Generic messaging that could apply to any show doesn’t usually resonate with audiences, especially Millennials and Gen Z who are used to customized content and skeptical of overly broad promises. But stuffing copy with specifics isn’t always an option, nor is it best practice. As event marketers, it’s important to understand when to use abstract and concrete language to tell your story.
Concrete language is more specific and refers to tangible qualities, whereas abstract language is more “big picture” and tied to things we experience only through intellect. An Idaho State University tutoring sheet uses this example: Abstract: To excel in college, you’ll have to work hard. Concrete: To excel in college, you’ll need to go to every class; do all your reading before you go; write several drafts of each paper; and review your notes for each class weekly.
Wharton School marketing professor and author Jonah Berger writes that there are three ways to apply the idea of linguistic concreteness (see On the Web below). Here they are as seen through an event marketing lens:
- Make people feel heard. In CEIR’s “Attendee Acquisition Trends Driving Growth” series, “messaging that aligns with primary motivations for attending” is listed as one of the top four focus areas for planners. To tap into those motivations, we must first demonstrate that we know what they are. Our messaging needs to reassure prospects that “We hear you” — we know what trends are big in your industry or profession right now, what challenges you’re facing, or what advantages you’re looking to gain by attending this event.
- Make the abstract more concrete. Abstract show features or benefits become stronger and more compelling when conveyed in concrete language. “Hear from experts on how using social media can drive more traffic to your pet supply store” gives prospects more information than simply “Hear from experts.” That’s especially important during the consideration phase of the awareness-to-conversion journey.
- Know when it’s better to be abstract. Because abstract language focuses more on the “big picture,” it can be useful when we want to generate awareness or build brand recognition, such as during the early days of an event marketing campaign cycle or when addressing cold audiences.
To help figure out what kind of language works best and when to use it for your prospects, start by looking at campaign elements individually and thinking about such factors as the audience’s needs, existing limitations, like an inability to customize, and the desired end result, whether it’s providing detailed information to warm prospects or raising awareness of an event brand. Then keep your eye on how performance data links to your different messages.
Abstract language also can be useful when telling the broader story behind a campaign with a concept or when the goal is to generate a feeling rather than provide specific information. For example, the headlines “For Them. For You. Forward” and “For You. For Us. Forward” used in the 2021 campaign for LeadingAge Annual Meeting + EXPO are far from concrete, but tugs at the heartstrings of aging services providers by tapping into key motivations for participation — to discover ways to better serve “them” (the older adults in their communities) and move organizations forward through a particularly challenging time for the field.
And of course, abstract language can be useful on smaller executions like digital display ads, where space is limited, and also when customization/segmentation isn’t an option. The trick is to embrace the abstract, while avoiding trite phrases or losing connection to the industry or audience’s pain points.
Shereé Whiteley is a copy director at mdg, a Freeman Company, a full-service marketing and public relations firm specializing in B2B events.
On the Web
Click the link to read “The Magic of Knowing When to Use Concrete vs. Abstract Language,” an article by Jonah Berger in Behavioral Scientist.