Learn how to win over your customers by trading weasel words for clear communications.
No one likes to feel like they’ve been tricked. Yet, in this world of customer-centric marketing, weasel words still prevail. Although these misleading statements can land you a first sale, they’re not going to win you lifelong customers. Even worse, they can damage your business reputation and overall trust in your brand. So it’s in your best interest to replace weasel words in favor of clear communications.
The origin of weasel words
Weasel words are vague, ambiguous, or misleading claims packaged as definitive statements. They can make your customers feel that you said something meaningful even when you did not.
Take the claim, “This engine upgrade will add 15 horsepower to your car,” for example. With weasel words, this would look like, “With this cutting-edge engine upgrade, most people claim to see a substantial increase in horsepower.” The qualifiers and vague wording allow you to avoid making promises you cannot keep while still hyping the upgrade.
Such weasel word tactics are deceptive, self-serving, and effective in allowing the speaker to avoid taking responsibility for their assertions. And that’s really not a reputation you want to cultivate, especially when it comes to marketing your brand.
Common weasel word categories
Weasel wording comes in many forms, allowing you to sidestep the truth in new and interesting ways all the time. So you have to be vigilant to avoid making a false impression while trying to land the sale.
As with all things, knowledge is power. Knowing when, how, and why these terms and phrases appear will improve your ability to weed them out of your business communications. Start that journey by taking a peek at the most common weasel word categories.
False authority is the pairing of passive voice with nameless sources to make a seemingly legitimate claim. Also known as anonymous authority, this kind of statement makes it seem like an expert backs up the claim while making fact-checking impossible.
When false authority appears in sales and marketing, you’ll see it as, for example:
- “Evidence suggests…”
- “Research shows…”
- “Studies reveal…”
Fixing this type of deceptive wording is easy. Avoid passive voice and cite your sources—and you’re golden.
General quantifiers allow you to skirt around the real numbers and subtly make exaggerated claims. This approach encourages false assumptions that make your results look better than they really are.
For example, these generalizations could appear as:
- “Most people…”
- “Many prospects…”
- “Expect significant growth…”
Quantifying your results can be powerful. To fix this issue, dig deep to identify your exact figures and use them in place of general quantifiers whenever possible.
Excessive qualifiers modify the meaning of a direct statement to give you plausible deniability. They allow you to hedge your bets, ensuring that you have wiggle room even if your claims are completely untrue.
Examples of words that free you from responsibility are:
You don’t have to make ironclad guarantees to avoid excessive qualifiers. Just say what you mean without adding any extra cushion around your comments.
Illogical or irrelevant sentences
An illogical or irrelevant sentence is a misleading answer, comment, or claim centered around phony reasoning or made out of context. The argument starts out sound only to end up at a false conclusion.
For example, an illogical or irrelevant sentence in advertising can look like:
- “Celebrities use our product, so it must be good.”
- “Our product will make you the talk of the town.”
- “Four out of five experts recommend our product.”
Each sentence lacks evidence on why the claim is true. Avoid that problem by honestly highlighting the benefits of your product and backing your claims with actual proof.
Vague euphemisms are the use of soft language to dart around saying what you truly mean. By avoiding direct communication, your statements can mislead people and help you avoid taking responsibility.
If you’re watching for them, you’ll see these euphemisms show up as:
- “Alternative facts” instead of “lies”
- “Inconvenience” instead of “problem”
- “Value-added” instead of “additional cost”
People know when you’re trying to obscure the truth or otherwise mislead them with a shifty phrase. Just use clear, precise wording to share what’s going on, and they’ll appreciate your honesty.
Subjunctive mood is a way to frame your suggestions as an expert opinion or factual statement. Wrapping your recommendations in a hypothetical scenario can give them more weight at first. But it will erode your customer’s trust once they realize what’s happened.
Examples of subjunctive mood in sales and marketing include:
- “If I were your bookkeeper…”
- “If you were to purchase our product…”
- “Imagine if you could have…”
Skip the hypotheticals altogether to keep the subjunctive mood from muddying the waters. Speak frankly and let your opinion stand on its own.
Common weasel words to avoid in sales
Once you try playing Whac-A-Mole with weasel words, it’ll quickly become quite clear that these words and phrases pop up far too often. They’re everywhere in advertising—and undoubtedly living in your personal lexicon.
