Hey, Watch Your Language

Anyone who has worked at or with Catapult knows that we are, “word-based life forms.” It is who we are. We go to great lengths to define brands – their attributes and characteristics – and then translate these essential building blocks into names, taglines, mission statements, corporate values documents, short-medium-long descriptors, product line logic maps, PR sign-offs, FAQs, web descriptions, product launch brochures, and whatever else we can get our hands on. We codify these components into Language Toolboxes that contain voice and tone rules along with nomenclature glossaries that define the language of the brand. Yes, we do go deep.

There is a thing that typically happens when we start crawling all up in a brand’s nomenclature. It involves word choices and it’s something we should all be watching out for.

It is the use of negative words or words that conjure up undesirable imagery. Words like: try, journey, wash, or hassle-free are used all the time. And while it may seem mundane, they all feel like work. There are better, more positive words to choose, like pursuit or clean. Or avoiding the use of qualifiers like try or help all together. And not bringing up the negative things like “hassle” at all – chances are pretty good that the reader was not even thinking this and the only reason they are now is because you brought it up. These simple word choices serve to quicken the language and make the brand appear active and positive. Start looking for them in your communications materials–it will become a muscle you build overtime, and the people around you will start to adopt the thinking as well.

The other issue we find is the use of category jargon along with the business buzzwords of the moment. The disruptive, agile, innovative, lean, front end of IOT or whatever lingo. Sometimes these words are thrown in to make your language seem smart, but they are certainly not necessary and most likely detract from the message. The real problem is that these are all loaded words that mean different things to different people. It is bad branding and even worse communications to allow your audience to have to interpret what you mean. It is, of course, much better to explain what you are actually trying to say in language that it easy to understand… “Hey, this allows you to do things quicker and easier.” Strong brands take these types of word choices seriously.

Of course, there are many language guidelines and rules– these are ones we see frequently. The other important part is that your language matches your imagery. You can’t go saying you’re dynamic and have a stoic and dated identity. But that is a story for another time. I will leave you with this one other common thing we see, and that is the use of exclamation points in copy. The general rule here is, unless you are writing dialog or script direction, you should not use one. And if you still find that you think that you do–resist the urge. The solution is not the punctuation, it is all the word choices made that came before it.