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EPISODE 69: Avoider Words and Phrases

by Jan 18, 2022Brand Your Voice, Podcast

In this episode we will cover:

  • What is an avoider word or phrase?
  • How to identify your client’s avoider words and phrases 
  • What you can learn from avoider words and phrases

Has your client ever left an edit on a word or phrase that says something along the lines of, “this just isn’t me?”

When a client flags specific language, words, or phrases, it can feel embarrassing {especially when you’re in the business of brand voice!} Choosing the wrong word can create a sort of spiral effect—now, everything feels off, and it ends up taking the editing process into a largely unproductive direction. Now, you’re parsing out particulars, when really what you need to focus on is the overall message.

This can be remedied by adding “avoider words and phrases” to the list of key pieces of information you identify when working with a new client. Explain to your client that getting their knee jerk reaction to certain words and phrases, or asking what language they absolutely know they would never use, tells you a lot about who they are, how they communicate, and what they value.

The most effective way to identify these avoider words and phrases is to straight up ask. You can frame the question by asking about their pet peeves, or if there are frameworks or industry norms that they approach or teach in a different way. Oftentimes, this will inspire your client to begin passionately expressing what they do differently than others in their field, and anytime your client gets on the soapbox, you know the words and phrases you’re hearing are on brand! 

This is not a foolproof way to ensure you will never use a word or phrase that isn’t in their voice. However, it opens up a conversation and empowers your client to collaborate with you, by continuing to add to their list as you work together. Think of it as a process of defining what they are not, in order to discover what they are.

 

You can use this information in several ways {beyond the obvious of writing content in their voice!}, including:

  • Inspiration for content topics and ideas
  • An opportunity to discuss and identify core values
  • A way to discuss their frameworks, stories, and unique perspectives
  • Insights that will help you better understand the tone/feeling of the brand

 

Homework: 

  • Integrate the “Avoider Words/Phrases” system into your client discovery process

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

Marie:
…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.
All right, welcome to another episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast! Marie here, and I once again, have the lovely Maggie here with me for the podcast episode today.

Maggie:
Hello everyone!

Marie:
Hello. And today we're talking about a topic that I actually kind of love, and I feel like it's kind of one of our secret, not so secret sauces at North Star, which is literally digging into the words and phrases to avoid when writing for your clients. And we're talking about words and phrases specifically for them. I don't mean just, I mean, obviously yes, you should avoid language that is cruel or demeaning, like in general, right? But this is specific to a client. There may be little quirks about them or their business that you need to know about. Because every time that little word shows up, it's like the hair on the back of their neck raises and they're like, this does not sound like me. And it doesn't matter how amazing everything is that you wrote. That word is gonna stick out like a sore thumb to them. And probably you have these too. Everybody listening has these words, there's words that either because they just ick you out or, they just rub you the wrong way for some reason. Or you might have a different way you approach that idea that like, you wouldn't want to be in your copy and so same for your clients.

Maggie:
Yeah, absolutely. And I will venture to say that this is, at least in our brand voice process at North Star, a part of the interview process and getting to know a client that is often really revealing.

Marie:
Yeah.

Maggie:
You know, like as soon as you ask someone about what they don't like, you get a lot of new information to process that can tell you a lot about what they do like. But also for sure, how not to, you know, communicate on their behalf.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's one of the most fun parts of the process actually for that reason. And it's also interesting every now and then we'll get a client who's like, I don't really have anything. And that actually tells you something too, right. Which is that they're pretty open about their communication style and they're open to new ideas. So, even if they don't really have much to tell you, you still learn something about your client and the way they think through asking a question.

Maggie:
Yeah, absolutely. Or even who their audience is, right. You know, because I think a lot, clients will say something like, I'm fine with some light cursing, you know? And so probably they're not working in the education sphere. I don't know...

Marie:
Not working with preschoolers!

Maggie:
It tells me a lot about who they're talking to and what their audience's values might be as well.

Marie:
Absolutely. It's a lot of fun, but you know, you were saying is kind of this spiral effect of, oh no. When they read something that you've provided for them that's off. So that's why this is important. This is when you talk with them about avoider words and avoider phrase's, at least that's what we call them, you can call them whatever you like with your client. You really are able to also, I think, have a level of vulnerability with them and they're there to share that with you, so that you also just increase the trust between client and writer, because at the end of the day, probably what you want is a client who really loves you, feels you're in-disposable and who trusts you. And so this is a way for them to realize, Hey, you know what you're talking about. And I can trust them with this information.

