How powerful are icons, symbols, and slogans? Is it a capital gains tax, or a tax break for the rich? Are they investment bankers, venture capitalists, or, as the latest Time Magazine article by Michael Kinsley puts it, Private-Equity Pigs? Words have power. Dramatization has power.
I’m not writing here about that tax proposal. I’m writing about the writing, and relating it to starting a business, running a business, and marketing. Kinsley’s column is a great example for marketing because it both labels and personalizes. Manage your labels, manage your mottos, and personalize. Don’t target a market segment, aim at a specific person.
Labels can be so delightfully powerful. “Private-equity pigs” is pure poetry. Try not to think of a pig. Think about the power of the label “green” and how it’s now a major business issue. Charles Reich’s book The Greening of America first came out in 1970, 37 years ago. It made huge impact in the beginning and stuck in our collective subconscious without going away. The seeds grew.
Is there a cycle to how words and images acquire power? Perhaps “green” and “organic” are at the top of the cycle right now. “User friendly” came and went. About the time that Greening of America was published, “lite” was powerful (lite beer, lite cola, lite mayonnaise, etc. Software had “lite” versions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then those died off.
“Green” acquired power because it became something easy to say, easy to imagine, and, eventually, easy to market at, or around. We have green buildings, green construction, green products, even green companies. Here’s a quote from a recent Goldman Sachs study:
“large public firms that are considered leaders in implementing environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies have outperformed the general stock market and their peers over the last 2 years.”
Furthermore a recent UN press release stated “reports show that for an increasing number of business leaders, corporate responsibility is no longer an option, it is a necessity in order to compete successfully.” (Both quotes from The UN Global Compact, Social Responsibility & Small Business.)
I contend that the business of being green is growing because of the power of the label. Buyers understand green now. In a way it that took word power to make that happen. It’s about An Inconvenient Truth, and Silent Spring, and a movement that has been growing slowly. And it’s about the way we use language, mantras, and mottos. Green power means there is money in being green, and it takes money — buyers, people, markets — to make business change.
Some things just don’t happen without language propulsion. Businesses doing good for purely selfish reasons? Probably not. Perhaps the invisible hand is still working, and there is a powerful word behind it.
And then there’s the power of personalizing an idea. Kinsley pins his column on one “poster child,” in this case billionaire Henry Kravis, with a brilliant lead sentence: “ Is there something Henry Kravis wants but can’t afford to buy?” How long have we been seeing this technique in politics and advertising? How often does the candidate reference a larger topic with some specific person, with a gender, an age, an occupation, and characteristics we can see. Can you do this with your marketing?
Marketing needs targeting, and targets are built of data. Think of robots walking around with wires and pins and cables showing, and then turn that data into a person. Give him or her a name, an age, a profession, a spouse and a couple of children. Does he or she drive a Ford, BMW, Hyundai, or Toyota? Does she wear sandals or high heels? Does he drink coffee or latte or tea? Why does she buy your product? Where does he find out about it?
Good writing, good thinking, good marketing.