The following is a quick summary of Words That Work by Luntz published in 2007. This summary is not an endorsement of Luntz or his partisanship. Professor Nerdster is intellectually free to explore ideas regardless of source. Being intellectually free is a precursor to problem solving, join the club.
Narrow the Gap Between What You Say and What Your Listener Hears
- The fact is that people will misinterpret what you were saying and intentionally or accidentally project what they understand into your words. Just as in 1984, when Winston Smith is exposed to the one thing he fears the most….rats, listeners will shape whatever they are perceiving in their own unique way. So through a career of listening to what people say and focus groups Dr. Frank Luntz has come up with some overarching principles around what words work and which ones do not in the US. So in effect this book is actually about persuasion. However, it’s also to narrow the gap between what you say and what your readers or listeners interpret. Because it’s truly not what you say, it’s what people here.
- Note there is partisanship in Frank Luntz’ thinking. Dr. Frank ‘s published a new article called American lexicon which laid out a pro-business right wing agenda in terminology that would be appealing to centrist voters. Luntz-Speak. And then Luntzy Award. Harsh and ideological people have railed against Luntz for years.
- Luntz is always trying to get the support of centrists. He also seeks to listen then find language that works.
- Manipulation is neither good or bad. It’s all manipulation. Artists know this well. Any parent, we know it.
Luntz’ 10 Rules
Listen to the public, emotional and rational and day to day interaction. It is what people say:
- Simplicity: Use simple words: average American doesn’t know the difference between deficit and debt: MI3 is better than Mission Impossible 3
- Brevity: Never say 4 words when you can say it in three. Simple beats complex.
- Credibility: is as important as philosophy. Set expectations lower and the best expectations. So, expectations can sink a campaign.
- Consistency: Do not have a bunch of different talking points and new campaign ideas during your campaign season. Repeat yourself, repeat your message, focus on the same lines over and over again to get your message through because people don’t really remember. You will get confused if you have a bunch of different tag lines.
- Novelty: We like truly new and different things. Brand new ideas that take on an old idea, have mass appeal.
- Sound and Texture of Language: Think Different. i’m lovin it. Are effective because of how they sound.
- Go for the inspirational.
- Visualize: don’t tell, show! Draw pictures in people’s minds. Ask people to imagine.
- Ask a Question: Ask the participant a rhetorical question.
- Context: You have to provide context: you need to have relevance.
The target, everyone can immediately remember, you never leave home without it: American Express.
Visual impact is the most important and striking power; speaking in front of your national flag, for example.
Language Is Often Used to Obscure
- Beltway or insiders language is not appropriate for the general public: inside baseball is a big communication mistake.
- For example, using terms like cloture. There is a reason that few senators make it to the presidency? They speak the language of the insider. How can you even talk about filibusters? The general public doesn’t care.
- It’s about getting things done it’s not about the procedural rules of the subcommittee in which cloture and filibusters are used. All the technical deadlock components that impact the legislative process don’t interest people, it frustrates the people’s will which is sometimes in conflict. People really just want you to get things done.
- Language is frequently used as a tool to obscure rather than to enlighten… to control and it has illustrates the influence of closed off group in mind: the inside-baseball crowd.
The Sequence of Information Matters
- The order of presentation really matters if you have a background presentation and then some theory and then have the actual presenter talk can actually be more effective than having the presenter talk turkey and then provide the background this is what Luntz found out during the Ross Perot campaign in 1992.
- Using analogies like sports or war is a very male centric way of describing politics it is genuinely harmful.
- Women appreciate being listened to more than having the right questions asked. Luntz says women typically respond better to storytelling, anecdotes and metaphors whereas men respond better to economics rational engineering: I’m pretty sure this is already out of date….
- If you talk about a government program then the hostility is significant but if you describe welfare as assistance to the poor you’re going to get a very positive reaction. Lee Atwater called them Welfare Queens. Assistance to the poor was supportive.
- Focus on results not the means for example crime reduction is way more popular than law-enforcement. Also note that crime reduction could have many variable inputs in achieving the outcome beyond the law-enforcement interventions and as such it’s more catchall and more popular as a term.
Be The Message
- If you are known by your first name that’s a very strong compelling case that you have a brand. No kidding. Building your own brand is very challenging. Living by your values is very compelling.
- John Kerry talked about his work in the Vietnam War. The key is you have to show, don’t tell. George W. Bush never fought in any war but he used tough language that suggested he was tough on the topic. So it’s better to act, use wording that resonates with the general public.
- Giuliani was someone who campaigned on his working class background, his work ethic and the ‘why’ behind all of his positions. He always provided that context.
- And this is the case too with John McCain who was a maverick but basically was right wing however journalists got great news stories from him and he was entertaining.
- When John McCain and George Bush were appearing on competing talk shows Jay Leno and David Letterman. George Bush just sat there and took all the criticism and giggled where as John McCain made a strong effort to try to be funny. Journalist thought John McCain had done a better job but in the truth of it, George W. Bush was more compelling by being folky and more authentic.
