Do your eyes glaze over with the vacant stare of a dairy cow when reading most company websites, brochures, case studies, and white papers? Once I interviewed with a company whose tag line was Trust. Value. Integrity. It took me forever to figure out what their business was. After scouring their site and search engines, I deduced they were loan origination technology developers. Can you imagine what this does to potential business? Their website was jargon-jammed with corporate speak and communicated nothing. The powers-that-be who insist on cliché, jargon and words with no marketplace meaning undermine their own profit potential and branding power. As E.B. White wrote in The Elements of Style, these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. Let’s take a look at a few of the offenders.
Blue sky thinking
This is the idiot brother of thinking outside the box from the dysfunctional brain dump family. This phrase, meant to convey inclusive creative thinking and brainstorming, had impact the first ten million times a project lead said it during a Powerpoint presentation. There’s an ad agency I won’t name whose site headline is this:
COMPANY NAME + BLUE SKY THINKING = RESULTS
Well, I hope those results are good. Especially if you’re an ad agency and I’ve invested a weighty chunk of my marketing budget on your services. You better be thinking creatively. If I pay for a service, shouldn’t I expect a result? Do other agencies charge extra for results? Is that what makes you unique? What the ad agency headline should say:
COMPANY NAME + CLICHE = UNORIGINAL x LAZY
Rule: Reward your site visitors/potential customers with a meaningful message. The results will be in the black ink.
Unless you’re employed by a blacksmith or scissors company, stop saying this. If your technology, product, idea or blue sky thinking is so advanced, why degrade it with an overused description that won’t rent any space in your reader’s mind? Here is the opening line from a university hospital radiology website page:
We offer cutting edge technology applied to patient care based uniquely in both an academic setting and community hospital.
Zzzzzzz. Wh-wh-what? Oh, sorry. I fell asleep typing that. As a patient in your hospital, it is my hope that your technology is modern when you’re scanning my innards for something foreign. By “cutting edge technology” do you mean digital imaging? 64-slice CT scanning? I’m relieved they “apply” cutting edge technology to patient care. If they didn’t, all that expensive diagnostic equipment would monopolize the bedpan closet while the patient lies there like a breathless fish.
Rule: When you go for grand statements like cutting edge, your language comes out limp, false and flabby. Tell a detailed fact instead.
Wrap your mind around
Can you wrap your mind around why someone would use four words to say understand? Effective communicators don’t speak in pretentious imagery. If your mind is wrapped around something, I suggest you seek cutting edge medical technology applied to patients immediately.
Is there a case for these phrases? Maybe their familiarity makes some people feel like a part of something. Speaking the lingo makes them a local. Possibly. But be careful with the words employed in branding your business. The freshest voice is the memorable voice. For example, societies loves their proverbs. In the West, we say,
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
In Korea they say,
Even a fish would stay out of trouble if it kept its mouth shut.
Where there are no tigers, a wildcat is self-important.
You enjoy reading the unfamiliar more because it’s fresh and new.
Rule: Take it easy on verbose, overused expressions. They turn your branding into background noise.
This is a personal peeve from working with so many U.S. defense contractors. There aren’t enough backspace buttons for this phrase. It’s said so much in this industry that it no longer has any impact. Preventing terrorist attacks at home or abroad is no joke, so stop using language with all the punch of a shadowboxer. A Homeland Security white paper reads,
DHS is comprised of many organizational elements with a single purpose: to enable, support and expedite the mission-critical objectives of DHS’ seven operating components and Directorates…
Was this message meant for humans? Here’s another sentence two paragraphs down,
S&T must work with its valued customers in the creation of ORDs that accurately reflect their mission-critical operational requirements through active participation in the requirements development initiatives.
Rule: Tighten. Revise. Rewrite. It’s simple: don’t repeat words, ideas or phrases unless they add muscle to what you want to say.
There are tons more, like tee it up or take offline. Here’s the point, you’ll call your company’s marketing copy and content good when it
- Doesn’t waste words.
- Speaks authentically to humans, whether business to business or business to consumer.
- Makes the reader believe you’re an industry authority.
- Asks something of the readers.
- Rewards the reader with new ideas, understanding, inspiration, and meaning.
And on that note, I need to edit this article. It’s never going to be perfect, but a good polishing helps us fail a little better with every draft.
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