Get to the Point: The 'Six Words or Less' Philosophy

Are You Describing Your Shop or Simply Prattling On?

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Meredith Vaughan
Meredith Vaughan
At our agency, we are constantly reminding ourselves to say less, when our natural instincts consistently prompt us to say more. But brevity is not something easily practiced. Think about your last RFP response, or most recent client presentation. Did you over explain when a short, concise and simple answer would have sufficed? It's easy to do -- and tempting since we're all so darn smart. Of course people want to hear us pontificate, right?

Now think about how you describe your agency, especially in new-business situations. Do you tend to go a bit overboard -- trying to cover every area of expertise, all industry experience and each qualification in an effort to paint the full picture of what makes you stand out? Now try to do it in six words or less. How did you do? If you're anything like me, you failed miserably on the first try. And the second.

I'm all for being comprehensive, but I'm also a firm believer that when you're long-winded, you run the risk of diluting your message and sounding like everyone else -- not the unique shop you know you are. As brand communicators by trade, we should be able to boil down what we do or what differentiates us into a concise and powerful sound bite that packs a punch But what this exercise has shown is that it's harder than it looks. It also makes an argument for adopting what I call the "six words or less" philosophy -- or rather, saying more with less.

In the case of the exercise I just challenged you with, you'll need to do some intense soul-searching and find those perfect few words that capture the "what" and "why" of your agency's existence. We did this at my agency a few years ago and since then, I can honestly say I've had way more fun and noticed a much more engaged reception when describing our agency. My days of introducing Vladimir Jones using superfluous catch-phrases that do nothing to distinguish us from any other agency are over. I now say we're "an agency of exciting minds" and am astonished at the success rate it has in launching a more in-depth conversation about the company. Sure it's a bit more vague, but what I don't say says as much about us as what I do. In just a few words, I'm able to communicate what we as an agency value (exciting minds, and therefore exciting clients, work, ideas, innovation, etc.), and ultimately what makes us something special.

So now that we have that down, we are working to adopt the "six words or less" philosophy elsewhere within our company. From new-biz proposals to marketing plans, point of view memos to reporting documents, we're taking a good hard look at how succinctly we articulate our point and asking ourselves, "Are we getting from A to B in the most effective, efficient, user-friendly way? What's the thrust of our message here? Could it be communicated in a cleaner, clearer way? Have we muddied it with unnecessary industry jargon, buzzwords and the like?"

It's human nature to want to be thorough, but thorough doesn't necessarily mean tediously drawn out. Sure, sometimes the situation requires a little background or a more lengthy explanation. But we can all apply the "six words or less" philosophy in the name of limiting verbosity to only those situations when it's absolutely necessary.

Give it a try. Next time you're asked "What do you do?" or are answering an RFP, consider this philosophy. I think you'll find that you're able to get and keep the attention of your target audiences more so when you communicate succinctly -- and avoid saying so much that you actually say nothing at all.

Meredith Vaughan is president of Vladimir Jones, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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