During disruption, words matter

There have been many parallels drawn between the Coronavirus pandemic and WWII. With VE day so recently commemorated, the media has been full of war-time messaging: common enemy, battle and Winston Churchill’s “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

During wartime, central government messages were to get populations of people to make personal sacrifices for the common good. And getting the wording right, it was realised, could be a matter of life and death.

During this worldwide pandemic, crafted communications are hitting us on a variety of platforms in 24-hour cycles. The power of semantics – whether you agree or disagree with the message – has been striking.

Words matter

When word choice is critical, some choices have been questionable during Covid19 e.g. social distancing is not an accurate term. You want people to remain socially connected (e.g. using ‘social’ media) but be physically distant. People have seemed standoffish and I wonder if the constant media bombardment of the term social distancing hasn’t had a profound effect on how people behave.

Semantics that influence

I have understood for the first time what is meant by ‘alternative facts’. E.g. masks or no masks? (More harm than good, or lifesaving?) Gov. Cuomo says not wearing masks is disrespectful. “You wear the mask not for yourself. You wear the mask for me. It’s a sign of respect to other people. You make me sick. That’s disrespectful.”

Whether you agree or disagree, you have to concede the words pack a punch.

Similar, in a way, to business. ‘Marketing’ remains an essential leadership skill, with at least four key audiences:

  • Customers
  • Investors/Board
  • Employees
  • Suppliers

Messages need careful crafting for the target outcome. (Too often, the crafter of the message writes for him/herself, not the audience – part of the human condition.)

Customers first, at last?

The phrase ‘customer centric’ has been used for decades but remains an ideal. In a digital age when organisations have better customer-connection tools than ever, the language remains stubbornly supplier-centric, such as:

  • Banks talk about ‘lending’ (customers borrow)
  • Product supplier sales rep is an ‘Account manager’ (I don’t want to be thought of as an ‘account’ and don’t want to be ‘managed’)
  • ‘We apologise for the inconvenience………’
  • ‘Do not hesitate to contact us………’
  • ‘Please be advised that………’ (Who speaks like that?)
  • ‘Email us: sales@……….’ (I don’t want to be ‘sold’ to. Better would be ‘help@……’)

While you are disrupting your business to make it Covid19-resistant, why not use this opportunity to make your business more customer-attractive?

Change any jargon and technobabble that alienate the people you want to connect with – customers. What are your pet hates?


About Cherri Holland

Fascinated with business, brains and how to use the brains on the payroll to make business buzz.
This entry was posted in How to change people. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to During disruption, words matter

  1. John Keesing says:

    Excellent Cherri

    Trust you are good



    John Keesing Consulting Associate

    Mobile: (021) 649-920


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  2. Cherri Holland says:

    Thanks John! All good here – have a great weekend! Cherri

  3. lifechanger00 says:

    Very good points. I love replacing the customer sales email with help@ Makes me feel all warm a fuzzy just thinking about it.

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