Radio performers 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 An old (but outdated and overused) trick is to use the word “you”.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 a question in hopes of making listeners feel that the segment is about them. Neither technique resonates with listeners. But researchers have found something that may be just what you’re looking for. There’s a new twist for intimate connections that could help.

One of the principles of my Powerful Language For Strong Performance seminar is to reduce or 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 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.

The Word “You”

For decades, programmers have taught personalities to start a segment with the listener by emphasizing the word “you”. Some call it the most powerful word in marketing, though I make the case there’s a stronger word.

The first discovery is that songs that contain the word “you” more often are more likely to become a hit. Okay, big deal. 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”.

So they dug deeper and found important correlations in how the pronoun was used.

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.

What Does That Have To Do With Radio?

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.

Berger explains:

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.

The Twist For Intimate Connections

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 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 remember things that actors use to memorize a script.

That adjustment makes intimate connections. Isn’t that more interesting?


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 the word “you” a lot. It’s crafting language so listeners truly connect.

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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