I have a new pet peeve: sales and marketing people who use the word “very” as a condiment, sprinkling it heavily and indiscriminately — like salt — into any product or company claim.
Let’s look at some examples, which I’ll number for subsequent reference:
- … can process very complex queries …
- … a very unique product positioning …
- … has a very experienced team with very strong investors and very powerful technology …
- … has a very scalable architecture …
When you very-up everything, several problems develop:
- Your speech (or writing) will end up sounding like puffery (e.g., “whiter than white.”) Very becomes a non-word that people will filter, eliminating its power in the few cases where it could be properly applied. You damage your own credibility. For example, see case 3.
- You transfer the meaning of your claims to the very. For example, in case 4, the claim becomes a VERY scalable architecture as opposed to a very SCALABLE architecture. The claim should be about the scalable architecture, not about the very.
- You will have a tendency to make unsupported claims, fooling yourself into thinking that very represents substantiation and/or differentiation. Try this: take every claim you make it and then re-make it without the very. When you do, I suspect you’ll end up wanting to change some of your claims.
- You will make illogical claims. For example, in case 2 the claim “very unique” is ridiculous; something is either unique or it’s not. This is also arguably true in case 4: architectures are either scalable or they’re not. These damage your credibility.
- The very-ies can backfire on you, over-positioning your product. For example, in case 1, perhaps the customer doesn’t think his queries are complex, let alone very complex. By needlessly adding very, you’ve potentially led the customer to think: “I don’t really need all this power, I don’t have very complex queries.”
Yes, hyperbole is an occupational hazard in marketing and we all fall victim to it. I remember the time at Business Objects when I was desperately in search of a word that meant “more ultimate than ultimate.” I’d heard “penultimate” kicked around a few times and figured that’s what it meant. Imagine my reaction when our PR guy, Randy Cairns, came back with: “uh boss, bad news, penultimate means one less than ultimate, not one more.”
When we stopped laughing, I realized that it made perfect sense. Ultimate means ultimate. Only a marketer would want to find a word means more ultimate than ultimate.
How can you reduce your own personal hype level? Speak more slowly and precisely. Listen to what you say. And never say very.
See a future post for a similar rant: never say true!
Good rant, and good reminder on marketing principles Dave. I remember the "penultimate" discussion day well. After you had used the word in a meeting, Danielle Guinebertiere, Mike Bendel and I looked up the definition in the dictionary and debated — should we raise this with Dave? We all had a good laugh about it after. And we did go back to using "ultimate!"
Mark Twain had tip about using the word "very". Replace it with "damn", and then let your editor remove all the profanity. I've had 5 copies of The Elements of Style over the years, and there is always a copy on my desk.
A *truly* interesting post… :-)
Thanks Timo. Truly appreciated!
Randy — a Mark Logician "wordie" (think: foodie) sent me this link. Try using preantepenultimate in a sentence sometime. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/preantepenultimate
I liked "very unique." Another one I hear is "overexaggerate."I just stumbled upon your blog today and am going to share this Marketing Tip with my team. Thanks, Dave. Alex
I have the same beef with collateral that starts out with some variant of "company data is growing at an accelerating rate" or some such. It's the marketer's version of "it was a dark and stormy night."
"Very" interesting and fun take on a pet peeve. "Ya know" and "it's like" are similar, spoken peeves of mine. I think any marketer reading this might spell check documents to count the "very" number you speak of. It might be an interesting exercise.
Cairns taking credit for Bendel and Dani G. Ah, the memories…Dave, what about a post on "superannuate?" I sure could have used some help *leveraging* that one in a sentence with our old friend Bob Moran back in the day.Darren
Andrew — I loved the Mark Twain reference. Thanks for sharing!
Or Timo, now I should think I should say "damn appreciated." :-)
Darren, I may well do a post on superannuate. Thanks for the idea.
this video made me think of your post.http://mashable.com/2010/02/01/condensed-ipad-keynote/