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Get more customers than your identical competitors
Want to stand out from your competitors?
Every industry has words sales reps and business owners love. To them, those words sound like pure customer catnip. For people outside that industry … not so much.
My recent brush with coastal town real estate reminded me of the words only agents use.
A house is never in the bush. It’s nestled in the bush, like it’s an adorable ringtail possum.
Houses never have a kitchen. They boast a kitchen featuring … the usual kitchen things.
Well-lit is not lit enough. There must be an abundance of light.
Hack writing in your proposals and websites isn’t a total disaster for your business. But it does make you seem exactly the same as everyone else in your game.
Every industry has them
Don’t feel too bad, every industry loves a cliche. TV newsrooms have professional writers, and they’re up there with real estate.
Words like revellers, a word used by nobody and in no other context than TV newsreaders talking about New Years Eve crowds. “ … and the rain did not dampen their enthusiasm.”
Only on TV news do you learn that people underwent surgery. Conversations that normal humans do not have:
“How’s your nan?”
“Good, she underwent surgery on Thursday but she’s up and about.”
News people can’t just say effort. That activity must be set in a ditch, and not just any ditch. Yes, the last-ditch effort.
Likewise professional travel writers love to say must-see, best-kept secret, and bustling eateries.
Like anyone would actually say the word eateries out loud.
My own industry loves a cliché that means nothing. Looking at you, “wow-factor”.
It all stems from the ancient idea that the best way to sell is to praise yourself and your product like you’re God’s gift to the customer. In an adjective avalanche.
From an overwrought real estate gem I read on the weekend:
“The kitchen design offers enough storage space for even the most accomplished master chef … moving to the second floor, you will notice a wonderful hardwood timber staircase which leads you to four spacious bedrooms, all with carpet underfoot.”
Underfoot is where I prefer my carpet so good to know.
Calm down with the word-flourishes, people. Reading that house spiel is like necking an entire bottle of maple syrup.
By the way, cliches aren’t restricted to words. Take a moment to enjoy the championship cliche levels of that estate agent stock photo at the top.
The B2B tender cliches
Then there are the B2B tender cliches.
We are pleased to submit.
Could an opening line sound any smugger? Followed by a mixed hamper of unprovable boasts.
Best in class.
A wealth of experience.
All mean nothing because everyone says them and they’re all self-bestowed.
It’s like trying to self-bestow a nickname. We’ve all met people who’ve tried that.
Bloke: “Hi I’m Andrew. But everyone calls me the A-Dawg.”
Nobody calls you that Andrew.
3-step cliche-reduction checklist
When you’re writing anything you want customers to read, here’s a quick 3-step test to help weed your cliches out.
1. Talk about the customer
Open with what the customer gets out of it, not how awesome your product is. Go back and check the first line of this story.
Simple is fine. People often feel you need clever wordplay to get people’s attention. No, appealing to their self-interest is all you need.
2. Just the facts please
Kill your adjectives unless they’re provable, like blue or rectangular.
More objective facts, less subjective claims.
Don’t say you’re a thought leader. Describe an actual thought you had that inspired others to take action.
List verifiable projects you’ve done, they can draw their own conclusions about your wealth of experience.
Remember it’s not 1998. Media gets more visual every year, and your written pitch is likely to be near lots of pictures of your products.
You don’t need to describe them.
Don’t write “Diners love our succulent seafood special with lashings of chef’s special sauce” next to a photo of that item, just call it by its name.
Search optimisation needs text, but people search by facts. If they’re using adjectives, “best coffee” or “cheap car rental” is about as far as it goes. They’re not searching for “most sumptuous sofa”.
3. Read it out loud to someone else
Did you feel like a normal person talking?
Or did you feel slightly embarrassed? If so, go back and unleash an adjective massacre.
If you can’t kick the cliche habit, or simply can’t recognise them, why nothire a business writer?
They’re super-affordable now that so many media outlets and ad agencies use the Logan’s Run HR approach, where anyone over 30 is deemed too expensive and gets fired the day after their birthday.
They’re from outside your industry, so they can spot the cliches you can’t.
And then there’s writing AI. I’m testing it out at the moment, though don’t worry, this story was 100% human-made. Stay tuned for a review of my new robot overlords in the coming months.
Want to read something with very few cliches? Why not buy my book Undisruptable, the business book for people who generally hate business books.
(It’s that way because the nice editors at Penguin Random House locked me in a basement and beat me with bamboo canes until I deleted them all, and they were right to do that).
Sixty short, easy-to-read chapters on how you can escape a job that sucks and set up your own business. Anyway it’s still the #1 business book by Customer Review rating on Booktopia so check it out.
Also I write a story each Tuesday, drop your email here to get it in your inbox. Or follow on Spotify, or use the design and function hellscape that is Apple Podcasts if you must.
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November 15, 2021