Maggie:
Yeah. And it can give you the kind of handle on who they are and their values and what they believe in and how they talk about it. It can help make that process a little bit speedier, right. So that you can get the content more on point more quickly and get to that point of trust.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. So we're gonna dive into first, how do you actually approach this question? And your process may vary. But for us, we like to have a kickoff call with our client. For us, it's our brand voice process. We have very specific types of questions we're asking, specific types of information we're looking for. This is one of those pieces of information we're trying to get. But you can get this information a lot of different ways. I mean, you can put it in a questionnaire, you can have it in the sales call. You can, you know, I don't know email about it. Like there's a lot of things you can do. You can also kind of just play by trial and error and see how it goes. Just add to a list as you go. We just found that it's helpful to just first of all, straight up ask, like are there any words or phrases that you avoid or do not use intentionally in your branding because oftentimes they will already have an answer and that will set you down the path. You can just ask that question and they're gonna be like, huh? Yeah, I do. And they'll probably be really glad that you asked it.

Maggie:
Yeah. And then you can avoid that conversation in the future or that spiralling sort of effect that can happen if you've chosen the wrong turn of phrase or whatever the case may be. Right. I also like something that you suggested Marie, is that, you know, just like asking what their pet peeves are when it comes to content and communication, because then you can also piece out what words or phrases are they like an absolute hard no on, but also they might tell you things that hadn't come up previously in the conversation. They're like, I hate anything too salesy. I don't like this approach. And it will give you all this added information about how they like to communicate, even if it's not strictly a word that they hate.

Marie:
Yeah. I love that. Honestly, one of my favorite things is to ask somebody about their pet peeves and just watch them get up on their soapbox and just rant, because you're like, oh, this is the authentic, real deal. Like I'm getting straight up client's personality right now.

Maggie:
Yeah. Yeah. And when someone gets impassioned about something too, that's powerful. You're like, oh, I have strong feelings about this. And maybe in the process you pick up on how, or they tell you directly how they would choose to say it instead.

Marie:
Yes. And I think the other cool thing about the soapbox moment is they're not, they're passionate enough in that moment that they're not self editing. And I think a lot of times certain personality types, some people are just like, they're fine with just speaking their mind fully. Right. I grew up in the South, not really the way I was conditioned, you know, there's kind of a lot of things left unsaid in that culture. And so for me, it's only when I get up on my soapbox or I get really excited about something that I'm suddenly not self censoring as much. I'm not thinking about how do I word this in the perfect way? Like, no, I'm just talking. And sometimes that is the more authentic, raw content that we need to be pulling from our clients. And sometimes that is what needs to take the forefront. So it's a way to tap into that more raw part of themselves, the part that they've kind of been hiding. But you can give them the courage to allow that to come forward. I really think that copywriting is half copywriting and half therapy sometimes.

Maggie:
Yeah. In the deep listening. And I think you mentioned too, the opportunity to be vulnerable. When we do our brand voice intensive, for example, it's like, this is a safe container where you can talk about the challenges and things like that. Cause often part of the process is getting to know your client and that's a very human thing.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. The other way that you can try to extract this information from them about what are their words that they avoid, what are the phrases they avoid is to ask them, are there frameworks or concepts or things that are taught within your industry that you think about a different way or you teach a different way? For instance, within North Star, we're very aware of the ideal client avatar model. When a client talks about that, we know exactly what they're talking about. But what we actually teach is the target audience framework. I'm not gonna get into why necessarily or go teach a whole podcast episode on that, but that is an example of, you know, if Maggie were asking me as a client, what's something that you diverge from sort of the standard, I would say, oh, typically this is taught. We teach this instead. And this is why. And so that's a way that you can take note of that and know, okay, well, if I'm writing for Marie, I'm not gonna be talking about the ideal client avatar instead talking about this, and this is why. Yeah. You can just ask that. It doesn't have to be like them marching up angrily on a soapbox.

Maggie:
Yeah. And you might provide the context too of why you're asking this question, you know, why does that matter? And then you can get into some really interesting conversation that way. But it could also be directive for them. Like, yeah, this is a part of the conversation that has real impact.

Marie:
Yeah. So pieces of impact would be, first of all, it's just a place for content fodder, right? Like maybe if you were writing on my behalf, you could say, you know, I think we should do a blog post about maybe something like a little disruptive, like why you shouldn't use the ideal client avatar model anymore or something like that. Right? Now you have a content idea. So that's one reason. It just gives you more fodder of things to talk about. It positions you, the writer, as not just the writer, but the strategist. You're no longer just churning, but you're able to say, Hey, I have ideas based on this stuff you're telling me, I think we could leverage this content and this is powerful stuff, you know? So that's one reason why you can explain to them that you wanna know these avoider words and phrases. It naturally leads itself to disruptive content.

