Knowledge Bank Blog, Shopper Communication

Say Less to Sell More

Is your communication short and simple?

“Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”.

This is one of Winston Churchill’s most famous sentences, from a speech made on 20th August 1940.  18 words in total, but, if you boil it down to its essence, 6 words really matter.  They are each 1 syllable and contain 15 letters in total.

“So much” = freedom, democracy.  “So many” = the entire British Empire at the time.  “So few” = a small number of British pilots.  Churchill managed to say a lot more by actually saying a lot less.

And the science backs it up.  In 1975 the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test was developed for the US Navy to help them assess the readability of training manuals.  This test has since been applied in education to assess the appropriate reading level for books used in the classroom.   All books are given a grade that equates to the number of years in education generally required for someone to understand it.

It doesn’t just apply to books.  It can be applied to the text of any form of communication.  For instance, articles in the Harvard Business Review have a grade of 17+.  Ones in the New York Times are written for grade 9+.  It is said that anything for the general public should aim for grade 8 or below.

When Steve Jobs first launched the iPod & iTunes, what readability score do you think his script scored…?

4. Yes, 4. The launch speech was so simple that a fourth grader (i.e. someone who is 9 or 10 years old) could easily understand it.  Indeed the whole iPod proposition was summed up in 5 words “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

Why is all this important?  Well, for most of you reading this blog, communication will be a really important part of your job.  Conveying ideas to other people.  Persuading people to take action.  It could be communication within your organisation or outside it.

Perhaps most important of all is our communication to shoppers.  The people we are trying to get to come to our store instead of a competitor store, or to buy our brand instead of a competitor brand.    If Steve Jobs thought a readability score of 4 was important for a captive audience of industry professionals, then it is probably even more important in a busy retail environment, with shoppers moving quickly from one aisle to another and one product to another.

So, what do you need to do, to be simple?

Well, there are 3 key things.

Use fewer words.  There is always the temptation to tell shoppers everything we can tell them about a product.  A lot of work went into it, so people should know, right?  Wrong.  Tell them what they really need to know.  Nothing more.

Use short words.  The longer and more complex the words we use, the smarter and more confident we appear, right?  Wrong.  Long words don’t impress people.  They frustrate them.  Churchill used to cross out long words in speeches and replace them with short words.  Why say “liberated” when you can say “freed”?

Use less syllables.  If we can come up with the great new molecule or ingredient that sounds really different, that will help us stand out, right?  Wrong.  Do most shoppers care that Boots Protect & Perfect Serum contains “Matrixyl 3000 Plus”?  Or do they really care that the product works?  Probably, the latter.  Which is why the lead message on all POS communication is “it works”. 2 syllables.

Think about some of the best examples of brand communication in our industry;

Marmite – “Love it or Hate It”.  5 words.  14 letters.  5 syllables.

Heinz – “Grown not Made”.  3 words.  12 letters.  3 syllables.

Coke – “Share a Coke”.  3 words.  10 letters.  3 syllables.

All have fewer words, shorter words, fewer syllables.

The easy thing to do is to say more.  The hard thing to do is to say less.  As the great communicators know, words matter.  And simple words matter the most.

Say less to sell more.

Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.