Do you use cheap words to describe your business?

Mar 21, 2018
Julie Littlechild on how advisers should describe their business.

This post by Julie Littlechild, founder of, first appeared on Absolute Engagement blog.

I believe the words that you choose to describe your business matter.

And I believe that too often we use words that ‘sound good’ but have lost their meaning. We use words that reflect the client experience we want to deliver, but without attaching clear definition. Those words are ‘cheapened’ in the process.

The Epiphany

Last year I participated in an event that I look forward to every year. I was participating as a judge for an industry awards program, one of several I take part in annually. The hours are long, and the time is volunteered, but I do it for two reasons. The first is to give something back to the industry and the second (purely selfish) reason is to get a front-row seat to learn more about some of the best and brightest firms across the country.

As I read the profiles of some extraordinary businesses, I was hit over the head by a clear fact. Despite their many differences, these firms were all using the same words to describe their businesses and, in particular, their client experience. Those common words appeared in the profiles they submitted for judging and, it turns out, on their websites.

By way of summary:

  • The firms were ‘leading’ (as opposed to following)
  • The service was ‘great’ or ‘world class’ (as opposed to horribly second rate)
  • The client experience was ‘customized’ to meet the needs of each client (as opposed to those of someone else)
  • The solutions were ‘client-centric’ (as opposed to those that entirely ignored the client’s needs)

The problem seems clear. The words we use are similar, making it difficult for prospective clients to tell one firm from another. And the words are somewhat empty. They lack definition, which leaves it up to the reader to fill in the blanks.

What’s the Actual Problem?

One could argue that the problem is a lack of creativity in choosing words to describe our businesses. Is there another, or better, phrase to replace ‘great service’, for example?

And while I’m sure there are other phrases that could be used, my sense is that we’d run out of reasonable words quickly and start resorting to descriptions that are too vague or too cute to be helpful. If that’s the case, perhaps the words aren’t the problem, but the lack of definition.

  • What does great service really mean?
  • Exactly what is an extraordinary client experience?
  • How do you customize your solutions?
  • If you’re ‘client-centric’, how is that demonstrated in your process?

Shared Meaning

The reality is that you may have clear definitions for the words you use to describe what you provide. I’m simply pointing out that those definitions don’t seem to appear on many websites.

Or you may, like so many of us, write copy for websites or other marketing material with a focus on eloquence over meaning. It all sounds great, but we haven’t done a deep dive on exactly what we’re communicating.

Perhaps you have thought about the meaning of those words, but find that assumption rules the day. You may assume ‘great service’ has one meaning and find that your clients – and even your team – have a different definition. That’s a problem when it comes to managing expectations and it’s a problem when it comes to communicating how you’re different.

Taking Action

Here are four actions to ensure that you’re communicating how your business is different and that those words have real and shared meaning across your team.

  1. Assess Language. Review the copy on your website. Underline all of the words or phrases that suggest a promise or reflect what a client will experience. Ask yourself if those words/phrases fully reflect the message you want to communicate or if, perhaps, they were simply easy words to choose. Once you have committed to the language, continue to the next action.
  2. Assess Meaning. Have each team member define what the words/phrases you selected mean and then come back together as a group to discuss and create shared definitions. Once you have agreed on the definitions, continue to the next action.
  3. Communicate Your Message. Review your website to determine how you can add more depth, by describing the meaning of key words or phrases. This could be something as simple as the following. “At our firm we deliver an outstanding client experience. What that means is……”
  4. Review Your Tagline. If you have a tagline for your business, examine the promise you’re making and be tough on yourself. If you’re promising a bigger, better or richer life, exactly how is that fulfilled? You may find that case studies or examples work here so ensure they’re included so that prospects have a shared understanding of what you’re promising.

I started by suggesting that the words we use to describe our businesses may be ‘cheap’. The reality is that the words don’t necessarily need to change, they simply need to be infused with meaning. Help your clients and prospects understand exactly what you are promising and don’t leave that to their imagination.

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T M Subrahmanya Swamy
Mar 22 2018 03:39 PM
Many companies spend a lot of time for making vision, mission & value statements.They follow a process & train colleagues to own them so that they can think & act accordingly.Advisory professionals can work on those lines.
ashok sharma
Mar 21 2018 02:49 PM
Wish the author would give an illustration.
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