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Words that Work

By Dr. Frank Luntz

Summary by Ed McFadden, Business Book Summaries

Communication is about the effective use of language in the context of understanding the audience. The best product or service can have a great slogan or advertisement, but the message fails if the communicator does not create the message from the receiver's point of view. 

In Words That Work, Dr. Luntz provides his Ten Rules for Effective Communication, and illustrates with many examples taken from his experience in both the political environment and from his research with corporations. These are the ten rules, or principles, for constructing an effective message: simplicity, brevity, credibility, consistency, novelty, sound, aspiration, visualization, questioning, and context. If the slogan, tagline, or communication follows these, there is a higher degree of success whether it is selling a product, communicating to employees, resolving union disagreements, or stating a political position. 

The subtitle "It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear" is extensively covered throughout the book. To be an effective communicator, the audience must be understood in terms of demographics, education, social standing, gender, and economic status. There are ten myths about the American people that the author has documented and that are supported by market research. These ten myths go a long way toward explaining why there are many poor messages in corporate and political realms. The communicators who can best establish the correct tone by addressing what Americans care about will develop the most effective words. 

For effective communications, the rules for simple and straightforward language must take into account the meanings of words as they change and as new words enter the language. For one segment of the audience the meaning of the same word may have a different meaning than for another segment. 

Key themes that resonate with the American people are based in basic principles or beliefs of the people. These themes are the result of many, many interviews, focus groups and dial sessions conducted by the author and his market research firm. They provide the basis for identifying Words That Work for the twenty-first century. 

Although possibly best known as a political consultant and pollster, the perspective of the author is that the effective use of language crosses the boundaries of politics, business and the media. All can use the lessons learned from both the effective and ineffective use of language in advertising, political, and corporate communications. 

The methodology for creating and validating Words That Work is as important to understand as the words themselves. The tools and techniques are polling, focus groups, and, most importantly, dial sessions. These techniques are valid tools for any issue, but especially so for discovering and evaluating good and bad language. The dial sessions are particularly valuable for their ability to capture, not just the right words, but to understand the feelings behind the words. Understanding the intensity of feelings that are evoked by the language is important for choosing the Words That Work

To present a truly effective message, whether it is political or in business, the deliverer of the message must be believable as a representation of the content and language. Authenticity is key - messengers must be true to themselves! 

When all components of the presentation are aligned - the company persona, the product or service, the message, the messenger, and the appropriate audience - there is success. If there is misalignment, some indicators in the business world are the sales force using different language than the marketing people and when a company with multiple products is diluting each by selling in the same market segment. 

Using the market research techniques in hundreds of focus groups and dial sessions, Dr. Luntz has identified twenty-one words and phrases that will work in the twenty-first century. Some of the words are applicable in the political sphere and others in the business world, but those twenty-one words are the words that will continue to work.

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