FRANK Luntz is a renowned wordsmith.
Luntz is founder and president of Luntz Global, a Fox News commentator and analyst, and one of the most honored and expert communication professionals in America today.
He’s a man who pioneered the “Instant Response” technique that, according to his website, “dives into the intersection of communications and public opinion to deliver precise corporate and campaign data,” and whose focus groups have become so influential in political and private circles that Barack Obama had this to say following a PBS presidential debate: “When Frank Luntz invites you to his focus group, you talk to his focus group.”
Luntz is the author of the 2007 New York Times Best Seller, Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear. He believes that the words we choose can change the course of politics and of life in this country.
He describes his gift as “testing language and finding words” that will help his clients sell their product or change public opinion on an issue or a candidate.
So it was fascinating that he delivered these five words during his keynote presentation when predicting what was going to happen in Super Bowl 50 in 12 days: “Carolina’s going to crush Denver.”
Those are five words that will come back to haunt him—and about as many words as Carolina quarterback Cam Newton uttered in his petulant post-game meeting with the media after his Panthers were ransacked and left for dead in Denver’s 24-10 victory.
But let’s forget about those five words and focus on words he says will help you successfully navigate the 21st century:
• Imagine. “It is the most popular word in the English language. If you were to imagine a life of perfection, where are you? What are you doing? And who are you with?”
• I get it. “I get it is when you have a customer who is angry. Those three words communicate that you understand and empathize. I get it solves spousal arguments. I get it deals with your parents and your kids. I get it says you truly understand. There is no other phrase that better communicates that.”
• No surprises. “It’s important in business today. The feeling is that you can’t have confidence in those you do business with, that customers and consumers want no surprise when they make their purchase, that you don’t want surprises from suppliers. No surprises doesn’t guarantee anything, but it says you’re going to get exactly what you pay for.”
• You’re in control. “Once again, consumers want to know that they’re in charge. Whether or not they actually use that control is not relevant. They want to know they have it so they can use it. Every company should have a mission, and it’s not a mission statement. It’s why you’re in existence, why you’re in business. The company has a mission, but the individual from the CEO on down has a personal commitment. The mission is corporate-wide, but the commitment is personal, individual, and human. And that commitment communicates that you say what you mean and mean what you say. When you say to someone, ‘This is my commitment to you,’ that’s as strong a statement that you can make that you’re actually going to deliver.”
• Genuine quality. “You can’t just say quality anymore. Because it’s meaningless to most people. You actually have to talk about genuine quality, because that adds a descriptor to it. Quality, everybody says. Genuine quality, you’re emphasizing that you really do deliver.”
Luntz recommends 10 rules for effective communication:
• Use small words. Avoid words that might force a person to Google it or reach for a dictionary—because they won’t bother. They’ll either let your meaning sail over their head or misunderstand you.
• Use short sentences. Don’t use four words if three will suffice, and don’t use a sentence if a phrase will work.
• Credibility is as important as philosophy. People have to believe what you’re saying to buy into it.
• Consistency matters. Too many companies run too many ad campaigns with different messages.
• Novelty: offer something new. Companies should tell consumers something that gives them a new perspective on an old idea.
• Sound and texture matter. Some of the best branding doesn’t even involve words because it uses music that transcends language.
• Speak aspirationally. The message must be personalized and humanized to trigger an emotional memory. People might forget what you say but will never forget the way you made them feel.
• Visualize. Paint a vivid picture, like the M&M slogan, “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”
• Ask a question. “Got Milk?” is one of the most memorable print campaigns in recent memory.
• Provide context and explain relevance. Without context, a message’s value, impact and relevance can’t be established.
Luntz believes there is a loss of civility in our system that he finds “problematic.” He says people will excuse Donald Trump’s rants because they are so angry with the traditional political machine and are embracing an outsider, but he believes we don’t get anywhere by shouting.
But he does agree with Trump on one point: our political correctness is out of control.
“We can’t say what we think, and we can’t say what we believe,” Luntz said. “We should not allow that in this country. I should be allowed to tell you that I polled 1000 women and asked them, ‘Would you have relations with Bill Clinton if you could?’ And 21% said, ‘Never again.’ I should be allowed to tell you that all three of Donald Trump’s wives are immigrants … which is proof that there are some jobs only an immigrant will do. But they said that was off-limits.” ♦
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