Many of us in this company make a living from words. I certainly do. And I know how lucky I am to do so.
But I’m worried about words – or, more accurately, our use of words. With digital disruption ripping up the business rulebook and traditional industries either extinct or evolving, creativity has never had a bigger stage on which to shine. And language is central to this creativity. For individuals and for brands.
So why are we turning our back on words? It’s estimated that there are 250,000 words in the English language, but we are choosing to use fewer and fewer of them.
It is commonly accepted that the 1960s was a golden age of creativity – as the post-war era settled down, we were opened up to a whole new world of possibilities; but it is fair to say that five decades on, rather than opening up, we are shutting down.
Some well-known online platforms are considered creative pioneers with a vested interest in words, right? But both are encouraging us to be narrow and lazy in our use of words. Email providers have launched new features – Smart Reply and Smart Compose. The former scans emails for context before generating a choice of wholly uninspiring auto replies such as “Got it, thanks” or “Sounds good” whilst the latter, worse in my book, tries to understand typed text so that AI can suggest words or phrases to complete your sentences.
In the case of social media, it’s more about users’ clichéd expressions that have come to resemble hashtags in their ubiquity – “living my best life”, “rolling into the weekend like…” and, my least favourite, “And so it begins…” What begins? Where? And who actually cares? Go away.
As a reformed luddite, believe me, this is not a rant against technology – it enhances our lives in so many fundamental ways. And it saves us valuable time so we can focus on other things.
But surely thinking is not something we should be looking to outsource. The whole point of communication, written or otherwise, is to make connections. And when the communication is personal, the connection is personal. But it can only be personal if you think about it: How can I make people care? How can I make them laugh? How can I make them cry?
On an individual level, these connections are the cornerstone of our relationships and, of course, that’s absolutely true for companies all over the world. How can you expect anyone to believe in your brand if you don’t make the effort to engage them or understand them? Customers have to relate to a brand in the way they relate to their favourite song or their favourite book – they need to hear something that attracts them and often the most effective way to do that is through language. As communications professionals, we can do that by opening up our vocabulary, not shutting it down – and if we’re not doing it as an industry then the outlook is really not good for the wider population. It’s our job to understand language.
Whether you’re a brand or an individual, words are like presents – carefully chosen, they are priceless. But without thought they reflect poorly on the brand or person who selects them. Do you really want to be that person?