Maggie:
Yeah. That's such a good point. And there is also the element of that, for better or for worse word choice, every word choice. And the sum of all the parts in written content says a lot about what you value and what value you bring to your audience and all of those things, how you operate your business. And that is kind of a big part of the heart of your business, but I'll venture even to say entrepreneurs like a part of their identity. And so you can also frame the conversation like it is a lot about values.

Marie:
Absolutely. I mean, you may have one person who says I hate disruptive content and somebody else says I love disruptive and it's not that they are diametrically opposed people to each other. The person who loves the disruptive content, it may be because they're really, impassioned about helping people think for themselves around things. And they kind of have that, we would call them a rebel archetype. But they can be very compassionate around that. And they just wanna grab your attention so they can show you a new way to think about something. And the person who hates disruptive content and may just be like, I just prefer a softer approach. And maybe they're the nurturer archetype where that's their approach, but they still want someone to think about something a different way. They just would rather gently lead them to that conclusion or get them to sort of come to that conclusion on their own, as opposed to waving a flag in their face.
So, you know, they can be very similar people who can actually agree on something. They can agree on that point, they just have different ways of approaching it. And you're right, Maggie, that that indicates their values, their personality. It just helps you just get that much more information about them.
Another thing that comes up in these conversations is you get to know their business better. You get to understand their frameworks better that they've developed, their IP. You get to understand their perspective better, their stories, whatever it is. There's probably a reason for a lot of that stuff. Sometimes it's just like, oh, I don't like the word M O I S T, which I'm not gonna actually say out loud because I know so many people hate that word. And it's just like, they literally just hate the word. So sorry if you're now thinking that word and crawling away from your phone right now. But usually it's also things like, oh, I don't like this word because I don't agree with that concept, you know? And that's the deep stuff where you really get to know them.

Maggie:
Yeah. And of course too that contributes to not just the paragraph where that framework might come up or something like that. But it says a lot about the overall feel of the content, the feel of the brand. You know, which is something that can be a little bit more elusive, but when you put your finger on those things that we as a company for example, are not, then you kind of can pull out those other elements of this is who we are by defining the opposite.

Marie:
Yes. I love that approach. Last tip I would leave, you may have more thoughts but this is not a foolproof way of keeping you from writing something where you always are perfectly in their voice. But it does do, it gets you a start and it opens up the honest conversation with your client where you can say, Hey, avoider phrases and words are something I'm looking for. And then if later they're like, Ooh, that's one of those words that I hate, then you're like, cool, thanks for letting me know. I'm just gonna add it to the list. It's a growing list. And remember we talked about this. This is exactly what I'm talking about. So if you see anything like that, let me know. Don't worry about offending me, just let me know this is a nope word and now I can just add it. And now we know, and I would love to know why, again, so you can kind of get all those details.
So again, it's not foolproof, but it allows you to have a dialogue about it instead of feeling like you're chastised or kind of cringing during the review process. So...

Maggie:
Yeah. And I'll just say to you, I love that point, Marie, that bit of wisdom, because it kinda, it underlines the ongoingness of your relationship with someone that you're copywriting for and the evolving sort of nature of voice in this way that you can always be adding to that list, or who knows, maybe you'll take things off the list and now you use this word all the time into content. Who knows! But that it is an ongoing conversation and process of getting to know a client better.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. So don't worry if a client's like, I would never say that. Like maybe again, it's just the southerner in me. But I'm just like, instead of being, because I think in the past I've always been like, oh no, they hate me. The world's gonna end. Like I have a pit in my stomach instead. Now I'm just like, thank you so much for telling me that. Oh my gosh. Awesome. So great. I'm gonna add that to the list, and this is exactly what I'm talking about and I get really excited to get that word. They're like, oh okay, great. It just diffuses the situation immediately.

Maggie:
Yeah. And it's not often that, well, that depends on the person I suppose, but it's a really directive moment that sometimes you truly do not get as a copywriter.

Marie:
Yes, exactly. So, okay. You know how we like to leave you with homework. So the homework is if you haven't already integrated some kind of avoider word or phrase question, or interrogative process through your client discovery system to go ahead and integrate that. Start asking these questions in whatever format works for you, of your client, and watch them get up on their soapbox with glee!
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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