The 10 Rules of Effective Language

I just read and loved Words that Work, It’s Not What you Say, It’s What People Hear by Dr. Frank Luntz. Luntz is recognized as one of “hottest” communications strategists. His ten rules for effective language are worth sharing because they are so practical and proven through market research and market success with organizations and brands.

Rule #1 – Simplicity: Use Small Words

Avoid words that force Americans to use a dictionary because most won’t. Long words can raise suspicions. Think of the simplicity of messages such as “Campbell’s Soup Mmm Good” or “M&Ms: melt in your mouth; not in your hands.”

Rule #2 – Brevity: Use Short Sentences

Mark Twain said it best: “Didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” A picture is worth a 1000 words: “The Uncola” and “They’re grrreat!” for Frosted Flakes or the infamous Goldilocks “Just right.” Successful communication is small beats large, short beats long and plain beats complex.

Rule #3 – Credibility is as Important as Philosophy

People have to believe it to buy it. Are products really “new & improved?” That claim can be the recipe for customer resentment. New Coke is the prime horror story and BMW shines with “the ultimate driving machine.” Credibility is simple: say who you are and do, and then “Just Do It.”

Rule #4 – Consistency Matters

Like the Energizer bunny, repetition should keep going and going. Consider messages such as “Avis We Try Harder” (45 years old) or “Wheaties – Breakfast of Champions!” (72 years old). Message consistency takes extraordinary discipline but pays off tenfold in breeding customer loyalty.

Rule #5 – Novelty: Offer Something New

Words that work can involve a new definition of an old idea such as the famous Volkswagen “Think Small.” The combination of surprise and intrigue creates a compelling message. What matters is that a message is discovery: “Wow, I never thought of that.” Hebrew National hot dogs novelly stated: “We answer to a higher authority.”

Rule #6 – Sound & Texture Matter

Can be simply the same syllabic cadence as in the memorable “Snap, Crackle, and Pop” of Rice Krispies which conjures the brand name and cereal taste too. Sometimes, you can even butcher language, such as Apple’s “Think Different,” and McDonald’s “i’m lovin’ it.” and speak directly to how customers feel about the experience.

Rule #7 – Speak Aspirationally

Good aspirational language triggers an emotional remembrance and personalizes your message. Relating to the language of your buyer’s own life personalizes it. Aspirational messages see the “you” — the smarter, sexier & sunnier “you.” “Olay, love the skin you’re in” affirms self worth. DeBeers’ “diamond is forever.” evokes eternity and immortality in the diamond and relationship.

Rule #8 – Visualize

Paint a vivid picture: NBC “Must See TV;” Allstate “You’re in Good Hands!” Dodge “Grab Life by the Horns.” When Infiniti introduced its new cars, it showed no cars in ads; just drivers’ fantasies. Lexus’ “Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” showed cars navigating windy roads; a solid but not spectacular message. Who has more market share? “Imagine” is the most powerful communications tool, allowing a person to picture a personal vision is in his heart and mind.

Rule #9 – Ask A Question

“Is It Live or is it Memorex?” “Can you hear me now?” (Verizon) and “Got Milk?” “Are you better off today than you were four years ago? (President Reagan). It’s not what say, but what you ask that really matters. A statement as a rhetorical question can have greater impact than an assertion. A rhetorical question makes the reaction personal, and personalized communication is best.

Rule #10 – Provide Context and Explain Relevance

Context establishes a message’s value, its impact and its relevance. The right “why” to address is just as important as the “how” you offer. Burger King’s “have it your way” is no mass-produced, assembly-line fast food. Relevance is the individual, personal meaning and value in your buyers’ words. If it doesn’t matter, it won’t be heard. American Express’ “Don’t leave home without it” hit the fear of losing a wallet away from home. “Hassle-free technology” trumps the type of chip in your Dell computer.

Let’s dialogue soon about how we can create effective language together for your organization, brands, products and services.