The Potential Danger of If and But

One response.

Please take a minute to think about the words IF and BUT. Such little words but they can have such a big impact on your brand.

Do you realize that if you add the words IF or BUT to an apology it demeans the sentiment and neuters the meaning?

“I’m sorry IF you thought I was being mean,” is not an apology because the IF has disclaimed the value of “I’m sorry.” Being sorry is not based on how the wronged party felt about the action being apologized for; it’s based on feeling remorse for having done something wrong in the first place.

No If or But“I’m sorry you were offended BUT I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” is not an apology because the intention of the slight has nothing to do with its ultimate effect.

And “I’m sorry IF you were bothered by what I said BUT I was angry,” is not an apology either because none of the conditions have anything to do with the situation being apologized for. Being angry enough to say something stupid is not a reasonable excuse for the stupidity itself.

I find it interesting that these short little words, IF and BUT have so much weight. With just two or three letters the power of a sincere apology can be completely neutralized.

And the same thing can happen during your sales pitch…

Disclaimers such as IF and BUT have the power to change consumers’ good feelings and sour their opinion on the products and services they’re buying (and you’re selling).

Did you know that 65% of the respondents in a well-crafted marketing study said they’ve stopped purchasing a product that was advertised with a message they found unacceptable?

No If or ButNot only that but advertising was seen to have a significant impact on societal values. 47% of Canadian consumers interviewed said that advertising shapes public values vs. 40% who said advertising simply mirrors society. In the United States a majority of consumers said that advertising serves as a societal mirror but a large percentage still affirmed that unacceptable or disingenuous messages would make them change their mind about an upcoming purchase.

It stands to reason then that you could lose almost half of your buyers simply because of an errantly placed IF or BUT. Besides being a wake-up call for marketers to be scrupulous about the way they communicate, this also suggests that the power of language and branding is much more significant than casual observation might suggest.

My friend and online learning expert Alex Santos  at Collabor8 Learning closes his emails with the following words of wisdom: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Talented professional copywriters are worth their weight in gold not simply because they know how to create compelling text, but because they also understand what not to say when the wrong words – such as IF and BUT – could poison the sale you’ve worked so hard to make.

It's Time To Call Southeast

For years the old Southeast Bank ran a campaign with the tagline, “It’s Time To Call Southeast.” I suppose they thought that when you needed money or banking services you would pick up the phone and dial their number. Unfortunately whenever I heard the campaign I always wondered what I had done wrong because I don’t usually call my bank when something good happens, I call them when there’s a problem. I’d bet you’re the same.

It’s time to call Southeast? Why? Did a hurricane just destroy my house and I need to borrow money for a new roof? Did I forget to record a check and subsequently overdraw my account? Are there bank fees on my statement that I wasn’t expecting? No matter the question, calling my bank is not an activity I generally look forward to happily.

The next time you write copy for an ad, website, resume, or whatever, take a moment to read the copy as if you were the recipient. Make sure that the message you’re trying to convey is the same message that your reader is going to receive. Otherwise you might just have to apologize afterwards. No IFs or BUTs included.

  One Response

  1. Seth B
    on May 17, 2015

    It’s true. Few know how to apologize any more. And there are many who don’t know how to properly accept an apology.

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