Leverage the Secret Language of Selling

04/07/2015 05:05 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2015

Want to connect with your current and future clients better? Start paying closer attention to what you say to them and how you say it. Using language effectively to tap into consumer psychology can give you a competitive edge that can set you apart in your market.

So says Michael Fishman, one of the world's leading consultants and researchers in the areas of direct response marketing. He's helped scores of companies achieve huge results by reinventing their messages and leveraging the power of language to tap into what consumers want most.

Here are three of Fishman's top tips:


1. Speak your customers' language

Business owners often use overly complex language or jargon that puts up a wall between themselves and their market, without even realizing it. In Fishman's area of expertise, health and wellness, the term optimal wellness is bandied about everywhere you look. "No one in history ever woke up in the morning talking about having optimal wellness," says Fishman. "They want what it means but they never say those words."

In my main line of work, financial services, financial literacy is written and spoken about by lots of financial advisors and firms. There's little doubt that many people desire to possess financial literacy -- but even the smartest people out there don't use that term in everyday life. Instead, they talk about how they wish they had known how to save more when they were younger, or that they wish they hadn't kept so much money on the sidelines during the past few years.

When it comes to technical subjects, we want things be easy, smooth and understandable. That's true whether you have four PhDs or you never went to high school. The upshot: Simplifying your language is almost always the right move. "It's everyday language that really connects with people, but many businesses try to sound smart and clever, which gets in the way of the clarity that customers need to want to work with someone," says Fishman. "To be clear is to speak the way in which your market speaks. It's that simple, but it's very difficult to remember and practice."

Exception: Jargon can make sense if your customer base consists of a single, specialized niche -- golfers, orthopedic surgeons, etc. Members of a tribe like to gather and speak its language, so using "insider" terms can serve as a cohesive force for making those people feel connected to each other and to your business.

2. Avoid terms with negative connotations

That said, simple words aren't necessarily enough. Some very basic words will actually turn customers and potential customers off, causing them to move away from you.

One great example is the word "teach." Many people don't have the best memories of school (even those who did well in it). When you tell customers or prospects, "I'm going to teach you to...," you can unknowingly rip a scab off a 30-year-old wound they don't even know exists.

Much better alternatives include: "I'll show you," "I'll explain to you" and "I'll share with you." All of these terms are less psychologically activating in a negative way, and they are more inclusive and inviting to a larger number of people. At CEG Worldwide, we used to use the word "teach" all the time in our educational coaching and mastermind programs. But we eventually learned that our clients were much more receptive to the ideas of mutual discovery and sharing knowledge than they were to the prospective of being taught.

In the end, the outcome is that same -- but you're presenting yourself in a much more accessible and welcoming way.

3. Leverage the "language lab"

There's a great, no-cost resource on the Web that can have a huge impact on your ability to use language to attract consumers:

Amazon is a giant language lab that you can leverage to better hone your marketing messages. Here's how to use it:

  • Find the best-selling books that are related to the type of product or service you offer (finance, health, golf, etc.)
  • Look at the negative reviews of the books. You'll see many comments explaining why a particular book is insufficient in some way. Pay attention to the words that the reviewers use to describe what they're disappointed about and what they wish the book would have covered. You'll see repeated words and phrases in most cases. If you keep track of the most used words and phrases, you can put together a glossary of how your market refers to your offering.

Odds are, those reviewers aren't writing in highly technical terms. They're probably expressing thoughts just as they would say them -- simply, clearly and directly. This is not rocket science, obviously, but it's a tip that has proven to be very useful and reliable when creating marketing tests and measuring marketing results. Fishman reports that this one strategy alone has resulted in big revenue gains for entrepreneurs he's worked with. That's because using Amazon reviews as a language lab allows you to hear directly what is working, and what isn't, from the actual people who use your product or service.

It sure beats spending tens of thousands of dollars on focus group studies!

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