The Power of a Few Words


He sat on the sidewalk alone, the cardboard beneath him his only protection from the cold cement. Around him people talked. They laughed. They ordered coffee to go.

Occasionally, someone would drop a coin into the can at his side. The loud clank revealed that the can was virtually empty. A scrawled sign said, “I’m blind. Please help.”

A woman came walking down the sidewalk on her way to a meeting. Her clothes, her hair, her briefcase all said success. She walked past the man, and then something made her stop. She turned and looked thoughtfully at the man, the sign, and the empty can.

She stepped forward and grabbed the sign. She flipped it over. A pen appeared and she began to write.

The blind man reached out and touched her shoes to “see” the person he was hearing in front of him.

In a moment, the writing was complete. Without a word, the revised sign was returned to its place and the woman strode off to her appointment.

The scene on the street began to change.

Many of the people who passed the sitting man stopped to give a coin, or even a few coins. The empty clang in the can was replaced with the softer clink of a can filling with money.

A while later, the man heard the distinct sound of the woman’s steps returning. He reached out and felt the now familiar shoes to confirm it was her.

“What did you do to my sign?” he asked.

“I wrote the same thing as you, but with different words,” she replied.

“Thank you!” he said gratefully as she walked off.

What did the new sign say that had made all the difference?

“It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.”

I saw this story unfold in a short YouTube video recently. It is a powerful illustration of the difference between having an average selling message versus an exceptional one.

The difference was the rewriting of a few words. It was the same man, in the same place, on the same day, with the same can at his side. But with the creation of a new message, his world changed.

I see exactly the same result with the clients I work with. A small refinement of the selling message very often makes a substantial difference.

I was recently asked to resuscitate an e-mail campaign for my favorite regional theater company. Their show had opened a few days before. The reviews were out and they were glowing.

They were now in the critical period where either they would see ticket sales rise to make the show nicely profitable, or they would stay flat and take the show into the red.

The problem was that the number of people opening e-mails promoting the show were declining.

A promotional e-mail sent 12 days earlier had a 17.8% open rate. The open rate for the second e-mail slid to 15.45%. The third e-mail in the series saw the open rate drop to 14.89%

I needed to turn around the trend and there wasn’t much time to do it. With only nine shows left in the run, every day made a difference. The challenge was to send a new e-mail to the same list of 5,999 people, tell them about the same show, but get a higher level of response.

The only thing available to change was the message in the e-mail. That meant working with the subject line, the selling message, and possibly changing a photo.

I worked on it late into the evening. At 8:23 the next morning I hit the send button.

Less than 12 hours later, we had registered a 31.1% open rate. The number of people clicking through to the ticket website jumped 45.3%. Calls to the ticket office increased by 50.2%.

The difference was simply focusing and refining the message.

Having the right selling message is your single greatest leverage point for getting more return from your marketing budget. It costs just as much to run a poorly crafted ad as it does to run one that gets two to three times the number of responses.

So how am I able to get much higher than average response rates? No, it is not some mystical power, a lucky rabbit’s foot, or strange voices inside my head. It is decades of hard-won knowledge and study of what does and doesn’t work in getting people to take a desired action. Usually that desired action is buying a product or service.

Imagine what can happen when you get just 15, 25, 35% more responses to your marketing. That means more leads for your sales people. It means more new customers. It means greater profits at the end of the quarter.

The extra time and additional money it takes to have a direct response advertising professional create your marketing can pay for itself many times over.

It can often mean the difference between success or failure in a product launch.

It is often the difference between a company that’s just getting by or flourishing.

Focus on getting the right message in your marketing efforts. While the difference may be only a few words, those words can make all the difference in the world.

To your business success,


Are you looking to raise the effectiveness of your marketing? The first step is to have a conversation. (800) 595-1288 to schedule a no-obligation telephone meeting. Or, simply send an e-mail.

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Richard Wilson is the Founder/Chief Marketing Strategist for Sentium Strategic Communications which helps companies craft the right message for extraordinary results. Over the past 33 years, his clients have ranged from start ups to major technology companies.



© 2011 All Rights Reserved. All people who are looking to dramatically boost their business should read this e-zine. Don’t even think about reproducing this document or its contents without written permission from Richard Wilson. But feel free to forward it to all of your friends. For reprint permission please call 800-595-1288.