Would you use any of these words or phrases when describing your startup or small business:
- Customer-focused / putting customers first
- We think outside the box
- We go the extra mile
If so then you may want to think again. To be frank, each and every one of these words and phrases is a 24-carat cliché that has lost all meaning and impact. And these are just the worst offenders.
Almost every startup seems to claim these things, and yet so few deliver on them. The words and phrases listed above have been misused for too long, and their misuse has long since spread to the point of complete saturation. The problem has reached such endemic proportions that it's no longer a case of customers not believing you when you say that your small business is passionate or innovative - they no longer even notice that you've said it. In the same way that we unconsciously block out a lot of online advertising, we now also block out these ubiquitous clichés and buzzwords. They are white noise. If your brand communications are filled with this kind of language, then you may as well be showing potential customers a blank sheet of paper. Your startup is almost literally saying nothing.
When developing brand identity and writing brand communications, there are two techniques that we use to address this. The first is simply to substitute the offending word or phrase with a less clichéd synonym, or ideally a related concept that better fits the brand's personality and communication objectives. In your heart of hearts, do you really think that your customers will believe you when you tell them that you are 'passionate' about, say, administration? Why not use something more credible like 'determined' instead? More to the point, does anyone really want a passionate accountant? Does passion add value to your brand proposition or to your offering as an administration outsourcing firm? Surely the qualities that people really look for in an administrator are 'thorough', 'focused' or perhaps 'analytical'? I don't mean to pick on administrators here, and as an agency we would never question your sincerity if you tell us that you're passionate, but the reality is that the rest of the world has ruined this word for you, so we would strongly advise against its use regardless. There is always something better.
The second technique we employ is to strongly imply the characteristics associated with these overused adjectives in the way that we present the startup or small business that we're working with. It's the brand communications equivalent of 'show, don't tell'. Why should anyone believe that you're innovative just because you say so? It's much more effective and credible to succinctly describe how you're innovative, as opposed to making a completely unsubstantiated claim that literally everyone else in your industry also makes. The 'show, don't tell' principle applies not only to your verbal communications, but also to the way your business behaves and how you deliver your services. In fact, it applies especially to how you deliver your services. In the world of branding and business, words mean nothing if they're not backed up by meaningful actions.
The fact is that if your business is genuinely passionate, authentic or innovative then your customers should be able to easily detect those qualities without you having to spell it out so bluntly. If you have to tell your customers outright that you are 'innovative' or 'passionate' because those qualities aren't naturally apparent, you need to question whether those qualities are really there at all. Are you giving an honest account of your business? A brand that speaks truthfully and from the heart is going to be far more credible and engaging than a brand that simply co-opts the language used by its competitors. Don't be afraid to let your startup cut its own path, especially if it means jettisoning the clichés.
By avoiding overused and devalued language, you not only make your brand communications more engaging and credible, but you also more effectively differentiate your business, and a business that doesn't differentiate effectively is doomed to obscurity. Let the rest of your industry keep its tired clichés and worn out buzzwords. Say something meaningful instead, and watch your startup flourish. Now that's really thinking outside the box.
If you need support to effectively differentiate your small business and create more meaningful brand communications, why not explore our Startup Branding Packages.