In addition to the ones listed above, try to avoid using the following terms and phrases in your sales and marketing speak:
- One of a kind
- Could be
- With all due respect
Skip the passive voice, too. Active voice encourages you to be more straightforward and concise.
Why you should avoid tricky language in marketing
In the business world, there are many companies that make promises they cannot keep yet land sale after sale. So why should you take the high road by using transparent communication?
Whether you’re leveraging anonymous authority or simply using a little passive voice here and there, lying to people—by omission or outright—is wrong. The lies can add up and leave a bad taste in the customer’s mouth, resulting in them looking for other products that rival your own.
Over time, your ability to earn repeat business will suffer and your customer lifetime value figures will tank. You’ll have to constantly find new leads to stay in business. Eventually, your negative reputation will precede you and threaten your ability to stay afloat.
Benefits of being honest with your customers
Although honest sales tactics take more effort up front, they’ll pay off in the following ways:
- Making a great first impression brings people back to your brand time and again
- Repeat clients spend 31% more upon returning to your company for another purchase
- Retaining your existing clients costs 5 times less than finding new ones
- Happy customers regularly leave positive reviews, which helps build brand trust
- 95% of people read reviews before shopping and lean toward brands with positive ratings
You really cannot lose by switching from the word weasel approach to showing respect for your audience by using clear communication. Your efforts will boost customer retention and loyalty, resulting in positive reviews that bring more leads your way. Rinse. Repeat. Reap the rewards.
Caveat: When to leverage plausible deniability
When used sparingly and in the right context, weasel words do have a purpose. In some industries, you need to avoid making a guarantee that you cannot keep.
In the legal world, for example, you cannot say you will get someone a particular outcome because the court system is fundamentally unpredictable. Concrete promises can land lawyers in hot water if the case does not go as planned.
If there are legal liabilities or other negative consequences to consider, use qualifiers as needed to let people know that things could go either way.
How to build trust with clear communication
More than half of consumers do research before making a purchase. They want to know that the products or services will resolve their pain points. And they want to find the best brand and get a great deal. Along the way, they’re looking for obvious advertising tricks and other deceptive sales tactics.
When customers don’t feel they have to look through your business info with a critical eye, you know you’ve created the foundation for a lifelong relationship. And it all starts with clear, honest communications. Your marketing materials need to make a great first impression so your sales team can swoop in and sell with integrity.
Here’s how to make that happen:
Be clear and direct
Never mince your words. Say what you mean and mean what you say. It’s really that simple. You just have to be clear and direct when addressing each person by:
- Avoiding technical jargon and using everyday words and phrases instead
- Choosing your wording carefully to leave no room for misinterpretation
- Organizing your thoughts so you can use active voice and quickly get to the point
As you do that, try to be a resource rather than just focus on sell, sell, sell. People prefer to partner with businesses that treat them like equals and try to be helpful above all else.
Highlight benefits with facts
Focusing on the facts sends weasels to a land far, far away. There’s simply no room for tricky advertising speak when using concrete figures to make your point. That’s why you should always highlight the benefits of your offerings with factual info.
Want to say that you have a cutting-edge tech support team? Skip the ad speak in favor of saying, “We’re here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.” Be precise to show people what they stand to gain from partnering with your brand.
Focus on your customers’ needs
To always be closing is a popular sales strategy and way of life, but you cannot lose sight of your clients’ needs. Not every customer needs the biggest service package, most luxurious items, or top-of-the-line solutions.
Sometimes people just need something that works for their budget while solving their problems. So avoid the upsells and just listen to what each customer needs.
Eliminate weasel words for significant growth of your business
With your mind on weasel words, there’s no doubt that terms like significant or immense growth will instantly capture your attention. While they might allude to positive benefits, they can’t offer a brand the same long-term benefits as eliminating ambiguous, misleading, and meaningless language.
So skip that thought. Instead, think about how using direct language will help build great relationships with your customers. Envision a future where your clear communications pave the way to more sales and a better business reputation.
Then, put your knowledge to work by using trustworthy communication practices. Measure your results to see how the change impacts your business. Whether that looks like more new leads, repeat clients, or higher sales figures, your efforts are bound to help you achieve true business success.