In event marketing, generic messaging is generally considered “bad” while specific messaging is “good.” To an extent, that’s true. Messaging that could apply to any show doesn’t usually resonate with audiences, especially Millennials and Gen Z who are used to customized content and skeptical of overly broad promises. But stuffing copy with specifics isn’t always an option — or best practice. The idea of linguistic concreteness can help event marketers understand when detailed language works, and when it’s better to be a little more conceptual.
What is linguistic concreteness?
Concrete language is more specific and refers to tangible qualities, whereas abstract language is more “big picture” and tied to things we experience only through intellect. An Idaho State University tutoring sheet uses this example:
ABSTRACT: To excel in college, you’ll have to work hard.
CONCRETE: To excel in college, you’ll need to do go to every class; do all your reading before you go; write several drafts of each paper; and review your notes for each class weekly.
Author and Marketing Professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania Jonah Berger notes that there are three ways to apply the idea of linguistic concreteness, and each can be explored through the event marketing lens:
- Make people feel heard. The first report in CEIR’s “Attendee Acquisition Trends Driving Growth” series lists “messaging that aligns with primary motivations for attending” as one of the top four focus areas for event planners. To tap into those motivations, we have to demonstrate that we know what they are. Messaging needs to tell prospects, “we hear you” — we know what trends are big in your industry or profession right now, what challenges you’re facing or what advantages you’re looking to gain by attending this event. Essentially, this is the messaging that relates to the audience and helps them see themselves in it.
- Make the abstract more concrete. Abstract show features or benefit touts, like “hear from experts,” become stronger and more compelling when they use concrete language. “Hear from experts on how using social media can drive more traffic to your pet supply store” gives prospects more information — something that’s especially important during the consideration phase of the awareness-to-conversion journey. Concrete language is useful when we need audiences to understand something — and more often than not, that “something” is what event features apply specifically to them.
- Know when it’s better to be abstract. Because abstract language focuses more on the “big picture,” it can be useful when we want to talk about the “big picture” of an event. That happens when we’re looking to generate awareness or build brand recognition, such as during the early days of an event marketing campaign cycle or when addressing cold audiences.
Abstract language can also be useful when telling the broader story behind a campaign with a concept or when the goal is to generate a feeling, instead of conveying specific information. For example, the headline, “For Them. For You. Forward” used in the 2021 campaign for LeadingAge Annual Meeting + EXPO is far from concrete, but tugs at the heartstrings of aging services providers by tapping into key motivations for participation — to discover ways to better serve “them” (the older adults in their communities) and move organizations forward through a particularly challenging time for the field.
And of course, abstract language can be useful on smaller executions like digital display ads, where space is limited, and also when customization/segmentation isn’t an option. The trick is to embrace the abstract, while avoiding trite phrases or losing connection to the industry or audience’s pain points.
Ultimately, both concrete and abstract language have their places in event marketing messaging and there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules on when to use which. But by looking at campaign elements individually and thinking about factors including any existing limitations (like an inability to customize), the desired end result (to provide detailed information to warm prospects or awareness of an event brand, for example) and the audience’s needs — then watching your performance data — you’ll figure out what works for your prospects.
A version of this article originally appeared in PCMA Convene.