Many years ago the English philosopher John Austin wrote a brilliant book, ‘How to Do Things with Words’. He introduced the notion of speech acts. For him a word is an act.
It’s a curious concept, the notion that to speak is to act. Sure, we move our mouths when we speak, but the word itself surely isn’t an action? But of course if you dig deep into language, you’ll find Austin had a point.
You can have all the free speech in the world, but to shout “BOMB!” in a crowded shopping centre is to act upon people. This is one reason why there is no absolute right to freedom of speech anywhere in the world.
So as we well know, words are powerful, and it is important to treat them as such. They are delicate things.
Content marketers must learn this lesson at the outset.
The other day, an associate of mine working in Italy met with a restaurateur who’d paid serious money to a web design company to build a website and push her business up the Google rankings. He told me it was a painful meeting.
Her website was supposed to extol the virtues of a fine dining establishment. It did pretty much the opposite.
Looking at their website, you could see that it is easy to get to the restaurant from a grim nearby motorway exit, it has a garden and you can dine on the porch.
There’s a video of things dangling from trees and some footage of a car. There are some photos of empty plastic chairs and bookings are welcome, except you can’t actually book through their website.
When the restaurateur was asked “What do you think your website does?” her face went pale. There’s not a mention of the food, of the wine, of the chefs, of the service. Why would anyone come here rather than someplace else?
“What this website does is to turn your business into a motorway service station. What it does is to make you look cheap. What it does is to make you look unpopular. This is why the locals tell you they drive by and don’t come in. Your website makes them act that way.”
Fortunately, it won’t be difficult to turn around. They have fresh, local, organic ingredients and a superb range of fine local and international wines, and two sommeliers to decant them. They serve traditional food with a modern touch that apparently sends your taste buds into delirium.
Just writing this now is making my mouth water and compelling me to eat there. That’s why words are so important.