Words are power tools. Handle with care.

Metaphor, analogy, and simplification are powerful tools. Maybe more powerful than even we professional wielders of words—including marketers—are aware.

Writing in Scientific American, science communicator Amanda Baker tells two quick stories of communications failure and one of turnaround success, all hinging on these power tools of language.

When we think we’re simplifying, we’re often creating more misunderstanding. A strong analogy seems perfect until we say it—then realize it’s too strong and has derailed the conversation.

What can be done? Message (and visual) testing by research professionals can really help, but it’s expensive. Informal testing may provide guidance, but you may not have access to the target audience. And honest feedback is hard to get if you have a relationship with your test respondent. Try anyway.

It comes down to respecting these power tools for what they are—hugely effective when used correctly, capable of damage when not. Be aware, sensitive, and empathetic. And use them with skill.


Photo by Bidvine