaps a previously undisclosed truth.

Speaking of politics and primary elections, if you have limited time to evaluate the candidates, my recommendation is this: listen to each of them talk for 30 to 45 minutes in a relaxed setting with Tim Russert on the “Meet the Press” interviews that are available on-line on As Tim Russert’s father (a loyal viewer, of course) would say, “you get a chance to size them up.” Tim grills them fairly well, but importantly, no one is interrupting them in order to sustain a combative, hyper pace.

If you get bored, you can always make sport of counting the number of times that they say “Look.”


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New PR Paradigm

November 27, 2007

Here’s the second installment from our CEO Emeritus, Charlie Weaver… from his recently-finished article that explores customer-created brands and the new battle for mindshare.


For some, public relations has become the new magic bullet. In their book, The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR, marketing strategists Al Reis and Laura Reis make a strong case for Public Relations as the lead marketing tool for those attuned to the new branding and communications realities.

The authors argue that traditional advertising has lost its communications function and, by extension, it’s role in development of mindshare. The primary purpose of advertising, they assert, is to defend a brand once it has been built by public relations and related third-party tactics.

It’s tough to argue with success. Many of the world’s most powerful brands have been built with little or no advertising. Google, Starbucks, eBay and dozens of other category leaders have risen to prominence on the strength of the new public-relations paradigm.

Or have they? While there is solid evidence that positive third-party media coverage played a strong role in propelling these and other brands into the public consciousness, it’s not time to transfer all your eggs into the PR basket just yet. Wimpers and Disappears

Take, the ill-fated dot com start-up that set out to revolutionize the way people bought pet food. The venture capitalists ponied up $50 million. The technology gurus built a killer website. And the marketing team breathed life into the sock puppet – a hit with consumers and an instant classic in advertising circles.

So what went wrong? Some would argue that this was a prime example of the growing inability of mass media advertising to connect in a meaningful way with its target audience.

It seemed that TV viewers, while entertained, could not be moved by the self-serving messages of an unknown brand. Yet and its dot com contemporaries didn’t lack for PR either. Newspapers, consumer magazines and other media outlets overflowed with glowing reports of the dot com revolution and its power to liberate and empower consumers. was one of the revolution’s early heroes and the recipient of lavish media coverage.

Trouble is, no one thought to check with the consumer. Brands like,, Jobster and TripHub didn’t fail from lack of effective PR, or because traditional advertising no longer worked, but because they didn’t have a viable value proposition and didn’t deliver a brand experience anyone cared about. They disappeared because they couldn’t convert mindshare into paying customers.

Linux Community

Then there’s Linux – the number one brand in the open-source software category and poster child for the PR model of mindshare building. However, the Linux brand wasn’t built by PR, but by a passionate and committed community of users and developers. PR followed mindshare, more than creating it.

Linux software grew out of a project at the University of Helsinki and was placed on the Internet where it was made freely available to programmers who could apply and modify it to suit themselves. It wasn’t owned by anyone. So there was no one to advertise it. And no one to send out PR releases touting it.

The power of The Linux brand, first popularized in the mid to late 1990’s, came from its ability to deliver a high-value functional brand experience consistent with the psycho-social and emotional mindsets of Linux users. They supported and defended the brand, first and foremost, because they passionately believe in it. Champions of the Linux brand were completely self-selecting – they themselves created the compelling experiences that gave the brand power. In the process, the lines between commerce and community virtually disappeared.

It wasn’t until after the Linux brand was embraced by the technology community, that companies like Red Hat and Novell refined it and built businesses providing related support and services. The brand came first, its commercialization second.
The same basic process unfolded with online brands such as social networking site MySpace and video sharing powerhouse YouTube.

Viral YouTube

From its May2005 launch, it took YouTube just six months to achieve national brand status, and under two years to command a $1.6 billion buyout from Google. Advertising had no role in YouTube brand ascendancy. And PR came along only after YouTube had been canonized by its user community and experienced by the millions who flocked online to get in on the fun.

