Monday, September 24, 2007

Using Words to Capture a Revolution

It's only words, and words are all I have,
to take your heart away

The long journey to Lovemarks has taught me the importance of language, and (as important as it is) I’m not talking about the ability to communicate clearly. I remember talking with Alan Webber way back in 2000. He had co-founded Fast Company in 1995 with the determination to create a different kind of business magazine and he turned out to be one of Lovemarks' early supporters. He printed one of my early forays into how to transform marketing. “There are only two things wrong with brand management. Brands and management.” Alan and I are both passionate about how the market can engage with people in more authentic and inspirational ways. He was convinced that whoever controls the language controls the debate. In The Lovemarks Effect he said: “If you get the language right, if you can change the way an issue is framed, you can begin to woo people into thinking about things your way because language is so powerful.”

I was reminded of Alan’s comments recently by the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’. Apparently the term has been around since the early 1990s, but has gained huge momentum in the last few years. I guess it’s because business and governments are scrambling to enhance their green credentials by taking short cuts and their critics are less than impressed. It’s easy to ‘go green’ by making claims, but it’s a huge challenge to ‘be green’ for real. Greenwashing is a powerful word carrying all the baggage of ‘whitewashing’, plus the bad karma that goes with it. Its limitation is that it is a label, not a call to action. It points out what’s wrong but doesn’t show us what’s right. What I’m after are those rare words that capture a major shift in attitude and truly change how we think and act.

One of the most compelling examples I know of is the way New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport changed from reporting car ‘accidents‘ to reporting car ‘crashes‘. A single word transformed crushed metal and broken bodies from an unexpected event that was no one’s fault, to a devastating result. If you have any words that have unleashed authentic emotional responses, let’s share them.