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Chamber of Commerce - on the Web logo

To Up Sales, Up Words

by Michel Fortin



The challenge for many webmasters and Internet marketers is certainly that of ensuring a site communicates effectively to its audience - especially when communication is at the heart of making profitable online sales. Of course, less than a decade ago the need to communicate in a language that the vast majority of people can understand was not an important element -- technolese was commonplace since the web was mostly used by programmers.

Today, however, things have changed. The population that surf the Internet and shop online is growing by leaps and bounds. And a good portion of newbies are, to some extent, computer-illiterate as well. In other words, the web catered mostly to innovators and early adopters during its introductory stage. But now its growing population consists of segments of the marketplace that would, for one and in large part, have never used computers otherwise.

You Ought To Be in Pictures

I once took a media communications course in which I discovered an interesting example of the way the mind works. As part of a given lesson, a videotape was shown of a televised newscast during which a journalist was about to give a live report on a forest fire that was devastating the midwest. The news anchor in the television newsroom said: "We now take you to Sally -- she's in the station's helicopter flying above the scene of the fire."

He then turned around to face the background screen, which gave a live bird's-eye view of the raging fire, and asked: "Sally, how big is the fire?" In a voice partially drowned by the whizzing sound of helicopter blades, Sally reports: "John, it's so big it's covering well over 140 acres of land -- if I'm not mistaken, for you and me that's about 200 football fields back-to-back."

As you can sense from the above example, people think in pictures -- not in words and certainly not in numbers (unless it is told to do exactly that). The mind is a simple organ and it hates confusion. It will naturally translate words or phrases into their visual equivalent. For instance, if I told you to think of a garbage can, you're not going to think "G," "A," "R," "B," etc. Your mind will automatically visualize some sort of garbage can.

Why do you think Microsoft Windows and the MacIntosh computer dominate the marketplace in operating systems? It is because, rather than having to type an elaborate command for your computer to execute, you can simply use your mouse, point to an icon, and click. Icons basically represent programs or a string of numerous commands, which are in fact translated into a language (or code) that the computer can understand once they are clicked.

The mind works in almost the same way a computer does. Like a microprocessor, the brain instantly translates what it is being told to do into something it can easily understand and execute. Some people who know little about computers may have a hard time understanding the various written commands, scripts and codes that the computer needs to process. But on the other hand most people can easily identify the icons that symbolizes them.

Use "Upwords" To Move Upwards

Therefore, because of the growing online population (which consists more and more of people that are new to the web, let alone to computers or technology in general) it is important to communicate using as simple a language as possible -- one that most people can easily understand. It is Mark Twain who once said, "Numbers don't stick in the mind; pictures do."

Consequently, use upwords in your web copy. "Upwords" is an acronym that stands for "Universal Picture Words Or Relatable, Descriptive Sentences." Stated differently, upwords are words and phrases that help messages to be easily interpreted by the majority of people to whom the message is targeted, such as with the use of examples, analogies, metaphors, picture words, etc.

For example, a challenge among cosmetic surgeons is the fact that people will call for a quote over the phone when obviously the doctor needs to see the patient beforehand (an initial assessment is always required, even by law). Obviously, cosmetic surgery is an uncommon process. Doctors will therefore use a more common approach, such as cosmetic dentistry, as an analogy.

Unlike surgery, most people have had their teeth done at some point in their lives. So doctors will say: "Like a dentist, I can not give an estimate over the phone without any x-rays of your teeth let alone the knowledge of how many cavities you actually have." People who call a cosmetic surgeon for a quote now understand not only the reason but also the importance of seeing the doctor, in person, in order to obtain an accurate estimate.

Web marketers are certainly in a similar position. Many tend to communicate in a language that only a mere few will fully understand. For example, if you're a computer programmer trying to sell your services to clients who have recently connected to the web, and your copy is laced with complex technical jargon that only veteran surfers could understand, you will obviously do very poorly. You must therefore mold your message in a way that it can be easily understood by your target market. Speak their language, in other words.

