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!