Maslen on Marketing, Style

Clichés and how to avoid them

This month, I want to bring to your attention two particular clichés, one verbal, one visual, that make a regular appearance in the tsunami of mailings, websites and adverts foisted on ‘target markets’. Why?

Because with ideas – as with eggs, air and pairs of eyes – we want them fresh. And these two, I’m afraid, have long since passed their ‘best before’ dates. Incidentally, thinking of people as ‘target markets’ rather than as individuals is the first step on the road to sloppy thinking.

So, to our first, verbal, cliché. I’ve used it. Maybe you have, too. I bet that, at the very least, you’ve received a letter starting like this…

As a valued client…

What is wrong with this? After all, they ARE a valued client, so what could be more pleasant than telling them?

Well, here’s the thing. If you use a cliché to open a letter to your valued clients, the subtext is unambiguous:

“Dear Mr Sample, I hold your custom in such slight regard that rather than spend two minutes thinking of a new and personal way to address you, I used this rusty old piece of boilerplate.”

You know it’s a cliché: you’ve seen it a million times. And if you have, so has your client. Why not start by saying:

“Dear Mr Sample, I want to thank you for being a regular customer. So the next time you call to place an order, please call me on my direct line – 020 555 1234 – and I’ll make sure we give you a 25% loyalty discount.”


“Dear Mr Sample, Your custom is important to us at Watkins Widgets of Wolverhampton. So, as a ‘thank you’, please accept the enclosed voucher for a free trial pack of our new ExecutivePlus Non-slip Luminous Widgets.”

See what I mean? It takes a little thought, and a little time, but your client ends up thinking that maybe, just maybe, you DO actually care about him.

Smiley executives

Be honest. How many times have you…

a) sat with a couple of colleagues, smiling at a computer monitor, while one of you actually touches a pie chart onscreen?

b) stared into the middle-distance, sucking pensively on one end of your designer glasses frame, while standing by a venetian micro-blind taking in the view over the Golden Gate Bridge?

c) sat in a meeting with a group of five impossibly good-looking people where you all laughed and showed off your very very white teeth.

None? How very surprising. NOT!

Why is this? Simple…

a) Nobody ever does that. It’s a stupid thing to do.
b) You’re too busy. (And your office looks out onto a main road. Or a ventilation duct.)
c) People who are that attractive work as models.

And, in fact, that’s my point. Those stock library shots are always posed by models. Of course they are: that’s their job. But they don’t look anything like real purchasing managers. Or lawyers. Or marketing executives.

So why do so many companies produce websites/brochures/ads populated with these twinkly eyed, buff-bodied ‘businesspeople’? I suspect they harbour a subconscious desire to appropriate just a little of that glamour for what they perceive to be their own rather humdrum products.

Here’s a thought. Why not take photographs of YOUR customers. Or YOUR staff. Doing what real customers and real staff do. You get to own the copyright. You get to produce a genuinely interesting and unique image. And you can caption it in a way that reinforces your positioning as a client-centred organisation.

This month’s message

At the end of the day, you shouldn’t touch clichés with a bargepole. Whichever way you look at it, they don’t fly. They’re dead in the water. They’re…[that’s enough clichés – Ed.] OK – the truth?

The world is saturated with marketing messages. Most of them are flat, poorly thought through and amateurish in their execution. Think harder than the other guys, spend a little more time, effort and money, and you can stand away from the herd as they stampede wildly for the cliff top.

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