Kill the Cliché, or Kill Your Brand
Well written copy is important. Yet, sometimes it’s given last priority. Everyone loves to pick logos, color palettes, stationery, and website design, but...words? It’s as if the past ghosts of middle-school teachers have come back to haunt us with dreaded essay assignments. Few entrepreneurs want to focus on the copy.
Yet, it’s absolutely critical to pay attention to the words your brand uses and how your vocabulary shows your difference. Take a look at these statements and phrases:
- "Trusted source for quality entertainment"
- "Thought leaders”
- "Heart-centered entrepreneur"
- "One step ahead of competitors"
- "Ground-breaking products"
- "Outside the box"
Remind me—what brand is a thought leader? Can’t answer? It’s because too many businesses make that claim. As a result, those words have lost their punch. What does it mean, now, to be “world-class”?
You may be thinking, “But [insert your favorite phrase] is what they say in my industry!”
That may be true. It also may be a problem. You’re still inside that proverbial box that everyone else keeps referencing. Here’s why: When everyone says the same thing, they sound the same. When you sound the same as your competitor, then how do you show your difference? How does your target audience know that your brand (not the others) meets their need? Imagine if every travel agency said: “We find the best deals for you.” Imagine if every mass-market department store said: “We have the lowest prices.”
When copy doesn’t say anything different, it’s ineffective. It fails to communicate a story. It kills your brand (or, if you think in clichés, it shoots your brand in the foot).
Branding isn’t simply a logo and a name. It’s images, colors, copy, and everything about your business that creates a perception. Everything must work together as part of your brand platform, including copy. No branding touchpoint stands alone. They all contribute to the perception held by your target audience.
This means there’s no rule book on words that you can “never” use; your vocabulary must be part of a well-crafted platform. What works for your competitor may not work for you. Still, we can take frequently used phrases and break them apart to demonstrate ways of speaking differently to get at what you really mean when you claim you’re “unique.”
Every business is “customer-focused.” Without customers, there is no revenue. Without revenue, there is no business. We’ve all been guilty of saying this, but, broken down, it’s a bit absurd, isn’t it? What do you really mean?
Consider this, from PayPal: “For everyone who pays or gets paid.” Doesn’t that really get to the heart of what PayPal is doing?
2. “One step ahead”
What does this mean? What’s the “step” that’s “ahead”? This isn’t a phrase used to describe (literally) a marathon where one brand is one pace ahead of another. It’s often used to try and show a difference…but what? Is it an advancement in technology or science? Is it predicting the future? Is it something else?
Consider this, from Netflix: “See what’s next.” Those three words pack curiosity, anticipation, forecasts, and excitement—that’s what I want in entertainment.
3. “Outside the box”
We’ve all heard this one, haven’t we? Do you remember the first time an employer said this to you? Again, this isn’t a set of literal instructions; it’s usually a reference to try something different or come up with something new.
Consider this, from Dyson: “More ideas. More invention.” That is what we want to know about consumer products.
4. “Thought leaders”
Don’t describe yourself as one. The reality is, as quite succinctly noted in this article, your brand is more than a bunch of thoughts. Businesses don’t thrive on thoughts. Action is required. Mere thoughts don’t generate much more than Facebook status updates and a few Ph.D. dissertations…and certainly not revenue.
Consider this, from Influence & Co.: “Transform your expertise into [influence/content/customers/etc.]” Yes, please.
Be different. Write different. This doesn’t mean there’s a bright line prohibition against specific phrases and buzzwords. It means be mindful and deliberate when you feel compelled to use an industry-driven phrase. Be aware when you say the same thing that everyone else says, otherwise your message will get lost. Don’t create a perception that your brand is the same as your competitor.
Unless you don’t want your business to grow.
Re Perez is a seasoned brand consultant with a Fortune-500 background at global brand consultancies, including Interbrand and Siegel+Gale. He's also the CEO and founder of BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE, a leading branding agency that has helped thousands of entrepreneurs across 45-plus different industries around the world, from emerging entrepreneurs, Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies, and established multi-million-dollar businesses. He has a proven track record for helping clients double, triple, and quadruple their business revenue.
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