Terry Dean posted an article on his blog today about how drastically the words you use can affect how your message is received. He drove the point home with an interesting example:

Apple currently owns phone with their iPhone. Google launches the Android.


The Android talks about how they have an OPEN system while the iPhone is a CLOSED system.


When Apple talks about the differences, they'll say the iPhone is INTEGRATED while the Android is FRAGMENTED.

Isn't this actually a similar message? Yet it repositions the discussion in a totally different light.

For anyone who's not following this battle, Apple controls the iPhone's operating system -- it's a closed system, and it's the same on every phone (as long as you're upgraded to the same version).

Google let's phone makers alter Android, so there are a couple hundred slightly different versions (which means more chance of compatibility problems with apps developed and tested on a different version than you have).

I don't have either kind of phone, so I've never thought about it too deeply, and it hadn't occurred to me that open vs. closed and unified vs. fragmented were arguing the very same issue. What a difference a few words make!

When you read your sales copy, are there phrases that might turn potential customers off? Could you change your wording to cast the message in a different light?

Weasel Wording

Now let me be clear about one thing: I'm not advocating weasel-wording to deceive customers. Not only is that unethical, but it'll come back to bite you on the hiney anyway.

You've heard that you need to under-promise and over-deliver, right? Weasel-wording over-promises and sets you up for backlash from customers who are surprised by unexpected problems with your product. That's the stuff that negative word-or-mouth epidemics are made of.

Rephrasing to Qualify Customers

But rephrasing isn't just about weasel-wording. You can use it to filter out people who aren't right for your product, while at the same time appealing to those who are.

Take another story from Terry's post for example. He'd taken a few ballroom dance classes and was interested in taking more till the instructor squashed all chances of making the sale with a single sentence:

This will be the hardest thing you have ever done.

On the one hand, that was absolutely the wrong message to send to someone interested in learning to dance for recreation.

On the other hand, for a teacher who's only interested in students who are driven to become top competitive dancers, that may be the perfect sales message. Not only does it weed out the recreational dancers, but it tells the competitors that this teacher is going to work them hard -- exactly what they want.

Setting Up Expectations

Let's apply this to selling software and discuss the right and wrong way to do it.

If your product is a "power-tool" for advanced users, but it too difficult for beginners, you don't want to weasel-word and call it "the easiest way to [do whatever incredibly technical thing it does, which could never really be made easy]".

Sure, it may be the easiest way, but calling it "easy" only guarantees a lot of refunds and negative word of mouth.

Instead, call it a "[whatever it does] power-tool". The word "power-tool" will scare off a lot of the beginners who won't be able to use your product anyway, and at the same time appeal to the power-users who aren't afraid of a complicated product, as long as it gets the job done right.

In fact, calling your product a "power-tool" not only tells your power-users to expect it to do the job well, it also sets them up to expect it not to be an Easy Button.

They may not be afraid of complicated tools, but that doesn't mean they avoid them. If your sales copy leads them to expect a push-button easy-to-use power-tool, they'll be as let down as anyone when they discover that's not what they got.

And letting people in your target market down is even worse than letting down those who aren't, because the people who listen to their word-of-mouth comments are much more likely to be your target customers!

To finish the point, let me tell you the wrong way to scare off the beginners. You don't do it by calling your product "the hardest to use way to [do its thing]". Sure, that'll get rid of the beginners, but it has no appeal to the power-users.

Read through your current sales materials and make a note of any phrases that may be sending the wrong message, and then see what you can do to rephrase them in ways that will appeal more to your target market and set them up to be delighted by what they actually get with your product.

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