Marketing & Merchandising: It's All in What You Say

rules of language

It’s All in What You Say

These 10 rules can help you create effective communications that impact your patients/customers.



Ineffective communication has resulted in failed marriages, bad business ventures, unnecessary suffering and even wars. Those who implement effective communication can change the world. It’s no coincidence that the greatest leaders are great communicators.

In his book, Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear (Hyperion, 2008) marketer/speech writer/political consultant Frank I. Luntz outlines “Ten Rules of Effective Language.” These rules, as demonstrated below, can impact our everyday communications, including those with patients/customers.

1 Simplicity: Use small words.

It makes little sense to describe the features and benefits of products in language patients cannot understand. Remember, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 12% of U.S. adults had proficient health literacy, and more than a third would have difficulty with common health tasks, such as following the directions on a prescription drug label and determining the time to take medication.

Speak in easy-to-understand language and easy-to-remember words. For example, when prescribing progressive lenses: “The lens I prescribed will allow you to see everything from the movie screen to the menu.” (Thanks to Essilor of America for providing this messaging.) The words are small and easy to understand. Plus, they create a clear mental image, which I discuss later.

2 Brevity: Use short sentences.

The best marketing and merchandising strategies use this rule often. When writing or speaking, “think first,” and then use sentences that are as brief and to-the-point as possible. Nike, a brand many of us have represented in our opticals, established their place in the sporting goods empire with a powerful and effective slogan: “Just do it.”

Following this rule, why not describe anti-reflective treatments as simply “No glare”?

3 Credibility is as important as philosophy.

My articles often discuss technology as a building block for an exceptional patient experience. Imagine if you entered my office to see old shag carpeting, outdated literature on the walls, 40-year-old phoropters and all budget frames in my optical. I would lose all credibility.

Most of us would agree that there isn’t much that is more important in marketing or business than your reputation with your customers.

4 Consistency matters.

In marketing, inconsistency can be our biggest enemy. Imagine designating a contact lens as our “go-to” lens because it offers the best comfort, vision and health, as well as the modality that is best for our patients. Then, envision fitting only those patients whom we have predetermined can afford this amazing technology. Not only is a strategy such as this harmful to our marketing efforts, but it also undermines rule #3 — our credibility.

5 Novelty: Offer something new.

While consistent messaging is important, consider adding a new twist when discussing products or services. For example, when offering retinal imaging as part of a wellness exam, keep the message regarding its value the same: “A widefield retinal image provides better visibility of the entire retina at one time.” On the second visit add, “the importance of comparison over time” to the conversation. Find new ways to discuss products that haven’t changed.

6 Sound and texture matter.

Our progressive example in rule #1 is effective not only because the words are short and simple, but also because they create texture or rhythm as you say them. Remember “Snap, Crackle and Pop” (Rice Krispies) or the “quicker pickerupper” (Bounty)? In a discussion of single-use contact lenses, you might say, “Mrs. Jasper, the beauty of this lens is that it will provide your son with the best vision, comfort and health for a lifetime of great vision.”

7 Speak aspirationally.

When patients “feel” the difference in products or services by what you say, they are more likely to buy. When I first purchased my office, a sign on the wall read, “Always look for the best in parachutes, brain surgery and eyewear.”

Consider the emotion created when explaining polarization in eyewear: “Mrs. Jasper, the difference in polarized sunglasses and non-polarized is being able to see the child in the street through the glare or not.” For the fisherman: “The difference between polarized sunglasses and non-polarized, Mr. Jasper, is the ability to see the fish in the water or not.” What emotion is Volvo creating with their slogan “Volvo for Life” or Apple with “Beauty outside. Beast inside”?

8 Visualize.

One of my favorite examples in this category is “GoPro. Be a Hero.” It makes customers feel like they can be heroes, just like the pros. My son loves dirt bikes and wears his GoPro camera on his helmet and watches the videos over and over again, as if he were a professional rider.

What we say can do the same for our patients. When discussing orthokeratology, I tell patients’ parents: “Imagine having a chance to slow or even stop the progression of myopia so your child will not have to live a lifetime with poor vision.”

9 Ask a question.

When discussing single-use contact lenses, ask the patient: “Who would want to bathe in the same water two nights in a row?” That question has a much greater impact than just stating facts. Use rhetorical questions to make the issue personal.


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10 Provide context, and explain relevance.

In the book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Portfolio Trade 2011), Simon Sinek writes, “There are two ways to influence human behavior: You can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.” To communicate effectively, patients must understand the reason for the conversation (eye health) and its relevance to them (vision for a lifetime). When discussing the importance of a yearly comprehensive eye exam, let the patient know what this exam is and “why” it is relevant to him/her: “Mrs. Jasper, the measurements I am about to take enable me to provide you with the best prescription possible. We take these measurements yearly to keep you seeing well not just this year, but for a lifetime.”

Message delivered and received

The study of effective communication is one of great relevance in every area of life. So, always remember: “It is all in what we say,” but also dependent on how we say it and what patients hear. OM


Dr. Jasper is in private practice in West Palm Beach, Fla. E-mail Dr. Jasper at, or send comments to optometricman