Every now and then we must sit down with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit and reconsider the way a particular word is used in business.
Today it’s the turn of “passionate”.
If I asked you to be totally, 100% honest with me and tell me three things you are passionate about, would one of them be your job?
Last week, I saw the following on a Twitter profile, “I am passionate about helping businesses engage with their supply chain”.
And I just thought, what a load of old bollocks.
Why copywriters should avoid “passionate”
Much beloved by management consultants, bankers, faceless mega-corporations, government departments and other ne’er-do-wells, this beautiful, thoroughbred word has been transformed, Dorian Gray-like, into a spavined old nag, pressed into service by plenty of people who should know better, and many others who don’t.
To begin my research, I returned to that standby of any writer, the dictionary. In my case the Shorter Oxford, though you may prefer Collins or Webster’s. (But please, not Microsoft or Google.)
There I found passionate defined as follows:
Of a person: affected with or easily moved to passion or strong emotion, specifically intense sexual love or desire.
Hmm. Sexual desire, eh?
If you look closely enough, down at number 8 in the list of meanings for passion we come across this:
A strong enthusiasm for a (specified) thing.
It just means you’re enthusiastic
So, if you ignored the preceding seven meanings, which begin with the suffering of pain and continue through a strong, barely controllable emotion to an outburst of anger or rage, you could, just, claim that your avowed passion for all things supply chain was simply an expression of your enthusiasm.
But then, if you weren’t enthusiastic about supply chain management, why would you start a business in that field?
I’m afraid we’re back to that old human need for status and self-esteem. Being enthusiastic just doesn’t sound grand enough. No, I’m not just enthusiastic about copywriting, I’m passionate about it.
That’s one reason not to use the word passionate. Because you are almost certainly misusing it, à la Humpty-Dumpty, to mean what you want it to mean.
There’s another, equally, if not more, compelling reason to avoid the P-word.
Avoid “passionate” like the …
Yes, passionate is a cliché. Along with going forward, ninja and drill down, it has been worn to death.
Take a look at this image of a Google search for proof. You’re not really saying anything original.
What Google can tell us about passionate people
And there’s a third reason to avoid it. It is the only word you can use to describe that excess of uncontrollable emotion you get in the heat of desire, or of anger.
If you accustom your readers to believe that it means something akin to “peachy keen” you have effectively denied yourself the use of it to mean anything else.
If we can’t use passionate, what to do instead?
First you need to sit down and review a fundamental truth about business in general, marketing in particular and copywriting specifically.
Why it doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about
Your customers don’t care what you feel.
They care about what they feel.
So wasting energy telling them about your passion is not going to move them to action.
Nor is striving to find a less overworked alternative.
Instead, let your customers know that you understand the way they feel about their problems and desires.
You could demonstrate your empathy by describing the problems and offering remedies (not solutions, please – another abused word). Maybe like this, if you were our supply chain man:
I know that for a networked business like yours, managing your suppliers can be a bit like herding cats. Just as you get one delivering to agreed deadlines, another “runs out” of stock. Fix that problem and three spring up to take its place.
At Acme Logistics, we don’t think that’s good enough. In fact, we think it stinks.
So we’ve come up with something to help you. We call it LogistikTrak. You can call it your new best friend. Here’s how it takes the pain out of supply chain management…
What’s going on in our brains?
Where does it come from, this mania for passion? Is it enough simply to lump it in with all the other verbiage under a heading of “corporate jargon”? Or is there something deeper going on
I feel it may have more to do with corporate psychology than any desire for linguistic flouncing. It can’t have escaped your notice that many large businesses today, and quite a few small ones, are desperate for “engagement”. (No, don’t get me started, we don’t have enough time).
In pursuit of this elusive quantity and the “metrics” with which to measure it, they have lit on the idea of conveying emotion. The reasoning, I think, goes something like this:
If we tell people that we’re passionate then we’ll seem more human and less corporate. They’ll see that we care about the things they care about so they’ll engage with us.
(A less charitable explanation would be that they have no idea what to say to stand out from the crowd so, ironically and self-defeatingly, they copy the crowd.)
My feeling is that a more likely reaction is “Oh, really? You’re passionate about voice-over-internet-protocol? You’re ’avin’ a laugh, you are!”
Live your values, don’t publish them
It’s not that there’s anything wrong about loving what you do. Assuming that your protestations of passion are genuine, that is. It’s simply that they’re irrelevant.
Just like those portentous statements in annual reports, corporate brochures and websites that proclaim:
Our values are honesty, integrity and trust.
As opposed, we assume, to companies whose values are deceitfulness, moral turpitude and betrayal.
There’s a lovely aphorism whose originator I can’t track down. It’s about this very point and it goes something like this:
“Companies that profess their integrity are like people who profess their virtue. Both are to be avoided.” Probably Dr Johnson or Dorothy Parker.
And I’m telling you this because
Actions, proverbially, speak louder than words. So perhaps, rather than sweating blood trying to craft a compelling alternative to the passionate espousal of our values or virtues, we might have a bash at living them.
Here’s a little exercise for you:
Have a think about your organisation or your current client’s organisation.
Create a list of actions you or they could take that would prove to their customers they were passionate about their industry, service or product.
Then do them. With appropriate copy to explain why, of course.