• Shutdown or Slimdown? Choose your words carefully


The federal government is shut down, and depending on your point of view and level of interest, this is:

a) the greatest blow against government tyranny since Boston Harbor became tea-flavored,
b) an embarrassing display of petty politics,
c) or another boring news story pushing back the latest update on who twerked where and with whom.

For us copywriters/content managers/word nerds, one interesting aspect of all this is the insistence of some conservative-leaning media organizations to describe what’s going on as a government “slimdown”, not a government shutdown. This is due to the fact that some essential government functions remain in place – the military continues to get paid, TSA agents are still patting people down, meat inspections are still taking place, for example.

The point of this blog, however, is not to debate politics, but rather to look at the importance of word choice in your marketing. Every word has a meaning – but some words carry with them intense emotion, power, and impact. Changing a single word can completely change how your reader responds to that sentence.

The use of the word “slimdown” is not accidental. These media agencies could have used “partial” government shutdown. But whereas a “shutdown” has a negative connotation, a slimdown could be interpreted as a beneficial step taken by an entity that is bloated or overweight.

Word choice is important in your marketing efforts as well.

Is that line of furniture unique? Or is it different?

Is the artist youthful? Or childish?

Are you frugal? Or cheap?

Poor word choice can torpedo the best marketing efforts, much like painting a Victorian home pink and purple, or installing a screen door on the bottom of your canoe.  

Here are a couple of specific examples of how the choice of a word can be appropriate in some settings, but ineffective in others:

Moist – The bakery wants people to know about their delicious, moist cupcakes. But potential day spa customers may not want to know about treatment options that leave their skin feeling moist.

Sturdy – Your customers do want to know about your popular line of sturdy work boots. But if you are a women’s clothier, your shoppers won’t want to describe their fashion sense as sturdy.

Cheap – If you’re a second-hand store, or bargain outlet, you can get away with using the word cheap. But if you’re a contractor, or need customers to think “quality” when they consider your product, use of the word cheap is fraught with hazards. “Affordable” is a much safer way of conveying a low price tag, without sacrificing perceived quality.

Whimsical – If you are a funeral home, auto body repair shop, or septic system technician, you probably should never use the word whimsical. Really, just about the only industry that ever should use the word whimsical are gift shops and children’s stores.

These are just a few examples of words that can convey the perfect marketing message in some instances, but have an unintended meanings when used in other situations.

Not every word has a hidden pitfall. But once you’ve finalized your content, honed your message, and checked spelling and grammar, it’s worth your time to have someone with fresh eyes check over each descriptive word to make sure your customers will accurately receive the message you are trying to send.


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