Live From ACCM: Choose Your Words Carefully

New Orleans – Word choice is more crucial than it has been over the past half-century, according to Herschell Gordon Lewis, president of Lewis Enterprises and author of 31 books.

In his segment during Monday’s intensive session, “Project Runway: Creating a Red Carpet Catalog,” Lewis noted that word choice, “can hold or lose a catalog recipient.” For example, when should you use “perhaps” and when should you use “maybe”? The answer? Think. Don’t guess. The Clarity Commandment, as Lewis related, reads: “When you choose words and phrases for force-communication, clarity is paramount. Don’t let any other component of the communications mix interfere with it.”

Lewis centered on several rules that can help catalogers:

  • The double-edge word-sword rule: Don’t use words with possible negative implications as intended positives. For example, “old” or “serviceable.”
  • The Negative suggestion as positive rule: Use words with possible negative implications as intended positives. For example, “not for” and “don’t.”
  • The benefit outpulls product rule: A headline emphasizing benefit will attract more positive attention than an announcement of what it is.
  • The exclusive isn’t enough rule: Exclusivity without recognizable benefit is a boiler-plate pitch.
  • The what’s new rule: “New” in a starburst isn’t competitive with “new” explained in terms of benefits.
  • The improvement over replacement rule: Suggesting an item as an improvement may be less likely to cause confusion or rejection than suggesting a new concept.
  • The reason to buy rule: Copy should include a reason to buy, the reason being non-exclusive for this catalog’s customer.
  • The only here rule: Claiming primal or sole source positions both the catalog and the item.
  • The passive/passive rule: Passive voice is less dynamic and less proprietary.
  • The explain the difference rule: When offering multiple items with similar features, give each one a clearly understood reason to buy.
  • The rhetorical uniqueness rule: Uniqueness stems easily from avoidance of generic verbs and adjectives. For example, “made” is generic; “hand-crafted” = uniqueness.
  • Lewis also noted that the Web not only is price-driven, but has more than significantly shrunk attention spans. “Grab and shake wins the race,” in e-mail marketing Lewis said.
  • Another trend for the 21st Century is I, Lewis said. “We write the way people talk.”

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