Like Linux and MySpace, the YouTube brand was a viral marketing phenomenon—experience-driven, community-based, and pulled into existence by brand acolytes, rather than pushed by the brand’s originator.


To read the entire article “The New Mindshare: Rise of the Customer-Created Brand”

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Gaining the New Mindshare

October 8, 2007

In its highest service to the marketing cause, powerful language fosters positive brand associations. “Word currency” is only one piece of the puzzle, however.

Smith-Winchester’s CEO Emeritus, Charlie Weaver, has written a comprehensive overview of the evolving landscape that we, as business marketers, traverse every day seeking to gain mindshare within our markets.

Here’s an excerpt:

Mindshare as Emotion

Ultimately, gaining mindshare isn’t a matter of finding new creative ideas that will rise above the communications glut, or even leveraging new communication channels that will help better connect with your target audience (although these can help).

Instead, more powerful brand communication starts with understanding that brands are emotional constructs. How we relate to a brand is filtered through our feelings – joy, distress, fear, pride, anger, love and a host of others. Brands, the evidence shows, find their natural constituencies and gain mindshare when they resonate with the positive emotional predispositions of those with whom they interact.

Recent research reported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science shows that brain structures that think and ones that feel emotions are not walled off from each other, as has been generally supposed. Instead, emotion and cognition are elements of one brain process. We literally cannot think without feeling. Other studies suggest that emotion is in charge of virtually all human decision making. Post-buying-decision rational arguments become mere justification for earlier emotive behavior.

Emotion, therefore is a crucial part of the contextual history each brand stakeholder brings to the brand encounter. And because this package is unique to each individual, no two stakeholders perceive the same brand in identical ways. The problem for marketers – the message that an advertiser believes is being taken away may not be what any given customer actually internalizes.

This reality is why passive mass marketing techniques are giving way to more emphasis on downstream interactive communication processes that empower prospective customers to tailor the brand experience to suit their own distinctive psycho-social profiles.

Brands, then, are emotion-charged entities formed as a product of both passive and active learning. This understanding exposes the limitations of the classic “rational mind” advertising model, which holds that products and services should be promoted based on competitive advantages that potential customers can understand and find credible.

The fact is, brands gain adherents by meeting both functional and emotional needs. This means that brand communications must have both rational and appropriate non-rational dimensions to earn and retain mindshare.

Behavior Follows Feeling

All brand communications illicit an emotional response, whether intended or not. Further, customers and prospects are often unaware of the emotional under-currents that inform their purchase decisions.

This is why research into customer buying motivations rarely yields complete answers and why results can sometimes seem downright baffling. “It doesn’t make sense” is the plaintive cry arising from the marketing department.

Emotion accounts for this disconnect between what customers say motivates their buying decisions and what actually occurs. This can be seen clearly in the business-to-business sphere where study after study shows price to be a primary buying-decision criteria, yet low price routinely correlates poorly with market share, volume growth and other brand success indicators.

Brands are Ideologies

The solution is to understand that successful brands – and the mindshare they command – are first and foremost belief systems brought to life and validated through brand experiences. Brands aren’t built by marketing executives or consultants, but by communities of believers, an unstoppable emotion-charged force that advertising alone can neither create nor control.

The New Mindshare turns earlier branding assumption on their head. What was once viewed as a mass-media-driven outside-in process is now understood as an ideology-driven inside-out process. In this construct, a company’s employees embrace a common customer-centric belief system, which gives meaning to their work and informs brand outreach at every customer touchpoint.

Mindshare, then, can be seen to start with mission, vision and values woven into a coherent and compelling ideology by company leadership. As this ideology is internalized and promulgated by company employees, a nascent brand emerges. The brand-as belief-system becomes an inseparable part of the company’s overall business design, a fully integrated approach that is the only way to create a truly powerful and lasting brand.

