Latest industry views and advice

November 22

In business, marketing and communications – as in life – never underestimate the power of language.

Sounds obvious, right?

But how often have you said something you wish you could unsay and say again, but differently; written and fired off an email in the heat of the moment, saying something that needed moderating; produced text, video or audio content that had authenticity and meaning at the beginning but somehow, in the process, lost its impact and power to engage the reader, viewer or listener?

Recently a piece of written content co-created with a dynamic, clever and insightful expert in the client business went through the corporate approvals process and came back unrecognisable: while the topic was fundamentally the same, the involvement of various people in signing off the article had removed the unique qualities and natural, authentic voice of the original. It had become an exercise in language and communication rather than actually saying anything that anyone would want to either read or remember.


Clearly, a marketing communications world without the approvals process is the stuff of fantasy and rightly so. But while these checks and balances are needed, they pose a risk to the clarity of the language; the very tool you are trying to deploy to gain attention, cut-through; to influence, persuade, change perception and – let’s not be coy – sell.

The choice of language in your marketing communications activity is vital, yet already compromised because there is – somewhere the down the line – the imperative to “deliver a key message” and launch the start of a sales process. However, it needn’t be so heavy-handed and shouldn’t be if you want to develop the essential element of trust that leads to a mutually-profitable relationship. And commercial operations shouldn’t feel that their communications are not valid if they’re not overtly selling.


Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer reported this year increased levels of trust in “information created…on social networking sites, content sharing sites and online information sources”. While the trust we put in friends and family is way ahead of everything else (78%), companies – maybe surprisingly – arrive in third place, only three percentage points behind academic experts (62% vs 65%). And the employees of a company are not far behind (55%). So, the opportunity and appetite is already there for companies and their people to inform and educate as a prelude to making a sale.

The power and choice of language is at the heart of the new Hollywood sci-fi sensation, Arrival (see photo above), which presents mankind with a race against time to understand the intentions of the alien ships that arrive on earth and station themselves ominously in worldwide locations.

To do this, the film’s central character – an academic linguist called Louise (Amy Adams) – is tasked with learning the aliens’ language which, instead of written characters, is formed from circular shapes of black vapour squirted from an alien tentacle. Her arduous journey to real communication with the extra-terrestrials begins, like an entry level English as a Foreign Language class, with tapping her chest and saying “I am Louise”. But in learning the alien language (spoiler alert!) Louise is given what the intergalactic visitors call “a gift – their language enables her to see backwards and forwards in time and helps her to avert the disaster of earthlings starting a war with the alien visitors.


While the challenge of overcoming the space-time continuum is a bit of an ask for any, humble marketing communications campaign the idea that language matters comes through clearly in the film.

With whatever mode of communication you choose – and with whatever intention – treat the language you use with care and attention; ensure it carries the meaning you want but above all think about the person receiving it – will they understand, trust and remember it? You never know, one day, you might have to save the world from aliens.

Do you want to improve the way your B2B business uses language to communicate with your customers and prospects? Please get in touch!

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