If your market consists of artists, use art examples. If your market consists of managers, use business analogies. If your market consists of florists, use metaphors that florists can understand -- such as "email messages from your clients are like fresh-cut roses; they need to be handled efficiently and, if handled improperly, can prick you and hurt your business."

Of course, there are many more ways of applying upwords to your sales or website copy. Here are some brief examples of how to mold your online message in order to communicate more effectively to your market.

1) Repetitious Words
As the adage goes, "Repetition is the parent of learning." Repetition aids comprehension especially of complex, critical or important ideas. However, the key here is not to repeat the same words over and over but to use different examples to illustrate your point. To that end, substitute certain words with synonyms and add new pieces of information each time the idea is repeated. For instance, in order to drive the message "privacy policies promote purchases" home, it can be repeated with the following:

"Privacy statements increase sales," 
"Confidentiality is a key to online success," 
And "respecting visitors' privacy is profitable" 

2) Emotional Words
Again, words are not messages in themselves -- they are merely symbols. As such, they have different meanings to each of us and therefore can be interpreted differently. While many words can be used to communicate a single message, your choice of words can actually alter the emotional impact of your message. For example:

Instead of saying "cost," say "investment," 
Instead of saying beautiful "teeth," say beautiful "smiles," 
Instead of saying "skinny," say "slim" or "slender," 
Instead of saying "products" or "services," say "solutions," 
Instead of saying "cost-effective," say "return on investment," 
And instead of saying "house," say "home." 

3) Positive Words
As copywriter and IMC Private Site contributor, Rachel McAlpine, often says, "Avoid using negative words -- say what it is, not what it isn't." Cosmetic surgeon Maxwell Maltz, who wrote the bestselling book "Psycho-Cybernetics," states that the brain is a goal-seeking organ -- it needs a goal in order to function. For example, if I told you *not* to think of a white carnation you will have hard time since your brain needs a goal -- it will naturally picture what it is supposed to avoid because the mind can not function when blank.

On the other hand, if I told you to think of a pink carnation, you will naturally think of a pink carnation -- I gave your mind a goal. As a result, by stating what something isn't can actually be counterproductive since it is still directing the mind, albeit in the opposite way. If I told you that dental work is painless for instance, your mind will still focus on the word "pain" in "pain-less." Here are some examples of using positive words:

Instead of saying "inexpensive," say "economical," 
Instead of saying "this procedure is painless," say "there's
little discomfort" or "this procedure is quite comfortable," 
And instead of saying "this software is error-free" or
"foolproof," say "this software is consistent" or "stable." 
Nevertheless, one of the most negative words we often use in the English language is surely the word "but." "Buts" can turn any message, which in essence may be positive, into a negative. In addition, a statement followed by the word "but" often subtly communicates to others that what was said up to that point was really a lie and what follows is the truth. Do you remember when a former girlfriend or boyfriend dumped you? They probably said: "You're a really nice guy and I like going out with you, but..." (You know the rest.)

Consequently, leave the "but" out -- instead, use "and" and focus on the positive. If you're a website designer for example, then instead of saying "it's a great website BUT very expensive," say "it's an excellent website AND worth every cent." Instead of saying "it's a versatile website BUT it's going to take at least a month to put it together," say "it's a versatile website AND it will only take thirty days to get it up and running." Can you see the difference?

Keep in mind that the online population is diverse. We all come from different backgrounds -- our education, experiences and environment help to condition our thinking over time. Therefore, in order to be understood by your target market, use analogies, metaphors and picture words that will make your message easier to understand by their personal set of circumstances -- because, as Jack Trout once said, "A word is worth a thousand pictures."

About the Author
Michel Fortin is a master copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning businesses into powerful magnets. Get a FREE copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," and subscribe to his FREE monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill," by visiting http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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