LOST IN TRANSLATION

Decoding the Language of Marketing

A series featuring TKO’s sideways look at the terminology that marketers love to use.

Term #2: New

Young reporters learning their craft at journalism college are taught that there are three magic headline words in the English language: the words ‘win’, ‘free’ or ‘new’ are known by journalistic old hands to attract more readers than any other.
 
Marketers have learned to use this knowledge to their advantage, using the word ‘new’ liberally in press releases, tweets, blogposts and direct e-mails. Unfortunately, familiarity breeds contempt: journalists, who are professionally cynical, have learned to cast a sceptical eye over press releases which claim to announce the introduction of a ‘new’ product or service.
 
What journalists hear when you say ‘new’
You, the marketer, might have high hopes for your press release introducing a ‘new’ product. But it’s worth bearing in mind that the journalist who reads it might interpret the word ‘new’ as meaning:
– very slightly modified so as to remain almost identical to previous versions of the same product which the journalist has read about many times previously
– ‘new’ as in, your company has never gone to market with this product previously. But in reality, ‘old’ or ‘behind the times’, because your product is a late-to-market knock-off of products which other, faster companies have been selling for months or years.
– technically new, in the sense that you have never previously announced it because your most important customer – for which you developed the product – refused you permission to publicise it previously. But in fact not new, because it has been in your most important customer’s well-known product for many months
– not in any way new at all. As in, a warmed-over re-announcement of a product that was new when you first announced it, and which you are cheekily re-announcing to try to give its sales a shot in the arm.
 
How to say the word ‘new’ credibly
So how to get past a journalist’s credibility filter? Journalists are required to be sceptical about press releases. But that does not mean they don’t believe anything – just that they you have to earn the right to be believed.
 
Marketers can do themselves some favours. To use the word ‘new’ successfully in press releases and elsewhere, here are three useful guidelines:
1. Avoid as much as possible using the word ‘new’. Ration yourself. Think, is what I’m announcing really new? If journalists only see ‘new’ from you occasionally, they’ll be less cynical when you do use it.
2. Be precise about what is new. As the Bible says, there is ‘no new thing under the sun’. ‘New’ products generally evolve from an earlier version of the same concept. If your widget is ‘new’ because you have added a power-saving capability which reduces energy consumption, say, ‘Widget helps users save energy with new power-saving feature’ – don’t call it a ‘new widget’.
3. It sounds obvious, but: tell the truth. Don’t let pressure from business units with sales targets to meet induce you to announce as ‘new’ a product which you know is not new. If a journalist finds out that you have passed off a previously released product as new, your credibility is lost, and may never be won back.
 
New advice, or plain common sense?
Funnily enough, there is nothing completely new in the advice here: it’s common sense that many marketers will do instinctively. But under the pressure to provide impressive performance metrics or meet external targets, it can be easy to lose sight of what words mean. But journalists won’t forget the definition of ‘new’ – and nor should marketers!

 

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