So you’re trying to get people to visit your website, sign up for your email list, or buy your product. You know your choice of words is crucial in getting someone to pay attention and take action. But you’re drowned out by a sea of marketers doing the same thing, using “power” words like act fast, exclusive, discover, inspire!, try our best-selling…, etc. How do you stand out? You have to be the one voice that actually speaks to something your customers care about.

Here’s an example I thought of while running in a neighborhood where a lot of kids live, where I often see drivers brazenly defying the speed limit signs. What would happen if we changed “Speed” to “Safe?” That one simple change would surely resonate with at least some drivers. Why? Because you’re speaking to a different part of their psyche—not the self-centered driver, but the human being that doesn’t actually want to hurt anyone. You’re asking people to consciously make a choice to do or not do something society considers dangerous (exceeding the “safe” limit). Somewhere, in the back of their brains, some drivers will feel the weight of that choice and slow down. And all we did was change one word.

Make It Work

Here’s how you can apply this. The next time you’re writing an email subject line or coming up with copy for an ad, drop the power words playbook. Instead, look for the specific words that your target audience will connect with, something that touches on their hopes, dreams, fears, or frustrations. Find the words that resonate with your most valuable customers, the people who desperately want what you’re offering. Speak to their hearts, not their heads.

Crush Life Ad exampleAs an example, as part of my EMBA program at Villanova, my team developed a campaign to rebrand AXE body spray. We were aiming to shift the customer group from high-schoolers to 20-30 year old men. Our proposition was that AXE would give you the confidence to take on whatever life threw at you. We created a full-page ad with a pic of Bradley Cooper, and our headline was a clear and simple beacon for our target audience: Crush Life.

When I worked for a motorcycle accessories retailer, a couple Christmases ago I came up with what’s probably my best email subject line so far. In fact, it was featured in a tweet by the editor of Wired, who called it the “Best Cyber Monday headline ever.” It was: “Let’s Be Honest. We Just Want to Get Rid of This Stuff.” The open rate was phenomenal. We were speaking to the people who shared our frustration at the unending insanity of holiday sales. We weren’t trying to fool anybody, we were trying to share a moment with them at a time when everyone is fatigued by the barrage of holiday marketing. And it worked.

Take It From S.T.C.

People act according to what they identify with, or maybe how they’d like to be identified. So don’t fall into the trap of overused power words. Look deeper at what you’re really offering people and find words that connect with their innermost needs. Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “What comes from the heart, goes to the heart.” Now get out there and win people over with the most powerful tool you have: personal connection.


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