Beware of Adjective Mania

Evolution of communicationsWhether your company manufactures and distributes widgets or sells consulting services, you will only successfully build and maintain trust, and ultimately win customer loyalty, by ensuring that what you promise is precisely what you deliver. And when it comes to communicating that promise, e.g. how you introduce, describe and market those services in promotional materials or direct interactions with your target audiences, avoid aspirational language and be careful to resist what I call “adjective mania.”

Adjective mania refers to the tendency among many C-suite executives and communications professionals to incorporate qualifiers like “best, top, preeminent, leading, amazing, greatest, finest” into company profiles or product descriptions rather than using quantifiers (how much? how many? how often? what type? what benefits?) that illuminate or distinguish your offerings from your competitors.

For example, based on the text below, which company would you be more likely to contact for help with your data storage needs?

  • MegaStorage A is the global leader in data storage solutions, developing amazing products that enable companies around the world to create, share and preserve their essential business data. What began with one storage innovation has evolved into multiple solutions delivering the most reliable, customer-friendly system on the market.

or

  • MegaStorage B enables companies around the world to create, share, and preserve their essential business data by allowing users to access and interpret data quickly, accurately and securely thanks to our StoreLock software that was named “Most Reliable Storage Solution” three years in a row by Well-Read Data Storage Industry Outlet magazine.

On the surface, while MegaStorage A’s description may seem more compelling (after all, who wouldn’t want to buy an “amazing product” that is the most customer-friendly system available), it also raises credibility issues that might make you hesitate to contact them. What makes the product amazing? Who says it is customer-friendly and is that person or entity someone you trust or even have heard of? MegaStorage A does talk about its innovative past, which shows it have a track record, but rather than reflecting on itself, wouldn’t you be more interested in hearing about how the company’s offerings benefits you—i.e. what value does it deliver?

By contrast, MegaStorage B’s language focuses on client deliverables—to access and interpret information quickly, accurately and securely, all items that will make your job easier to perform—and clarifies that a credible, objective third-party has found it reliable rather than saying so itself.

Importance of Credentialing

Most C-level executives hold their organization in high regard, so while wanting to pepper company descriptions with qualifying adjectives is understandable, doing so may strain credulity with your target audiences and risk losing their trust. That’s why credentialing activities that allow you to quantify your company’s achievements, such as conducting tests that objectively measure the safety, efficacy and/or effectiveness of your products and/or winning an award or ranking from a respected industry association or publication should be incorporated into all marketing communications materials, particularly company boilerplates or brand or product overviews. Most of all, any communications developed about your offerings and services should include case studies, infographics, and/or third-party testimonials, preferably from current customers, about how what you do provides value.

Likewise, while your company may aspire to consistently deliver the highest level of customer service, or make a “meet or beat any price” type of promise that some consumer brands like to offer, avoid any language that can be viewed as aspirational until you know for sure you can meet that goal.

Test Yourself: Quantitative v Qualitative Adjectives

To ensure effective and credible communications materials, try this exercise. Review your organization’s About Us overview on your company’s website. Circle all quantitative adjectives, such as those that describe the color, shape, chemical or biological composition of a product, for example, or adjectives that relate to data such as how much, how often, how many, what kind, or what percentage.

Now cross out all qualitative adjectives such as “most,” “best,” “leading,” “greatest,” “newest,” etc. that you find. Read both the before and after versions aloud. Which version sounds better to you?

Chances are just by eliminating qualitative adjectives the overall company message comes across as much stronger as the data points now stand out.

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