Word Choice in the Content Marketing Funnel

Content Marketing

We’re pro-choice.


Emotionally charged choice of words, no? Few people can think objectively about “pro-choice” anything — even before they know what the choice is.

Words elicit all sorts of reactions from people, so those of us who shape the message have perennial opportunities to choose and manipulate the reader’s emotional reaction.

Emotions are quantifiable. There are known correlations between word choice, sentence length, and customer conversion. They may respond to a feeling of scarcity (“Limited-time offer!”), gratitude (“We care”), trust (using an authoritative tone), and belonging — all of which can generate leads.

Bonfire’s digital strategists, freshly returned from MozCon 2016, frequently encourage copywriters and strategists to do A/B testing for copy length, imagery, and language. See how personal and specific you can be — for example, using first person in your Call to Action — to improve responses and conversions in your content marketing funnel.

My message, my (word) choice

Business-speak is commonly peppered with words that feel clinical, emotionally cold, and detached. We may associate them with debt collection, legal documents, or other interactions where emotion is a liability to be avoided.

Regardless of how developed your relationship is with your audience, opt for emotional language (unless your audience is debt collectors or the recipients of subpoenas; in which case, we recognize that necessity requires you to utilize such terms. Also: We’re sorry.). The list below demonstrates colorless jargon alongside more emotional alternatives:

Neutral Terminology Emotional Alternative
Select Choose, fall in love with, discover
Allocate Devote, contribute, give
Receive Gifted, embrace, accept
Require Need, desire, to die for

Copywriters and strategists find that readers’ responses vary depending on where they are in the content marketing funnel. Awareness, consideration, conversion, and retention are progressive funnel phases that each lend themselves to different emotional mash-ups.

Awareness: Clarity is key

Before we can react emotionally, we must first have something to react to. Knowing a brand or product exists is the first step. At this point in the relationship, particularly if the product or brand is doing something very different and new, clarity and authority are more important emotional tones.

The focus is on the company or product; the operative pronoun is we/us, the brand.

Take the example of Powerwall, Tesla home-powering battery, first of its kind on the American consumer market:

Powerwall is a home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels, or when utility rates are low, and powers your home in the evening. It also fortifies your home against power outages by providing a backup electricity supply.

The product “charges,” “uses,” and “powers.” The chosen words are descriptive and straightforward. Note, however, that emotional language still lurks: We see “home,” a warm, feel-good word, rather than “house,” which is more clinical. “Evening” is more evocative than “night.” And doesn’t “fortifies” make you think of a warm bowl of mom’s homemade rib-sticking stew on a cold day? Tesla’s new product may be as-yet unknown, but have no doubt: They want to protect you against the outages of the cold, cruel world.

Consideration: Point of view and you

Consider Harry’s. Founded in 2013, the New York-based company is fighting for a share of the increasingly crowded razor subscription market, alongside the Dollar Shave Club and the Gillette Shave Club.

The words of their introduction personify the company as a peer and are strategically placed on the “About” page after customers click through to learn more. The name, Harry, could be your friend. Friends are trusted, and they take each other’s advice. The focus is on the consumer and their issues, so the operative pronoun is you.

The newcomers introduce themselves thus:

Like most of you, we’ve long had to choose between over-priced razors that disrespect your intelligence, and cheap razors that disrespect your face.

“Like most of you.” We’re just like you, friend. We’re on the same team. You can trust us. (Similarly intimate, casual language can also be found in Pemco Insurance’s recent campaign: “We’re a lot like you: a little different,” aimed at reintroducing the 70-year-old company to a hip, young audience.)

“We’ve long had to choose” is a another way of saying “we’ve always had to choose”; but the writers chose a phrase that’s more sophisticated, even slightly stilted. They’re establishing authority by sounding smart — and they’re flattering you, because you’re whip smart, too. Forget those “razors that disrespect your intelligence.” To hell with those disrespecting asses!

Conversion: Add to cart … or else

Get out your credit card. You’ve heard of this cool new company, understand the product and its value, and you’re finally ready to buy.

But … you don’t get paid until Friday. And you don’t have any cash at the moment. And aren’t you’re saving up for vacation?

Not every online purchase involves a shopping cart, and bounce rates vary, but the average bounce rate at a call to action, such as “Add to Cart,” is 70 to 90 percent. When there’s such a high chance the potential customer might abandon the purchase, language changes. The purchase requires action, and action is all about choosing strong verbs. Short, easy, time-based, gratifying language. The focus here is on the product or service, so the operative pronoun is it.

We use the sense of urgency to spark imminent action. Purchasing is all about now. Buy now! Supplies are limited! Don’t wait another minute!

The mother of all shopping carts, Amazon, first gently prompts to “Proceed to the checkout” after adding an item. Then they choose language that steps up the pressure:

Buy it now! Guaranteed delivery date: Sept. 18, 2016, if you order in the next 27 hours and 48 minutes!

Order in minutes! It’s guaranteed! Your offer will expire in three minutes! OMG, OMG! Numbers, dates, and countdowns imply urgency. If (and only if) you order soon, you’ll get the extra reward of fast shipping. It’s so urgent, even the minutes matter. Short sentences. Exclamation points!

You’d better buy that Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers Dash Button this very minute, vacation be damned!

Retention: Love is a KPI

You’ll notice word choice change again after the customer has made a purchase or taken a desired action. They belong to the club now, and it’s a bit exclusive. The operative pronoun here is we, which now includes the reader.

Members of Birchbox, a subscription service for samples of beauty products, see product descriptions like this:

Pandas? Our favorite animal. Waking up with mascara from last night under our eyes (and thus looking like a panda)? Not our favorite. Take everything — and we mean everything — off with this potent-yet-gentle formula.

The customer is now part of we. There’s a sense of camaraderie. See terms like “our favorite,” and language of intimacy: “Take everything — and we mean everything — off …” The customer has gone so far as to spend money, so the language reflects some presumed shared values.

A number of companies use social activism to build a sense of community among their customers. Ben & Jerry’s customers are so loyal to the brand and their social justice action, that when the ice cream company partnered with the Children’s Defense Fund, their mailing list almost doubled. In the case of Toms, you’re not just buying shoes; you’re “joining a movement.” And at the end of the day, we all want to belong.

Words have the subtle power to influence actions, knowingly or not. With this in mind, consider the action you’re trying to prompt and take control of the conversation with strong, thoughtful language.

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