Words always have a wider context

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Perhaps you’ve seen this video about the power of words, perhaps not. The storyline itself may have been attributed to David Ogilvy, nevertheless, it is a powerful story that offers critical insights into how we should think about words and their influence in this age of storytelling.

The clear intention is to demonstrate that changing the words in a context can change their impact significantly, even if the message and the intention of the message remains largely the same.

“I once read that a word is like a living organism, capable of growing, changing, spreading, and influencing the world in many ways, directly and indirectly through others,” wrote Professor Susan Smalley in a deeply thoughtful post titled The Power of Words. “…As I ponder the power of the word to incite and divide, to calm and connect, or to create and effect change, I am ever more cautious in what I say and how I listen to the words around me.”

Marketers should be equally aware of what they think they are saying and the stories they are really telling. It’s incredibly tempting to talk about a situation as we see it rather than as someone else will relate to it. It’s incredibly tempting to think that people act on factual descriptions. It’s increasingly tempting to think that brevity is paramount.

Three clear take-outs for me then for those fashioning stories:

Don’t just give people reasons to buy. Instead, tie what you’re doing, asking or looking for to a wider context; one that the reader or watcher will relate to, and treasure. That’s what turns someone else’s tale into a story that people choose to get involved with. And when you tell them that story, you give readers reasons to keep reading and watchers reasons to keep viewing. You make it personal for them.

The same words will never carry exactly the same meanings. And that is because they are never seen or felt in exactly the same context twice. As soon as the context changes (be it the situation or the mood of the recipients), the impacts of the words also change.

Words are never just words. They may be read, heard or viewed as words, but they are never absorbed that way. And how they are absorbed determines how they are acted on.

Video of “The Power of Words” by Andrea Gardner, sourced from YouTube

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