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You are here: Home > Marketing > Articles > Can Can

Doing The Can Can

by Kay Ross

I'll be blunt: I HATE the word "can" in marketing communications material.

I recently received an e-newsletter from Organising Solutions, Hong Kong's first and leading organising consulting/training company. They present terrific public and corporate seminars about how to get (and stay) organised and productive at work and at home, and they get rave reviews from their clients. My good friend Kristin Lowe is the founder and CNO (Chief Noisemaker + Organiser) of the company.

The e-newsletter included several sentences with the word "can" (copied here with Kristin's permission):

  • "You can read more about how to do this..."
  • "You can save 15% on all courses"
  • "Why you feel so Crazy-Busy - and what you can do about it"
  • "How to get organised so you can work smarter, not harder"

I immediately wrote to Kristin to suggest how those sentences could have been written more powerfully, cutting out the word "can". Here are my revised versions:

  • "Read more about how to do this..." (It gets straight to the point and tells people what to do right now: "Read more...".)
  • "Save 15% on all courses" (Again, it gets straight to the point; it makes a promise, and it starts with the very appealing word "Save".)
  • "Why you feel so Crazy-Busy - and what to do about it" (It's not about what you CAN do; it's about what you MUST do.)
  • "How to get organised so you work smarter, not harder" (It's not about having the ABILITY to work smarter; it's about actually DOING it.)

Do you FEEL the difference in your gut? Do you see that all the revised sentences are simpler and much more powerful without the word "can"? The word "can" is wimpy and wishy-washy; it has no emotional or persuasive force. It suggests "maybe" or "there's a possibility" or "only if you do X" or "only if X happens". But people aren't interested in the hypothetical, conditional "can"; they're only interested in what you or they DO do or WILL do, definitely. When I read "you can...", I immediately think "Well yes, I CAN, but WILL I, and why should I?"

When I asked Kristin's permission to quote those sentences from her e-newsletter, she graciously said yes. Here's what she wrote: "Thanks for the pointers; the sentences are better the way you've phrased them. You're welcome to use these examples in your newsletter - provided you have better things to say about our services than our writing! : )" I'm delighted to recommend the services of Organising Solutions, because I'm a satisfied client myself!

Lesson: Every word you use in your marketing communications material has an emotional effect on your readers. Good writers understand the effect of their words, and choose them with laser accuracy in order to elicit the response they want. If you want your readers to take action, the word "can" won't cut it.

Action step: When you're writing your marketing communications material, whether you're writing about what you want your clients to do or what you'll do for them, eliminate the wimpy word "can".

© Kay Ross

PS This article was first published in my March 2009 e-newsletter to subscribers. If you'd like to receive more articles like this one in future, please sign up for my e-newsletter (it's free) by going to the opt-in box in the top right-hand corner of this page.

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Kay Ross is a Hong Kong-based marketing consultant & coach, editor and copywriter. She devises creative marketing strategies and crafts compelling English-language marketing communications messages that translate into bottom-line results for her clients. To learn more, visit www.kayross.com.

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September 18, 2006