Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Final Word on Words

Please fasten your seatbelts. This is an article on words, but it takes a lot of numbers to have this conversation fully. Ready? Here we go…

The University of California in San Diego reports that Americans consumed 3.6x1021 bytes of data in 2008. That works out to 34 gigabytes per day per person or approximately 100,500 words for each of us.

If the average American reads 200 words a minute, that would come to 502.5 minutes a day—or 8.375 hours a day—spent in processing words. But of course, we live in an electronic world, so we’re getting a lot of these communications through our ears.

45% of the words we consume come from television. Computers eat up 26% of our word diet, with radio taking 11%, print media 9%, and phone conversations a mere 5%. Of course, this study was done before Texting and Tweeting became the Big Deals that they are today, so the 2010 figures might be significantly different.

A trade industry group, CTIA, claims that 110 billion text messages were sent in the US in 2008, up from 2 billion in 2003. In 2008, we Americans spent 23 hours a year texting ourselves, which begs the question about what we did with the other 8,737 hours that year.

But fear not. We are an ingenious, puritanical people. We certainly do not want to have 8,737 empty hours a year. We know that idle hands are the Devil’s workshop. So we have plunged wholeheartedly into texting. At least our thumbs—if not our brains—are very busy.

I can only surmise from personal observation that text messaging is growing exponentially. Case in Point: My husband and I went out to dinner recently and sat next to a 20-something couple. They never spoke during the entire meal, as each was focused entirely on his/her personal texting. I assume they were not texting each other, but I did not have the chutzpah to ask.

And I haven’t even addressed Tweeting. According to Gigatweet, the preeminent Twitter Tracker, since 2006 Americans have posted 8 trillion+ tweets.

The UCSD study did not take into consideration talking face-to-face, (aka conversation!), but a study conducted one year earlier found that both men and women speak an average of 16,000 words per day. (Hah! Take that, men! You can—and do—get a word in edgewise!)

I suspect that this study—conducted in California—did not take into account regional speech patterns. I’ve often heard people from the South say that New Yorkers “wear out their ears” because they talk so fast. Conversely, friends from New York claim to fall asleep waiting for Southerners to finish a sentence. My guess is that the New Yawkers spit out 20,000 words while drawling Southerners are slowly making their way through 12,000.

So what does this have to do with marketing?

Plenty! Words—communication—is the crux of marketing.

Since there are words flying around us all day long, make the ones you use count for something. After all, you want your message to stand out.

Here are a few ideas to help your message stand out:

  • Be brief. There’s a lot of competition for attention.
  • Use active verbs. They enliven your message.
  • Pick the right nouns and ease up on adjectives.
  • Vary the length of your sentences. Doing so changes the pace.
  • Know when enough is enough. No one likes a blowhard.

Hence, my final words today are: The End.

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