by Tracy Johnson
Radio performers continuously seek new ways to connect with listeners on a personal level. An old (but outdated and overused) trick is to use the word “you”. Another common tactic is to ask listeners a question in hopes of making them feel that the segment is about them. Neither technique actually resonates with listeners, though. But researchers have found something that may be just what you’re looking for. There’s a new twist for intimate connections that helps me. And I think it will help you.
One of the principles of my seminar Powerful Language For Strong Performance is to reduce (and in some cases eliminate) the use of pronouns. Radio personalities have a habit of over-using the word “you”. It turns out that the problem may simply be we’re using it incorrectly.
This discovery came from a group at Wharton looking for common traits that predict whether songs will become hits. Marketing professor Jonah Berger took a fresh approach, analyzing the language of lyrics. He and his team analyzed thousands of hits to find common aspects of the lyrics that could predict success.
For decades, I’ve heard programmers teach personalities to always start a segment talking about the listener first by emphasizing the word “you”. Some have called it the most powerful word in marketing, though I make the case there’s a stronger word.
But it all makes sense now, after the conclusions made by Berger and his team.
The first discovery is that songs that contain the word “you” more often are more likely to become a hit. Okay, big deal, right? That’s a common word and many hits are love songs written about or to another person. That’s kind of how I feel about radio personalities going out of their way to use (overuse) the word “you”, too.
So they dug deeper. And the more they looked into the word “you”, the more important the pronoun seemed. Here’s what they found:
The first conclusion is that it’s not using the word “you” that makes a song more likely to be successful. Rather, it’s when “you” is the object of a sentence. They point to songs like Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton’s song, “I Will Always Love You” and Queen’s epic “We Will Rock You.”
To prove this theory, they tested how the placement of “you” matters. They say:
It’s not because we imagine Whitney or Freddie singing to us. Instead, these songs remind us of times we’ve felt similarly. By putting ourselves in the singer’s shoes, we recall and enrich our own memories.
A lot, actually. The word “you” is important. But just using it to launch a break isn’t the point. That’s the twist for intimate connections.
This gets to the core of why we like cultural products. They help us see our own relationships, our own social connections, as deeper and different as they might be otherwise. When Whitney Houston is singing, ‘I Will Always Love You,’… it causes us to think about, ‘This is really an amazing, romantic song. Who do I love?’ It helps us think of a close other in our own lives.
As an example, Berger remembers listening to Houston as a teenager and pining over a high school crush. It’s not the actual use of the word, but the leverage of placing the word that causes us to feel a powerful emotion. That’s the twist.
The key takeaway is both simple and applicable for anyone that relies on communication.
At the heart of the researcher’s discoveries is that all of us are self-obsessed.
Before buying a product, click a button, or deciding to continue listening to a radio show, we subconsciously evaluate, “What’s in it for me?”
Making “you” the object of the communication is key. And that’s where many personalities miss the point of using the word effectively. For example, it’s fairly common to hear a break start like this:
Have you ever wondered how actors can memorize a script so easily?
But that’s just inserting the word “you” into the topic. It doesn’t make “you” the subject of the segment, does it? Here’s a simple adjustment.
You can use the same techniques to rememeber things that actor’s use to memorize a script.
That simple twist for intimate connections makes the topic about the listener. It makes me interested.
We see this in online marketing all the time. There are a lot of second-person pronouns used in successful online content because proper use of the technique makes the headline personal.
Whether it’s a hit song, a headline on a website, or the hook of a segment on the radio, this technique can help gain more attention by endearing the source to the target. But it’s not just saying “you” a lot. It’s crafting language so listeners truly connect to their life experiences.
The more you cause listeners to think about themselves through your content, the more likely you will have a hit segment.
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