When I was young (oh, those many years ago), people used to say “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Frankly, I never agreed. I’ve always been of the “the pen is mightier than the sword” ilk, as evidenced by this barely discernable photo of a New Zealand talking stick and sword on my wall. I know. It’s pretty exciting to have a peek in to the world of the Advocacy Guru.
The reason I juxtaposed these items this way is because I tend to read things from left to right (very Western, I know) and this says to me “pen (or talk), then sword.” I was reminded of this “power of words” in a Politico story today about a right-leaning “green” oriented group that has changed its name. It was known as “Republicans for Environment Protection” and is now known as “ConservAmerica.” The group’s mission is intriguing — to “show the inherent connection between conservation and conservatism.” They focus on issue like energy savings and conserving land and have apparently decided that in today’s political environment, referring to oneself as “Republican” or “Democrat” has negative connotations. If you haven’t noticed, people are a little irritated with the party system. ConservAmerica discovered that and is paraphrasing the current “in vogue” label of “conservative” to make their point. Whether they will succeed or not is up in the air, but the effort does demonstrate how politics and public opinion shift the language we use to be most effective in getting our message across.
In The Influence Game, I talk about this same messaging phenomenon when looking at the whole “Death Panels” debate during health care reform. Although many, many, MANY respected sources agreed that the term completely misrepresented both the intent and the outcome of the legislative language, those supporting health care reform had to jettison it because of the public furor that erupted around that one phrase (that’s in Chapter 8: Crafting a Winning Message, and if you’re thinking “wow, I really want to read that the minute it comes out,” pre-order by clicking on the “Freebies / Pre-Order” link above. Do it by April 20th to get free stuff.)
Words matter, particularly in the world of selling ideas, which is what we do in Washington, D.C.. And outside of the beltway, whether you’re selling a widget or a service or a nice bottle of wine (don’t know why I threw that one in — it’s been a long day), you’re selling an idea as well. You’re not selling the wine. You’re selling the idea of kicking back in front of the television and relaxing after a long day. Or you’re selling the idea of hanging out with very sophisticated friends at a wine bar. I’m more the former than the latter, but you get the point. When developing your message around the idea you’re selling, remember that your path to success is paved with the words you use. So choose them carefully.
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