I feel your pain. Should marketers choose their words more carefully?

Sharon Tanton

Yesterday Sonja and I got the same email from a Linkedin group at the same time sitting side by side in the same office. She loved it, I hated it.

The email started:

Hey marketers,

We feel your pain.

I stopped reading at that point and felt a bit cross. A lot cross, actually, for a moment. The word ‘pain’ hit a nerve with me. There’s some difficult life stuff happening around me right now, and my immediate thought on reading that line was ‘No you don’t ’ and then ‘And don’t pretend you do just to sell me something.’

Had I continued to read, like Sonja, I’d have learnt about something that would help me prove my marketing’s ROI. It was a well-written email on a subject that’s interesting to both us, but I just didn’t get that far. They lost me at ‘I feel your pain.’

So what’s a marketer to do? We’re constantly told that we need to use emotion to help get the message across, and to show we understand the difficulties our clients face.  That’s the advice I give, and as a general rule I think it’s right. But sometimes it backfires. Does that matter?

I don’t have an answer, but I’d love to know what you think. I do know that words have immense power to move us, and we need to choose them carefully.

Should we marketers be more sensitive about going for the jugular? Does upsetting a few people matter if your message really hits home with the majority?

What’s your view?

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    I think I am Team Sharon on this one (sorry Sonja)…but mainly because of the use of cliche. That’s what gets on my nerves – it’s lazy writing. I read ‘The Banned List’ by John Rentoul recently and was pretty dismayed to learn that almost all of my favourite phrases were on it.
    So I’m trying to reinvent the wheel with the copy I write, you know, think outside the box. See what I did there….? etc etc

  2. Avatar

    One man’s meat is another man’s poison. One girl’s pain is another’s pleasure…. etcetera.

    Use the 33% rule. With anything and everything, 33% will love what you do. 33% will absolutely hate it. 33% won’t give a damn or care at all. If you’re hitting one in three that’s a great return.

    All the gnomic wisdom I read compounds into one simple mantra. “Back your judgement and then get on with it”.

  3. Avatar

    Hi Tim,
    Yes, you’re right. You have to trust your instinct and go with it. The email in question was 50% successful in the VC office – so even better than the average 33% hit rate. It just really hit the wrong note with me at that particular time. Half an hour later I might have loved it, or more likely not noticed it at all!

  4. Avatar

    Cheers for the comment Amy. It is a horrid cliche. Funny isn’t it: I didn’t even see the first line. Just read the ‘how to prove your marketing’s ROI’ subject header and clicked the link. Done. Power of a good headline, even on a busy day.

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    I wonder if it depends on age-group. The word “pain” is a powerful emotive one for me (I’m in Team Sharon). But I’ve heard the contemporary expression “It’s a pain” mean “It’s a minor annoyance”. Some people say “she’s a pain” where others might say “she gets on my nerves”. So the word “pain”, for some, means “a bit of an irritant”. For others, me included, it means “a distressing life condition”.
    Who was this marketing message aimed at?
    Perhaps the use of “I feel your pain” is heavily ironic and we are missing the point? Or it might even be a quote from a current pop song, and we are missing an important cultural reference?
    This is the kind of worry I have when I write.
    For me, the lesson is: if at all possible, show your post to one of your potential audience before publishing. It’s amazing, and educational, what other people read into words.

  6. Avatar

    I agree – showing your writing to someone before you press ‘send’ is a really good idea. I think it’s good to worry about the words you use (but not so much that it ties you in knots and stops you writing at all!) It shows you’re thinking about the audience as much as the message – empathy is a great characteristic in a writer!


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