As someone who’s been making a living by writing for a few decades now, I can be a bit protective about words. There are a limited number of words in English that are clear and precise and can be interpreted in a finite number of ways. These words are great (although great isn’t one of them). They are very practical because when we use them correctly, we all get it, quickly and efficiently.
Relevant used to be one of those words. It’s been a personal favourite of mine for years. Relevant means having direct bearing on the matter at hand; direct bearing, as in pertinent, a real consideration of importance and meaning related to any given topic.
But lately, relevant is coming to mean: current, cute or popular. I love a great play on words, but this isn’t that. What’s so frustrating about bending strong words into trendy ones is that a perfectly good word is overtaken, overused and misused until the rest of us can’t use it anymore.
We talk to our clients every single day about making sure their communication is relevant. When we say it, we mean that it has to be pertinent, timely and meaningful to the receiver in relation to the topic or circumstance at hand.
For example, the H sign by the road is particularly relevant to someone driving a wounded person to the Hospital. It is direct and informative, it is clear, it is trustworthy and it is in the right place, at the right time, on the right medium.
That same sign is almost entirely unseen by every other driver on that road.
That’s why it’s so important to be relevant to the intended audience.
So we tell our clients that they can save time and money and build trust and credibility through relevance.
But sometimes, they think we mean that new version of relevant. They interpret it as “like, y’know, getting 400 likes means you’re relevant.” (Valley girl is the best I can do, here.)
Of course it’s terribly ironic. But that’s a whole other blog post.
So please help us rescue relevant from an ocean of irrelevance by insisting it be used relevantly.
It’s a good word and it deserves a better fate.
Up next: How ‘thinking outside the box’ is keeping you trapped.