Choosing the Right Words to Reach Your Clients

What is the best way to describe yourself? Entrepreneur or small business owner? It may seem like splitting hairs, but each will convey a different message.

Choosing the right words for your kitchen and bath firm’s Web site, ad, brochure or client presentation can greatly affect your success, says Dr. Frank Luntz, a prominent “language architect” and public-opinion pollster.

In his book Words That Work, Luntz identifies key words and phrases that resonate with Americans today based on hundreds of thousands of telephone interviews, hundreds of focus groups and a million research hours. Here are the ones that are especially relevant to the kitchen and bath industry.

Words That Work

First, “small business owner” is preferable to entrepreneur, according to Luntz. Entrepreneurs are viewed as more financially successful, but are also seen more as speculators. Small business owners are perceived as using their own money, their own skills and their own sweat to build a business.

Note the terms “viewed,” “seen” and “perceived.” These are key. You might think of yourself as an entrepreneur and feel that “small business owner” is not as prestigious. But what matters is what potential clients hear and associate with the words, not what you think.

In presenting your firm, emphasize small and local, and invoke images of the Mom and Pop store. “We associate it with personal, reliable, down to earth and in touch,” Luntz writes. “It connotes customer service, caring and attentiveness.”

Home Depot’s founders understood the importance of a local perception and tagged each store with its state: “Georgia’s Home Improvement Store;” “Pennsylvania’s Home Improvement Store.” In the early days, people perceived the stores as more local than a big chain.

However, there are some cases where our clients might be concerned that “Mom and Pop” comes across as unsophisticated. In major metro areas, where you are appealing to a very upscale clientele, you may need to downplay the Mom and Pop. Play up the personalization that is associated with it, but balance it with your broader perspective. Make it clear you know what’s going on in New York, Los Angeles, Milan or wherever your clientele thinks it needs to shop. Make it clear that your customers can get the best of both worlds with you.

You should also consider using the word “independent” when describing your firm. “It’s seen as having no constricting ties, no conflicts of interest, honest, candid and responsive to your customers,” Luntz writes.

This is why it is so important to brand yourself. Consumers must distinguish between you and the manufacturers you represent. If you only hand out manufacturers’ literature or run co-op ads, prospects perceive that you are not independent.

To avoid this, tell people, “We are an independent kitchen design firm…an independent decorative plumbing and hardware showroom…an independent fabricator.”

The word “independent” is powerful for another reason, Luntz explains. Americans associate it with being individual and delivering unique experiences. “Because we identify so closely with the products we use, because they are often such a critical element of our own self-images, we don’t want them to be the same as everybody else’s,” he observes. Constantly reinforce the custom one-of-a-kind nature of your products and design service.

Happily, what Luntz identifies as the most powerful words for the 21st century include ones especially relevant to our industry. They are “renew, revitalize, rejuvenate, restore, rekindle and reinvent.” Of course we would add “remodel, redesign and rehab.”

The “re” words imply action, movement, progress and improvement, Luntz stresses.

Try some of these phrases in your marketing communications:

  • “Rekindle your love affair with your home.”
  • “Spa showers that restore…”
  • “Jetted tubs that rejuvenate…”
  • The kitchen re-invented…”

Another word that relates to progress is “better.” That magic word is one reason why Better Homes & Gardens has an audience of more than 40 million, the largest in our industry. Its title connects with the American psyche of continually dreaming of a brighter future. That’s why it’s key to talk about making the home, kitchen or bath better.
Talk about solutions. Telling customers, “We specialize in finding solutions for small, outdated kitchens” is better than talking about design services or products.

Key Phrases

Encourage prospects to “imagine” the solution. Luntz says “imagine” is one of the most powerful words you can use because it evokes something different to each person. Everyone gives it his or her own definition and, in doing so, becomes invested in it.

Try using phrases such as:

  • “Imagine your dream kitchen.”
  • “Imagine having your own spa bath.”
  • “Imagine the convenience of a custom closet.”

The beauty of asking prospects to imagine is that you haven’t said, “We sell contemporary kitchens from Italy” or “We sell mid-price semi-custom kitchens in maple.” The prospects paint their own picture.

When consumers are asked to imagine, they dream up their own lifestyle.

“Lifestyle is an example of terminology that was adopted by consumers even before the marketing community – it is incredibly powerful because it is self-defined and aspirational – everyone defines and aspires to his or her own unique lifestyle,” Luntz emphasizes. So a customer newsletter addressing “lifestyle” will be well received.

While everyone wants to create their own lifestyle, there is one style term that has mass appeal: casual elegance.

“We like simple pleasures, and we want elegance, not sophistication,” Luntz reports.

“Hassle-free” and “convenient” are two other important terms today. Americans prefer a hassle-free product to a less expensive but more difficult one by 62 percent to 38 percent, Luntz has found.

Convenience, he notes, is about saving time in purchasing, which has led to a revival of in-home selling. Lowe’s is making a big push in this arena. The Internet can provide great convenience if your site helps people speed up decision making.

Consider offering a wide array of items, not just cabinets and countertops. When it comes to describing products, “innovation” and “technology” are both highly valued by Americans. So talk about the technology of induction cooking, or innovative personal spa shower systems or chromatherapy tubs. If you are discussing “green” products, call them energy-efficient, not energy conserving. Efficiency sounds positive, conservation sounds austere. And don’t forget “investment.”

“Products and services that promote a significant investment of time or money in their creation can command a price premium,” Luntz notes. So tell clients, “We’ve invested in new finishing technology. We’ve invested in a new showroom. We’ve invested in certifying our staff. We’ll invest the time in your project.”

There is also the investment the clients make in their project. “Investing in your future” is one of the main motivations for long-term purchases,” Luntz writes.

For those wondering if certification is worth it, Luntz says yes. “The reason certified is becoming important is because trust and confidence in people and promises has eroded. Certification upholds a higher level of quality and/or reliability. It also implies a specific review process was followed by a trained professional. In the near future, expect many products and industries to apply the ‘certified’ label,” he predicts.

Read past columns on Consumer Insights by Leslie Hart, and send us your comments about this story and others by logging onto Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Website at