Talking Big and Thinking Big

Big words, small words, little gray words and florid ones too: I love them all. Not necessarily equally, but each has its place and time.

The common thinking goes, however, that only pretentious or insecure individuals would use what used to be called five dollar words (back when that was a lot, not a latte). I disagree. Golly, what’s wrong with an evocative term like “palimpsest” or “gimlet-eyed” when they are just the right ingredient? (For that matter, what’s wrong with “evocative”?) Instead of rolling his eyes, shouldn’t the reader turn his gaze to a dictionary?

The point of communication is to connect with others, absolutely. The point is not to talk down from your lofty pile of words. Here’s a point of view from an author I greatly respect:

“The person who says “adamantine” when in plain talk he means “immovable” or says “coquette” when we would understand him better if he said “flirt” may have a big vocabulary,” writes David Schwartz in his great book The Magic of Thinking Big. “But does he have a big thinker’s vocabulary? Probably not. People who use difficult, high-sounding words and phrases that most folks have to strain themselves to understand are inclined to be overbearing and stuffed shirts. And stuffed shirts are usually small thinkers.”

Ouch. It’s true that what matters in communication is the effect words have on others, not the size of the vocabulary … but still can’t we luxuriate in the richness of the language? Once in a while, just a little? Broccoli benefits from a little béchamel now and again, right? (Béchamel? Happy to oblige:

Know Thy Customers (Rule #1: Don’t Use “Thy” When Talking to Them)

Successful companies build relationships with their customers, and to do that effectively they have to speak like their customers. Social media is no different. Given the jocular and pithy nature of the space, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube messaging that tracks informal and humorous tends to work best. That’s who the customers are, or want to be.

So Old Spice is hailed for its multi-platform integration of the Big Three (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) in its naked guy advertising campaign. Gillette too got kudos (and lots more “followers” and “friends”) with the humorous “manscaping” theme to sell razors.

The jocular tone could benefit other firms. “Many companies need to learn how to be, well, friendlier in a social space,” Sam Ford, director of Digital Strategy at Peppercom Communications, told

An obvious key to effective communication is listening – and in marketing, listening to the customer. This is a lesson still to be learned by most in the social media space. The Old Spice guy showed the way as he tweeted followers in real time, directly addressing their comments. A collective gasp escaped the blogosphere: “Genius!” (That’s what 13 million YouTube page views and 43,000 Twitter followers in 48 hours sounds like.) The commercials also scored points with marketing experts by not hawking the brand too hard, but simply tucking the cologne into the towel of the topless dude, letting it speak for itself.

Of course you can’t just mimic someone else’s campaign and get the same effect. The novelty is gone. So the lesson is determining who your customer is, how they like to see themselves and how they talk amongst themselves. The lesson is not trying to sell your Chevy with a buff model dressed only in a towel.

Half and Half

As of today, there are six months left in the year. Half of the year is gone, for those glass-not-quite-full types. Some say the glass is just too big. But however you see our worldly vessel, the question is what you do with what remains.

It feels sometimes like we’re in a worm hole, doesn’t it, whizzing into new dimensions without quite getting our bearings in the last one. We suddenly are expected to communicate almost constantly with emails, Tweets, blogs, texts, phone calls and even face-to-face conversations. How can we keep up — plus, you know, work and live real lives too.

Every innovation has always had a past-due date, but those dates are getting shorter and shorter. If you don’t replenish by improving your skills, increasing your reach, building your customer base or otherwise growing you go stale. Curdle up and die.

Businesses (including entrepreneurs who have come to see themselves as “brands”) need customers, which means they need marketing communications that put rapidly developing information technology to work for them. (PubArts of course can help you with that… just saying.)

Here’s the tricky thing with progress, though: the better we do, the bigger the problem we make for ourselves because expectations grow faster than the ability to deliver. As Nicholas Rescher wrote in Unpopular Essays on Technological Progress: “Progress produces dissatisfaction because it inflates expectations faster than it can actually meet them.”

It’s a phenomenon that extends to our personal lives and even to political order. Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington did groundbreaking work on the paradox of increased unrest in backward societies emerging out of poverty – the progress itself creates higher expectations that can scarcely be met, leading not infrequently to bloody revolution.

So welcome to the restless new world of 24/7 communications. The more that is technologically possible, the more that is expected of you, even though you were perfectly happy the way things were. And if you can’t or won’t get with the program, your competitors are more than happy to emerge from the encroaching darkness to help themselves to your lunch. Half full or half empty: just drink it up and pour yourself another.

Make Google Dance Your Tune

There are lots of clever ways to make Google dance a different tune. Here are five examples of less conventional ways to make the world’s dominant search engine bust a move:

1. Limit your search to a particular site without having to rely on that site’s built-in search tool (which may not be up to the task). To search for the subject “ABC” on the website do this: ABC

2. Use Google to correct your spelling. If Google senses you’ve typed in your query incorrectly, it will suggest the correct spelling. You can also get a word’s definition by searching on: define: word I’m interested in defining.

3. For the math-challenged, Google has a calculator. Just enter the equation you seek to solve.

4. Want to know what time it is in Bangkok? Search: time Bangkok

5. In this world of topsy turvey exchange rates, you might need to know how a certain currency converts to yours. Search: 100 dollars in Euros.

Blogging vs. Journalism

There are real differences between journalists and bloggers. Just ask Felix Salmon, the longtime financial writer, who operates successfully in both worlds. Here he is in all his glory: []

“In my experience, j-school graduates tend to be quite earnest people who care a lot about the important role that journalism plays in a democracy while being less good at throwing caution to the wind and making mistakes. But as I like to say, if you’re never wrong, you’re never interesting.”

“All too often, I fear, a “formal training in journalism” just means that journalists self-censor the good and funny bits of stories that bloggers naturally latch on to. What’s more, bloggers have a much more natural voice and personality than journalists do. So it’s only natural that bloggers will get more of a “following” than some guy who writes straight-down-the-line stories for the local newspaper.”

“Then, of course, there’s the very germane fact that many highly successful bloggers didn’t get a formal training in journalism because they were too busy getting a formal training in the thing they’re writing about — business, finance, economics. The likes of Yves Smith or Brad DeLong or Simon Johnson or John Hempton are popular partly because these people know what they’re talking about and actually do it; it’s surely an advantage to be able to use first-hand rather than second-hand knowledge when you’re writing about something.”

“Journalists are often very competitive and feel that if anybody else is writing about what they’re writing about, that’s probably bad for them — especially if the rival outlet is very popular. But blogging doesn’t work like that: most of the time, when it’s done well, it’s full of external links, often to original journalism. Blogs are a great way for good journalism to get noticed, instead of being buried and ignored on page B7.”

“Overall, my feeling is that if mainstream business outlets embrace the blogosphere, they’ll do well. If they shun it, however — and paywalls are one good way to do that — then they’ll have a much harder time of things.”