In the world of brand consulting, every word we choose carries weight. It can be humorous how many conversations we have about tweaking language for a client campaign to make sure it’s just right. (Or the number of times I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and type out a message to my team about a better way we can say this or that.) But, in marketing, that attention to detail is also what makes us good at what we do. Our job isn’t just about crafting catchy slogans or compelling narratives; it's also about ensuring that the language we use is inclusive, respectful, and reflects the values we stand for.

Recently, I found myself grappling with the use of certain phrases that, upon reflection, carry connotations that may be harmful or insensitive. Take, for instance, the common phrase "pull the trigger." In light of its association with violence and harm, I've made a conscious effort to replace it with "push the button." However, I soon realized that this merely shifts the imagery from guns to nuclear weapons, which is equally problematic.

I also hesitated to use the phrase "You're killing it!" in an email on multiple occasions, recognizing its potentially insensitive connotations. These moments of awareness, prompted by a comment made by one of the Reds in a recent meeting, led me to ponder the importance of language and its impact on our audience (and the audiences of our clients).

Our team member mentioned PETA releasing some humorous but thoughtful alternatives to a few common idioms involving animals, like replacing “killing two birds with one stone” with "feeding two birds with one scone.” (Adorable, I know.) This sparked a conversation about the origins of such phrases and their implication, and got us thinking about how we can be cognizant of using inclusive language whether in clients’ campaigns or everyday email communications. The underlying message is clear: Our language reflects our values, and it's essential to be mindful of the messages we convey. 

When you start thinking about inclusive language, examples of socially charged language (“master” or “savage”), ableist language (“crazy”), and gendered language (“manpower” or “man hours”) often come to mind. But after some conversation, you’ll probably start to consider terms with more subtle meanings that may have flown under the radar, like “insane” or “blacklist.” Even in instances where these phrases might not seem like a big deal, it's important to recognize that we can make big changes with micro-shifts in our behavior. And those small moments matter.

As brand consultants, it's on us to lead by example and guide our clients in adopting language that is not only effective but also responsible. This involves identifying and avoiding common phrases that may perpetuate harmful stereotypes or exclude certain groups.

Perhaps one of the best ways to make tangible change is by promoting inclusivity and respect through the words we choose. By doing so, we not only enhance our brand image but also contribute to a more thoughtful and considerate discourse in society.