Everyone loves a good story. Good storytelling requires concrete details. Straightforwardly true. But is B2B listening?
I recently read a consumer research article, published in July 2020, about how language shapes consumer behavior. And it’s not a psychological trick. Or a persuasion technique. Or some marketing-speak that bears no resemblance to the present B2B world.
Gathering evidence from “five studies, including text analysis of over 1,000 real consumer-employee interactions, demonstrated that customers were more satisfied, willing to purchase, and purchase more when employees speak to customers concretely.”
Express yourself concretely and get more sales? Simple word choice is a game-changer. Really?
So can we apply this language tip to shape the attitudes and behaviors of our web visitors? Sure we can. Let me share details about concrete details.
First, let’s define abstract and concrete.
What are abstract phrases?
Challenge, joy, and freedom are abstract words. They refer to ideas or concepts that you cannot experience through your five senses. You can’t touch or see them. Most feelings, emotions, or philosophies are abstract nouns. Here’s one clue you’ve written an abstract word. They often have suffixes such as -ism, -acy, -ance, -ence, -age, -ability, -ness, -ment, -ship, -ity, or -ion.
Abstract examples include:
What are concrete phrases?
Concrete terms express actual objects, place, person or events.
“What makes a phrase concrete? If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete,” says Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
- Medical images
- $600 smartphone
- Juicy ripe clementine
- Sour purple grapes
- Kahula® hot chocolate in a white porcelain mug
Find words in your copy that you can change to describe an experience through the five senses: what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
I think a great way to remember this rule is from Ann Handley.
“Use concrete nouns that hurt if they’re dropped on your foot,” Ann Handley
Handley shared the tip at a writing workshop I attended at Content Marketing World a few years ago. She has remeinded B2B marketers business-to-business truly means communicating person-to-person.
She’s an advocate for encouraging “business leaders to shed marketing mediocrity and ignite real business results.” Her words. 😊
Writing concrete phrases will strengthen the copy, recommends Ahava Leibtag, founder of Aha Media Group. When you read concrete phrases, the message becomes more understandable.
“What does your mind do? It starts to create pictures for you in your head of what these things are …” she said.
What are the benefits of using concrete phrases?
Concrete Words and Phrases will:
1. Capture a web visitor’s eyeballs
2. Help the reader absorb the message’s meaning
2. Get your product remembered with staying power
Concrete phrases transform words that are boring, tedious and “yawn-inducing” into ideas that are easier to remember.
“Experiments in human memory have shown that people are better at remembering concrete, easily visualized nouns (‘bicycle’ or ‘avocado’) than abstract ones (‘justice’ or ‘personality’),” Chip and Dan Heath
In a study at the University of Western Ontario, participants remembered nearly 4x as many concrete phrases than abstract phrases.
How the study worked: Researchers read study participants a series of concrete and abstract adjectives and nouns, then combined them into concrete and abstract phrases:
- Square door
- Rusty engine
- Flaming forest
- Muscular gentleman
- White horse
- Crippled judge
- Young mother
- Hungry prisoner
- Round temple
- Muddy village
- Impossible amount
- Better excuse
- Apparent fact
- Common fate
- Subtle fault
- Available knowledge
- Rational method
- Particular soul
- Basic theory
- Absolute truth
“To be concrete, use sensory language,” Chip Heath and Dan Heath
B2B Website Copy Examples – Straight from the Internet
Next, here are some excerpts from leading B2B companies’ websites. The copy was above the fold. See how often abstract words and phrases are used.
First example shows abstract words / phrases: services, a range of issues, performace and outcomes. What does the words mean? Visitors see these words appear on B2B websites so often that they skim the copy rather than read it.
Another example, showing abstract nouns / phrases solutions, challenges, business, services, decisions, issues, and opportunities. We’re putting our web visitors to sleep, B2B marketers. This example does show some promise: concrete phrases such as lower your operating expenses and improve your claims processes. By giving statistics of how much you can lower or improve would also make this copy more compelling.
Below, here’s an example of concrete language. Your web visitor will quickly grasp a basic understanding of “real-time alerting.” Words like hospitals, Clinical Decision Support, medical data, health practitioners and prescriptive decisions help the visitor form a picture in their mind.
This paragraph shares a story of “real-time alerting” in action.
If the copy is too boring to read, visitors will choose to ignore it.
Concrete phrases are the “spicer-upper of copy.” So use concrete phrases to make your copy riveting to your visitor.
And if you’re already aware of this writing tip, good. But are you writing concrete details?
Join me in being an ambassador for the concrete. Let’s stamp out the abstract. On B2B websites. Today.