Products and services certainly need to satisfy functional customer needs. Brands that fall short at this level cannot endure. But in an age of overwhelming choice and growing competitive parity, successful brands must also provide a durable emotional bond with brand stakeholders.

As author and advertising executive Patrick Hanlon observes in his excellent book, Primal Branding, the brand-as-belief-system is powerful because it encompasses relevance, trust, empathy, leadership, resonance and commitment – the very attributes advertisers spend millions each year trying to parlay into customer mindshare.(6)

Hanlon has understood a crucial point: Ideology is believing. And believing is belonging – being part of something larger than ourselves, a fundamental psychological longing described by Abraham Maslow in his acclaimed Hierarchy of Human Needs more than 60 years ago.

Brands reflecting these principles draw communities of true believers. Such brands achieve mindshare – and wallet share – because they provide an authentic experience that resonates with the hopes, dreams, and deepest held beliefs of those who bring them to life.

To read the entire article “The New Mindshare: Rise of the Customer-Created Brand”


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Borrowing Terms From the Paranormal

September 5, 2007



Borrowing words from the paranormal “sciences” is kind of fun (with the Halloween season right around the corner). Especially since technology-driven business sometimes gets out of hand and becomes a little spooky. Try these words for impact in your business writings.


Sounds like an automation ailment to me. Why not? In the paranormal world, it means an unconscious and spontaneous muscular movement caused by the spirits.


Paranormal business

Every have a derailed, dormant, disembodied project suddenly rear its ugly head, startling everyone at the conference table?


The well-known software company notwithstanding.


My favorite. Company management folks often find themselves “living in the past.” Unfortunately, they don’t also always recognize the reoccurring business outcomes that ought to feel like a 2-ton Déjà vu.


A way to eliminate shipping costs completely.


Ever seen a CEO do this? Scrying is a prophecy in which the fortune-teller predicts the future while staring into a mirror. (Crystal balls with logos are common also.)



IT’S LAME (hall of fame)



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Sure, But Is it Cost-Effective?

July 17, 2007


A couple of suggestions from colleague Dave Arnesen:

1) “Cost-Effective.”


It’s supposed to mean that you get lots of “effect” for minimum cost…. maximized “bang for the buck.” But the term is lame because it’s tame…and way over-used.

Like “innovative,” it’s one of those adjectives you throw in because it sounds good and, what the heck, why not? In business writing, both PR and advertising, we’re almost all guilty of it. We can’t really say that the product is “cheap,” and we can’t stick our neck out and position the pricing specifically against the competition. We could and should be talking ROI. How about “cost-assertive?”

When was the last time you heard anyone ask a salesperson “Is this product cost-effective?”

Cost-Effective Money

2) “Total Solutions Provider”

So, is this opposed to a “Partial Solutions Provider?”


“River.” As in “a river of new ideas.”

Also in style: Dennis Miller-type metaphors used in technical articles (with presumably a little less political agenda).

Example: “plow through coding tasks like a monster truck at a tea party.”

(Credit to Joel Spolsky, Fog Creek Software – Inc, 5/07)


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Babble Ain’t Just for Us Techno-Babblers No More

June 20, 2007

Jargon in promotional communications is bad enough. But bloated, almost nonsensical babble can be even worse. Especially when it’s long and protracted…what you might call”Ramble-Babble.”

Eric Webber (Webber/McJ Communications (Austin, TX) recently railed on some poignant examples of abuse in his Advertising Age column. (June 4, 2007). Quoted from Hastings, a company that sells books, music and movies: “(our goal is to) satisfy our customers’ desires for personal entertainment and information through total customer satisfaction.” Wow.

From another communications company: “We are developing sustainable communications programs that actually revolve around what we have learned, through systems thinking, are in the customer’s best interests.”



Thanks to Jessica Wayland (PR Pro from the Detroit Economic Club) for several suggestions, including:


How sweet the sound. Find it used on 188 million web pages.

