Phrasing – Little changes are big differences

This first post is a little bit writing and a little bit marketing.

When I walked into a Starbucks the other day, as I was waiting to order, I heard something I hadn’t heard before.  One of the baristas was asking the customer in drive-thru, “What can I get started for you?”  Now, for a moment you may say, how is that any different from, “What can I get you?”  However, there is a big difference in what the phrase now implies.

Going for the standard “What can I get you?” phrase, the implication is I order, the person behind the counter then picks out the item I order, gives it to me and I pay.  This is perfect for a store, where nothing is made on the spot.

By tweaking the phrase into “What can I get started for you?” or “What can I start for you?”, the phrase now carries an implication that something needs to be made or customized for the order.  This can subtly and unconsciously change a customer’s view and expectations.

For Starbucks, it’s about differentiation and getting customers to understand that they aren’t like other large corporate coffee shops, but are more like your local coffee shop, introducing a personal element into the experience.

Now, think of this same concept in terms of writing: phrasing changes context.  Of course we understand this when the phrasing changes are significant.  Who hasn’t been on the wrong side of the “you could have phrased that a little better” or “you could have worded that differently” feedback comments, or said these to themselves?

But the phrasing difference in the example above is minor.  It’s just replacing the word ‘get’ with the words ‘start for’ and now the phrase means something different.  The change it evokes is also minor, but phrases like this can alter the context of a paragraph, or break up the flow in that section.

Think of a common phrase you say or hear in your every day, change one or two words without significantly altering the meaning.  Think of what the phrase now implies that it didn’t before.

Author and Casual Photographer