- Words that work language alignment, product and derive, you should try to establish personalization. We buy the product that we have a brand association with. Language of Cheerios is compelling.
- How our language is said, really matters.
The Words That We Remember
- Memorable movie lines. Fiction is more Powerful for revealing truth than truth.
- “Bring it on” as if Bush was inviting violence when he was describing the threat of terrorism and the implied US response. That was a mistake.
Contract with America
- Most effective campaigning is about being sensitive to word choice, using focus groups to tease out what works and what does not. For example, the Contract with America. The ‘contract’ was more effective than the ‘covenant’ or the ‘new deal’.
- So the Contract with America was put into the TV guide, The first of the 10 items were important and the last of the 10 items was important because they figured that’s what people would read if they had to skim the list quickly. And it was contractual in the sense that it had the word contract in it but it didn’t obligate the legislators to not seek reelection if they fail to achieve that goal.
- The 10 point list was easy and eye-catching. The Democrats felt that it was a mistake to provide concrete guarantees that they could then easily break down and attack. But folks were really cynical and tired of triangulation.
- There’s a big difference between not giving and denying when it comes to healthcare. Newt Gingrich felt that the Republican Party should have define itself as the compassionate party. The other aspect of this that was interesting was that Franklin’s claims using the word promise as a politician is an absolutely horrendous mistake never promise anything. Never use the word promise.
- There was a debate as to whether decreasing future spending on Medicare was considered a cut the public felt that it was not considered a cut.
- Eisenhower came up with the sound bites, the ’30 second’ spot.
- Retirement security is way more effective than Social Security. Everyone wants to be secure in their retirement.
- It was successful politically liters find ways to get you to imagine. Sympathy, passion. You need to appeal to something far greater.
- Federal civil servants are viewed as having no accountability. Is there an enforcement clause in the Contract with America?
- Customers are actually looking for simple answers to complex problems they wanna lose weight they want a solution for that. They want to have a ruthlessness if they are spending their money around what they’re going to get. They love to see the things are going to be specifically delivered.
More Words That Work
- US culture is driven by three major things: I can do attitude, self-reliance and optimism.
- Rekindle renew revise reinstate refresh these are all calls to return to a prior default. Redesign rebuild restore revitalize reform and renew.
- Efficiency and being efficient are also great however they might be closet words for cuts.
- Having the right to choose is also a powerful communication approach.
- Patient-centred resonates because it draws an unspoken conscious link with dollar centred or insurance centred medicine. The last thing you want to be concerned about when you’re dealing with one’s loved ones care is dollars and cents. All you care about at that point is your loved one.
- Casual elegance!
- Independent! Independent candidates. You need to declare independence.
- Peace of mind!
- Better jobs!
- Financial security!
- Balanced Approach! For the people, no need to a new civil war.
- A culture of!!!!
- Straight talk express with John McCain!
- Never say entrepreneur say small business owner;
- Never say tax reform say tax simplification;
- Never say foreign companies say international companies;
- Never say undocumented when you mean illegal immigrants;
- Never say drilling for oil say exploring for energy;
- Never never deny something just do not give;
- Never say global economy globalization or capitalism talk about free market economy;
- Never say vouchers say school choice;
- Never say outsourcing talk about taxation regulation litigation innovation education and legislation;
- Never say inheritance tax or estate tax call it a death tax;
- Never say crime or criminals talk about public safety;
- Never say interpretation when you mean analysis;
- Never say capital markets what you you mean investor public interest;
- Your schools, your hospitals, your taxes. our schools, our hospitals, our taxes.
- Optimism sells, pessimism dwells.
- Don’t say peace of mind being rewarded compassion commitment listen to employees find common ground comprehensive contract balance instead say security being valued fairness respect responsibility keeping promises respecting employees negotiating in good faith long-term contracts fairness and common ground
- Don’t say the union is biased objective union leader should not hold local employees hostage over national issues when are union strikes against a company it isn’t just hurting the company if the union chooses to strike have a legitimate right to stay open it is the unions fault not ours if that workers have to walk a picket line instead say full disclosure you have a right to hear all sides accurate local problems require local solutions no one wins in a strike we won’t do whatever we can to avoid a stroke if there is a stroke will do whatever we can refill our responsibility to a customers.
- Never say corporate accountability say corporate responsibility.
- Scum literally means a used condom I did not know that.
- Important truths about politics; voters do not pick their candidate based on the issues or the policy. Definitely not the case in fact voters look at the attributes the personality, image and th vibe of the candidate more so. The candidate’s brand.
- Nostalgia doesn’t really sell in the political arena, you should be looking forward not to a bygone era that feels remembered.
- People read books? No people don’t read, people don’t read newspapers, people watch Netflix. If you want to get your ideas disseminated then you should try to get your content converted into a format that people consume. YouTube visual storytelling.
- People are educated? No most people actually aren’t educated so you better simplify your messaging otherwise you’re not gonna get it and then you’ll have the educated people as gatekeepers to try to explain your policies or ideas through them.
- Want a promotion? Use Imagine in sentences. Also, mirror your boss.