I saw the novel on The Secret Lives of Dresses in passing, but only took note of the author when I heard Erin McKean’s interview this week with Moe Abdou, the founder and host of 33Voices.
It turns out McKean loves language as much as I do. Maybe more. She’s the founder of Wordnik.com and co-founder of Reverb (www.helloreverb.com), a company working to unlock more value from customers by greater understanding of the content they consume. In addition to “Dresses” she’s the author of Weird and Wonderful Words, More Weird and Wonderful Words, and the editor in chief of the second edition of the Oxford American Dictionary.
Erin McKean is a speaker, author, entrepreneur, and a lover of language (Image credit: Christian Payne)
Here are her newest insights on the role of language in business that I like best, in no particular order. Entrepreneurs, take note:
- Observe closely and you’ll notice that those with rare intelligence and wit are reading creative fiction or non-fiction that is rich with metaphors. What kind of story is your company telling? Chances are, even if you’re really trying, your story is still coming across as academic and dry. Why not give these great customers, investors and prospective employees a story they can really enjoy? Vow to take at least a few positive steps toward becoming a better corporate storyteller in 2015.
- Is your vocabulary “stuck” in the mode of a few well-understood and overused words? Yes, traditional newspaper journalism may be written for someone with a 6th-grade education, but you have better options. Says McKean: “You’ll know you’ve stumbled upon a great definition when a word just ‘flows’—there’s no hitch in your understanding of the topic or work.” Knowing that, make the effort to communicate in power words. A technology that “rocks the mobility universe” is far more interesting than one that “released two new features” (although it’s important to give readers context for exactly what the product did to earn the term “rocked.”) What about profligate or ameliorate? Chances are your readers knew exactly what you meant and you may have broadened their horizon and piqued their curiosity a bit even without a desk-side dictionary involved.
- Great entrepreneurs (and especially “lean entrepreneurs”) live in the question. They approach each project with a mindset of “listen first, test, understand, then react.” So make an effort in every form of company communication to inherently (and even overtly) answer the questions of why, why, why, why.
- Your hypothesis about why your product is great will crystalize in customer applications to the highest value proposition for them. Pay attention, learn, and never stop observing and evolving your message to match the value proposition your target audience loves most. Never forget, your message is about them. Not about you.
- Feedback to an entrepreneur should be like oxygen to a body—vital fuel. You should welcome feedback. You should crave it. In 2015, you should engage with your customers like never before in all of your communication. Accept their words and input in the spirit in which it is given and gauge your future communications on answering their highest interests and needs.
- Any revenue model you have that isn’t based on happy users having a great experience is exploitive. When you can communicate and deliver a model that makes your customers really happy, they will pay for your service (or they’ll let you know explicitly why not, and what it would take to make them want to engage with your product and team).
- If you want to solve a difficult problem, start with brainpower. Listen to your engineers, and listen intently. What is possible? What are the other alternatives? Listen to your vendors. Consider no idea off limits and use your communications abilities to arrive at new solutions at levels you have never considered before.
- Modern “search” is more like a discovery mechanism. This makes product and service delivery much easier than in years past. Don’t be afraid to search deeply. When you do, the Internet can provide you with instant research. The data your searches deliver will recognize your implicit desires and present you with explicit options to bring your ideas to life.
- Consider the cultural nature of the people you invite to test and respond your new products. Find the people who will hold nothing back. For example, consider testing your basic product features in Canada, McKean suggests, and they’ll provide you with candid feedback—it’s something they’re culturally especially able to do. Where are the pockets of people who would give you the most useful and candid response to your ideas? A local meet-up group? A particular users group for a relevant platform you use such as Adobe or Salesforce? Find them, engage them, and listen hard to the input they relay.
- Those who go far in life work hard at being lucky, for they know that luck begins with seeing what others don’t see. Perhaps “I see dead people” is a little macabre as a comparison, but you get what I mean. Look a little deeper. Ask the questions others didn’t think to consider. Ask who your message is intended for, and what you intend them to do. Is it compelling? Is it reasonable? Are you communicating with the right crowd? These are the questions that will take your business to another horizon in 2015.
My thanks to both Moe Abdou and Erin McKean for the insights that inspired this synopsis. And if you would like a little more for the road, take a look at this 2007 TED talk by McKean. It should inspire everyone within earshot (and eye range) to give their consumers more insightful and meaningful experiences in the content they create this new year.
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