All in a name

An aid program by any other name would still be as sweet…

The Australia aid program just has a branding problem.

That’s the implication of a recent interim report by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade following an inquiry into the effectiveness of the aid program in the Indo-Pacific.

In addition to increasing the aid budget, the committee recommends that the aid program should be maintained, even increased… but it should have a name change.

This recommendation is a great real-world demonstration of the importance of branding. The committee is not arguing for cessation or cuts to the Australian aid program, despite domestic pressure in recent months after devastating disasters in Queensland, and cynical cuts in the most recent Federal budget. It is arguing for a re-branding, to overcome the negative perception of ‘aid’.

It isn’t the product, it’s the name

There is no disputing the power of words, names. Marketing gurus argue strongly and frequently that the name of a business is integral to its success, with this Forbes article pointing out that people literally change their names in the pursuit of success – and it works.

So what does this mean for communications professionals? It points a very important lesson – choose your words carefully!

Every single word you use conveys a particular meaning. Choose the right word, the right image, and you get a positive reaction in your audience. Choose the wrong word, convey the wrong impression… and you might get nowhere… or worse, face a backlash.

This means that each word you use in any document should be precisely selected. Not only does this usually mean you can deliver your message using fewer words, but it also means less ambiguity or confusion for your audience – leading to more understanding, more support and hopefully more funding!

There are ample resources out there for helping to choose the right word for the meaning you are trying to convey.

But there are a few key things to remember:

  • Your audience comes from any number of different cultures, languages and experience. This means a word that conveys one concept to one reader, may say something else to another. So keep your language simple and concise, plain English, avoiding clichés or phrases that are very context or culture-specific and that might alienate or confuse readers.
  • Don’t assume a level of knowledge in your readers! Even if your piece is being written for a reader who should be intimately familiar with the topic you are discussing, you might end up landing on the desk of the new graduate, the intern or just the over-worked bureaucrat who hasn’t got time to do more than skim the document and needs it to be as simple and digestible as possible.
  • Avoid ‘weak’ language – make sure your language and tone are active, persuasive but without being patronising or alienating readers.

And above all, remember not to use the word ‘aid’ anywhere!

Not sure if your communications approach hits the mark with audiences? Click here for a free assessment to see how I might be able to assist you!

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