People pay me to write, to choose the right words for their business messages. They also engage my mind for “bigger” aspects of communication—the kind of consulting assignments I used to refer to as “strategic.”
I don’t put projects into buckets like that any more. I no longer distinguish certain communications efforts as “strategic.” You shouldn’t either—whether you’re working in corporate communications, a creative agency, your own freelance gig, or some other kind of business (communications-focused or otherwise).
Why would you reserve your strategic brain for only a subset of your efforts? You need that mindset everywhere.
All business communication choices are strategic choices.
To develop and deliver messages that work—that change minds, motivate action, and inspire confidence—we have to make every choice a strategic choice:
- How should we frame the message?
- When will we deliver it?
- Through what vehicles?
- In what voice?
- With which words?
That’s right. Even word choice is a matter of strategic importance.
Think of words as strategic building blocks for communication. Pay attention to the words you stack (never pile) in front of people. Know what they mean—not just in the sense of dictionary definition, but how they play in people’s hearts and minds.
Case study: the impact of impact
A few weeks ago, while editing for a client, I stumbled on the word “impact” as a verb.
“Your actions today will impact your success in the future.”
Like many writers, I have a personal bias against this usage. Not a vendetta, just a bias. When I’m the writer, I don’t do it. But when I’m reviewing other people’s work, I sometimes let it stand.
Not this time.
My client’s goal was to get consumers to take action—to do something they might be reluctant or even skeptical to try. She needed to make them feel optimistic about a challenging topic. As a result, she specified that the writing needed a positive tone.
The word “impact” was working against that objective.
If you’re at home in the world of corporate-speak, you probably encounter “impact” as a verb all the time. (“This trend will impact the company’s budget,” or “The market’s performance will impact our customers.”) Maybe it even sounds good to you.
But how does it sound to your target audience?
Outside conference rooms, away from white boards and spreadsheets, what does “impact” mean? It conjures images of pain (impacted teeth) and damaging blows (the impact of a crash). These are not the visions my client wanted dancing in readers’ heads.
So, after a little back-and-forth about how we wanted readers to feel about the message, we replaced “impact” with “influence.”
“Your actions today will influence your success in the future.”
We could have chosen “affect” or “determine,” but “influence” won out by conveying power (sphere of influence) and persuasion (influence a decision). By changing one word, we made a subtle but significant difference in the sentence and its underlying imagery.
We didn’t make this adjustment because of a pet peeve or personal preference. We revised the word based on careful consideration of the business goal, the target audience, and the action my client hoped to inspire.
It was a strategic choice.
Don’t limit your strategic brain to the big picture.
Writing and editing may be tasks that show up on your to do list. But resist the temptation to “just” execute these tasks. Pursue them with thoughtful professionalism. Take your business brainpower to the deepest, smallest details of communications. Choose your words strategically.
Photo credit: Don DeBold via Flickr