'HOW TO WHY' SERIES: FIVE

Purpose: check.   Core audience: check.  Competitive and collaborative climate: check. Primary benefit statement: check

Now, it’s time to be true to your word.

What single word best captures your benefit and message? Before you commit to your word, you also have to abide by this rule: the word must be present in your primary benefit statement.

This is the question where the poet in an organization can get a bit fulfilled. The idea of boiling down your promise to just one word displays an appreciation of the power and significance of words usually absent in the language of business. Look at your promise statement and from it choose the word that best captures the essence of your promise. The selection of your key word will drive the form, content, character, and creativity of your communications. This word will become the fulcrum point for your story.

This is the question where the planning team around the table is pulled in two directions. The first is the desire to achieve something they have really never done before, i.e. capture the real meaning of their message in one word. The other is the notion that capturing what they are all about with one word isn’t possible, that a complex, multi-faceted, diverse organization can’t be defined so simply. It’s this tension that galvanizes thinking on the part of the team and results not only in the business finding its word but also the team finding itself on the same page.

The determination of a key word sets in motion the development of incredibly focused and innovative communication solutions. You may think that narrowing it all down to one single word is stifling, limiting, and will shackle the imagination. Quite the opposite occurs. This precise selection of one word is actually liberating. It structures the frame for creating communications, but not the creative itself. All too often communication concepts are created in a void and end up being communications for communications sake. Or, they emerge from such a thick, complex brief that the big idea looks thick and complex. The absolute clarity and focus provided by your key word results in crystal-clear, focused but still highly creative conceptual solutions.

Bear in mind, the actual word you select is not necessarily going to be in your tagline, headlines, copy and every piece of messaging you create. But, it might. More often, the intent and meaning of the word will be present in your communications. If you choose elegant as your key word, it’s not a given that the word elegant would ever be present in your communication materials. But the meaning of elegant would be present in your materials. Or, if you choose the word responsible as your key word, you may well determine that it should literally be present in your story, no matter where or how it is being told.

The word you pick will indeed make all the difference in the emotional and intellectual qualities of your message. Think of how you react to “Living the American Dream” versus “Living the American Future.” The response to the word dream is quite a bit different than the word future. Taking the dream theme further, imagine if Dr. King announced, “I have a strategic goal” instead of “I have a dream”? It takes you to a totally different place, doesn’t it?

Choosing and embracing your key word is where you will sow the seeds of success or failure. Your word choice will change meaningless meanderings into powerfully steady statements. Consider the weight or intent of your word as well. Don’t hedge your words. What a difference it makes to say “I should,” or “I ought to,” versus “I will.”

Make sure your word stays true to the meaning of the word. Words have connotative and denotative meanings. The denotative meaning is the dictionary meaning, the one that we all refer to when trying to learn or understand language. For example, take the word car. It’s denotative meaning is a road vehicle, usually with four wheels and powered by an internal-combustion engine, designed to carry a small number of passengers. Then there is the connotative definition. This is the meaning each of us has in our heads and attaches to the word upon hearing or reading it. Someone who hears the word car most likely will see her perception of a car. It could be a Porsche or a Kia or a Lincoln Town Car or an SUV, Tesla or hybrid. It could represent where a first kiss took place or it could conjure up a tragic moment. The reaction is not common to all, but a perception and realization based on the individual’s context. To add clarity we begin to add adjectives and adverbs: fast car, cool car, sexy car, functional car, or economic car.

The significance of the connotative meaning of a word is its powerful emotional content. Your primary audience will react emotionally rather than intellectually when they encounter the word. For example, look at the word mouse. Its traditional denotative meaning is a small rodent found all over the world that has a brown or grayish-brown coat and a long mostly hairless tail. Not very emotional or engaging, right? Now think of Minnie Mouse, Mighty Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Jerry Mouse, Pinky and the Brain, Stuart Little, Remy, The Three Blind Mice, The City Mouse, the Country Mouse, and Of Mice and Men. All can be vivid and emotional and connotative expressions of mice that go way beyond the denotative meaning.

The greatest impact of words comes from using the connotative meanings to affect an audience’s emotional response. One reason for this is that you try to debate, argue with, or mathematically dissect emotions – but you will find it extra difficult because they don’t gravitate to the land of logic. Embrace and employ your word this way and your audience will align with you at an emotional level, which will strengthen your intellectual relationship with them as well. The key is to make the emotional connection true and authentic. Capture it in the truest sense of the word. The worse thing you can do is use the power of your word to spin, manipulate and skirt the truth.

Emotions aside, words play an undeniable role in our world. You’re probably Googling a word as you are reading this. Relationships, knowledge, and commerce all are being shaped, formed, and fueled, often by one word. Frank Outlaw wrote: “ Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, for it will become your destiny.”

With this inspiration, begin the process of determining your key word. Begin by reviewing your benefit statement, your final answer to the previous question. What you have crafted here serves up what you have as potential key words. Remember, your key word must be embedded somewhere in that statement. To show how this works, here is a working example. Consider the benefit statement:

We can personally help you achieve financial health and freedom.

There are ten words to choose from for the key word.

What a difference it will make if you choose the word freedom instead of any of the others. Or personally, instead of financial. The selection of any one of these words will take your communications down a very distinct path. That path will be entirely devoted to communicating your complete benefit statement, but the view from the path will be impacted by the key word. In this example, the bank chose the word personally. The meaning of the word personally will run throughout all their communications and operations. Although the word itself isn’t present in the bank’s tag line, its meaning is loud and clear.

Go back and take a look at your benefit statement. Make sure it’s the one you can commit to. Then be extremely deliberative in choosing your key word. Write down why you chose that one word over the others. Write a working definition of that word based on your business and your purpose. Develop a connotative and denotative definition of your word. Get a feel for the emotional impact of the word. Does the word require an adjective or adverb to make it work better? Why? Are you excited about your word? Did you find yourself going back and rewriting your benefit statement so you could have different words to choose from? Why did that happen? Did the word you choose surprise you? Is the word also in your purpose?

Once you have determined your word and you will be true to your word, you can move on to the next question, ‘Why should I believe you?’.

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