Crisis communication

Brand safety: how poor word choice can hurt

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?

Words CAN hurt your brand’s reputation. Word choice is critical to your brand safety. Speak, tweet, or post the wrong words and your audience will call you out. Usually it’s something that can be forgiven like that time Justin Bieber hoped Anne Frank would’ve been a “belieber.” Other times, it requires busting out your crisis communication plan.

Here are a few examples of how the wrong words can damage credibility, alienate a target audience, and cost money.

Destabilize vs Stabilize

By now it’s safe to say Sean Spicer has had the most verbal blunders of any White House Press Secretary. Sure, these mistakes provide great fodder for SNL, but they’re doing a number on his credibility. And in turn, it’s hurting President Trump’s credibility, too.

While there are many Spicer gaffes to choose from, here’s a prime example of using the wrong word with regards to an already volatile topic. While holding a press conference about Syria, Spicer said “destabilize” instead of “stabilize.” Ouch.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to spin that mistake. Naturally Twitter jumped on it, and Spicer once again was trending for a negative reason.

Complementary vs Complimentary

original-9428-1370272588-3Choosing the wrong word not only is a grammar crime, it’s also a costly mistake. For example, there’s a huge difference between complementary and complimentary. Complementary refers to things that go well together (e.g. peanut butter and chocolate). Meanwhile complimentary is when something is free.

If you tweet “These sets of complimentary curtains…” guess what: you’re telling everyone those curtains are free.

Don’t give your curtains away for free. Make sure you’re using the right words, or hire an editor to double-check before you hit share.

People vs Pepper

Book publisher Penguin found out the hard way what happens when you choose technology over human skill when proofreading.

A horrific word misprint required 7,000 copies of “The Pasta Bible” to be destroyed, costing $20,000. In the cookbook, a tagliatelle recipe required salt and freshly ground black pepper. However, the misprint replaced pepper with people.

RELATED: 5 lessons for entrepreneurs about preparing for crisis communications

Cute vs Elegant

The type of wording you use should always reflect your target audience. Let’s say you’re a high-end brand. Here, you’ll want to use formal wording to resonate with your upscale clients.

However, perhaps someone on your social team tweets: “Cute bracelets 50% off.” Uh oh. What do you think your wealthy clients would think? Cheap plastic bracelets, right? But if you tweet “Elegant bracelets 50% off,” your audience will be more inclined to expect they’re getting a great deal on a high-end piece of jewelry. Again, word choice matters.

Final Thoughts: Word Placement Matters, Too

marketing-fail-fathers-dayEven when you get your wording correct, always be cognizant of where your wording is placed, too. The ads and content surrounding your brand (online and in print) can negatively impact what you’re trying to convey.

Here, a brand’s Father’s Day ad is placed directly below a PSA for domestic violence. Yikes. Talk about poor taste, and it may not even be the brand’s fault. If it’s online it could be a case of programmatic, or if print, the designer laying out the page.

Nevertheless, remember your choice of words matter. So, choose wisely before you use them.


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