The Curse of Intangible Concepts

Places soapbox on top of the stage (I'm only 5'6" so extra height is needed).  Taps mic to make sure it's on.  Pushes her glasses up on her nose and clears her throat...

I don't care what industry you're in the curse of intangible concepts affects us all.  I see it everywhere I go.  I talk about it over & over with entrepreneurs all over the world.  I'm hired to fix it because most people recognise there's a problem but don't know...

a) WHY their words feel "off" or "not quite right"
b) WHY their words fail to connect
c) or how the hell to fix it

So, listen up because if you can fix this your copy has a 732 % better chance (zero scientific research to back that number up) of making an emotional connection with your clients.

First, what the hell is an intangible concept?

It's a word/ phrase/ term we understand conceptually (with our brains) but can't physically grasp it (we can't see it, taste it, touch it, smell it or hear it).

These are the big ideas or high-level concepts we throw out there because it's difficult to describe the feeling.  Or we want to sound like a smart, sophisticated, fancy adult who's read a few books.  Or because those intangible ideas are so common in our industry that WE know exactly what we mean - even if we forget that no one else does.  They're the abstract ideas we understand but can't relate to.

A few examples:

- step into your power
- anything to do with being empowered (though I love the concept, hell I even have the t-shirt)
- freedom
- "deliver your passion" (found that gem on the interwebs today)
- the next level
- truth
- trust
- nearly everything on this article
- "education empowers every element of the journey to a prosperous life" (they packed a few in there)
- all things virtual & digital
- theoretical physics (a Big Bang Theory commercial came on ;)
- theoretical anything
- independence

Are you drumming up more in your head?  I think we all have our own personal shit-list of phrases that sound great but leave you asking "WFT does that mean"?

So, what's the problem with intangible concepts?

In case you haven't already worked it out, smarty pants that I know you are ;)  Intangible concepts cause your readers to skim right over your message.  They induce "that's nice" eye-glaze.  

And whenever people are skimming, skipping over or eye-glazing past your carefully crafted words - that means they're failing to connect.

Without an emotional connection, you'll never get anyone to take action.

Which is why I'm on stage + soapbox begging you to pay attention to the intangible concepts that crop up in your copy  - and fix them.

Let's get to fixing them, shall we?

If the problem is that these ideas are intangible, abstract or sometimes downright ethereal, then it follows that the solution is to make them tangible, concrete and ground them in physical everyday life.

You need to make your intangible concepts or your abstract ideas concrete.  Use ridiculously specific examples from everyday life that people can relate to because they can see it, hear it, smell it, taste it or touch it.  Use specific concrete examples to paint little stories your reader can step into.  THAT is how you establish an emotional connection.

Sometimes that means you ditch the abstract word/ phrase/ term you want to use and tell the story that clearly shows it instead.

For example: if you're selling a dress & you want the woman who wears it to feel sexy & desirable (2 intangible concepts) it's probably not going to help if you come out & say "wearing this dress will make you the heart's desire of every man you meet".   I mean no one would believe you, plus it's super cheesy.

So you need to tell a story.  A story of desire.  And no one does this better than J.Peterman.  Browse through the dresses section of their online catalogue & you'll know exactly what I mean. Here, I'll get you started.
This one.
And this one.
And this one.


You can mention the intangible concept you want to discuss and qualify it by adding specific, concrete details to show exactly what you mean.  Again it's about providing a physical anchor they can hold on to.  A story they can relate to.  And taking that big abstract idea that doesn't pull anyone's heartstrings and breaking it down so you can make an emotional connection with the reader.  Because emotion is essential for every decision to buy.

An example of this - introducing the abstract concept but then qualifying it with specific details. Let's say the intangible concept you want to about is confidence.  You could just say you need words for your website that help you feel confident.  It's better if you take a few sentences to talk about exactly the kind of confidence you want the reader to feel.  

"The confidence to share you opinions - without holding back.  The confidence to rock your business YOUR way, even when it comes to asking for the sale.  It's about the confidence to engineer your life without seeking approval for every damned decision.  Because when we stop hiding, stop playing small & stop apologising - our words become bolder, spines straighter, "authenticity" just magically happens and confidence spills out of every smile."  

Now they know the kind of confidence you're talking about.  I threw in a few physical details, a straight spine and a smile to ground it. (though reading it back I might want to try & add a few more)

Bottomline: whatever you do critically examine your copy for abstract ideas and intangible concepts.  Then build specific concrete stories as a bridge from your big lofty ideas to your customer's heart.