Interestingly enough, the word horsepower began as a marketing term back in 1782. James Watt wanted to sell his new invention, the steam engine, but knew that talking about “pounds-per-square-foot” just wouldn’t cut it. So he came up with the concept of horsepower to explain the new kind of power he was generating.
The idea of coining a marketing-friendly word or phrase to reframe and package an abstract or dull concept is powerful and extremely effective. In his newsletter, copywriter John Forde gives some examples of this technique:
“I bring this up because lately I’m seeing a lot of the same logic work its way into today’s marketing copy. And often with huge success.
The trick works like this…
Let’s say a concept near the core of your sales message is a little dense and unwieldy…
Or maybe it carries some emotional baggage…
Or maybe you’re just selling something so familiar, you worry people won’t hear you out long enough to see what’s different about your pitch.
That’s where the “horsepower” technique comes in handy. What it does is let you reframe the concept into something new.
It’s familiar in one way, mysterious in another. So the prospective customer can embrace it instantly. But they’re also intrigued to hear more.
A friend did this recently in a promo for an investment newsletter, where the editor’s latest favorite hot topic was geothermal energy. Knowing that term would bore the socks off prospects before he could lay down his case, the copywriter re-dubbed it “slow volcano power.” And it worked. That one promo is bearing down on $2 million in sales, if it hasn’t passed that mark already.
Another info publisher I know of uses this same technique as a starting point for almost all their new pitches – with huge success. They did $60 million in sales last year.
The same technique can add new drama to common problems that your product can solve. You might even consider a term that adds more mystery rather than clarifies.
For instance, asking your reader if they’re “Tired of suffering the embarrassment of ‘halitosis'”… is just asking them if they want to get rid of their bad breath.
But transforming “bad breath” into the lesser-known “halitosis” – the clinical term for bad breath – both ups the stakes and raises curiosity.”
Years ago, instead of using the medical term, “anemia,” Geritol, a supplement company focused on seniors, coined the term “tired blood,” because many doctors at the time believed that much of the fatigue in older people was associated with iron deficiency in the blood. “Tired Blood” became one of the most successful makreting hooks of the time.
If this is an old technique, why talk about it now? Because prospects are hit so hard, so often with pitches that say much of the same thing for similar products, re-inventing terminology gives you a time-tested way to breeze past all that new resistance.