It’s in the running for our “most overused adjective” award (to be bestowed soon). The question is raised: if everything offered in the business world is innovative, what’s the opposite and when should it be used? “Conventional” often describes the dreaded Brand X when comparisons are made to the competition.

I have an answer. When presenting both your standard and the really-cool-revved-up version of your product, refer to them this way: “To meet your needs, you can choose our innovative Maverick XT or settle for our uninspired Mainstay Model A.”




A noun: even better as a verb. When you’re talking about direction.


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How to Interview a Potential PR / Marketing Hire

June 4, 2007



Interviewing job applicants came up in discussion last week amongst peers. Here’s my short list:

1. Shut up.

Don’t jump in and fill in the pauses. Let them talk. Don’t spend 35 minutes of a 45-minute interview telling the candidate about your company. Amazing what you’ll find out when there are a few moments of silence. Remember, you’re looking to hire a communications professional who has to know how to communicate.

2. Look for a confluence of values

The resume matters only if the candidate has integrity, a strong work ethic, and both a desire and a need to succeed. Plus whatever other personality characteristics are important to you.

HR people, and Tony Mikes of Second Wind, will tell you this.

3. Give the candidate a writing test.

4. Go ahead…ask the “best” and “worst” questions.

Might as well stir things up. Try “What’s the most embarrassing moment in your career.” A candid colleague…a very successful PR VP…told me that early on she was pitching a business story when the editor asked her if the company in question was private or publically owned, and she didn’t know. End of conversation.

It’s all about lessons learned.


5. Read lots of other advice from HR veterans. Such as:

5 Ways to learn the most about a job candidate


Now back to our regularly-scheduled feature:



This can be a refreshing term when used in a business communications context. As in: “keep your website evergreen by frequently supplying new data on…”



The prepositional phrase: “In today’s competitive business world…”

Perhaps the ultimate throw-away. If you’re in business, can you think of a set of words that could illicit more of a sarcastic “Duh!” from the reader. What’s worse, this phrase is often followed by the revelation that “you need to be more competitive” or something close.




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Slough Off the Cruft

May 21, 2007

A few more observations about overused words mentioned in David Meerman Scott’s blog post Gobbledygook Manifesto. By the way, his book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, is coming in June. I’ve seen an advance copy – lots of information and ideas on building networks (and customers) via blogs and RSS.


“World class.”

The term seems to suggest that, no matter where the reader lives, there is always somewhere else in the world where everyone has higher standards than “us undiscerning schmucks that live right here.” Once upon a time, “world class” indicated that the product or product design was viable on more than one continent. Then it became a favorite edit-in adjective to imply that the product or service is so great that it ought to be deemed the standard of the world. Result of overuse: it’s almost as trite as “super.”

“Easy to use.” Yep, nothing’s hard.



It signifies anything unpleasant that accumulates over time. As in dust under the bed. You could use it to describe an efficiency-stealing bad habit that makes operations progressively worse.


Synonym for “behave” or “conduct.” As in: ” Jason’s tech savvy lets him comport himself with confidence.”

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Robust Me

May 2, 2007


“Oh jeez, not another flexible, scalable, groundbreaking, industry-standard, cutting-edge product from a market-leading, well-positioned company! I think I’m gonna puke!” says marketing advice author David Meerman Scott in his blog post Gobbledygook Manifesto. He tallied several hundred thousand press releases last year with help from the wire services and news aggregators, and found over-use of bloated and vague terms like “robust,” “world class,” and “easy to use.”

The adjective “robust” has always been a little fuzzy in my book. It could mean “heavy duty,” or “purposely over-designed.” Or does it simply mean that, as opposed to being barely capable of doing the job it’s intended to do, the product in question is really, really, absolutely designed and/or built to do the job it’s intended to do?

More on Gobbledygook words soon.



“Pulse” as a verb.

As in: “information that pulses through the network,” or “the extra throughput tends to pulse the bottom line.” Use it to convey vibrancy, authority, intensity or resilience.

pulse marketing communications


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