Is your company innovative? Are you customer-focused? Are your solutions best of breed or best in class? What about market-leading? And while we’re about it, how about easy-to-use, scalable and extensible? Perhaps you’re even offering comprehensive or complete solutions? Here’s the problem…
Who wouldn’t claim these things? More to the point, who isn’t claiming these things? Step back and look around you. Look carefully at the words your competitors are using. Can you spot any similarities? I’d be prepared to bet that there is more common ground than you ought to be comfortable with.
Familiarity breeds contempt
When everybody claims the same or similar things, two things happen: your prospects struggle to tell you apart from your competition, and the repeated use of hackneyed phrases devalues them even if they turn out to be true - which, of course, they undoubtedly are in your companies’ case.
But it doesn’t make you unique. In fact, all that this horrible habit of buzzword bingo does is to blur the differences that genuinely exist between the different players in the marketplace, confuse potential customers, and prevent potentially notable companies from standing out from the crowd.
Here's a quick exercise...
I’d encourage you to conduct a quick exercise. Note the most commonly used words and phrases on your website and in your marketing materials and sales tools. Do the same with your leading competitors. You might want to get your marketing department to perform this task, since they are probably somewhat culpable, and the exercise will be good for their souls.
If your language is genuinely distinctively different from that used by your competition, you can stop reading now and give yourselves a pat on the back. But if - as with almost every client I’ve done this exercise with - there’s an uncomfortable similarity between the words and phrases you’ve chosen to use and those used by your competitors, I’d like to suggest that you might want to think again.
Avoiding the buzzword bingo trap
Buzzword bingo is an awfully easy trap to fall into - but it’s also possible, if not as easy, to come up with your own distinctive voice. Here are a few pointers:
- Speak with a natural voice - using the words you would use if you were speaking to someone you knew and liked. If it looks and feels unnatural and unconversational, it will surely jar with your readers.
- Use short phrases and sentences. Blaise Pascal once apologised for writing such a long letter, because he couldn’t find the time to write a short one. Most times, less is more. It just involves a little extra work.
- Always strive to say something different, relevant and memorable. Every time you catch yourself using a phrase you can imagine one of your competitors using, rub it out and think again.
- Don’t lead with your solution - start with the problem you’ve chosen to solve, and lead the reader towards your solution. Show how your approach is different before you go on to prove how it is better.
- Don’t start with what you do - first explain why you have chosen to do what you do. Have a vision (but please make sure it isn’t an overblown hallucination). Simon Sinek recorded a great TED video on the subject here.
- Cut out the hyperbole. Stop over-claiming. Strident claims put most readers off, as opposed to drawing them in. Leave something to the imagination. Make your reader want to learn more - and show them how they can.
Your customers can help...
Where’s the best place to start? How about listening to your customers? How do they describe what you do? What words and phrases resonate with them, and which ones jar? Which of your phrases do they repeat back to you, and which provoke no reaction? You might also want to try listening to some of your top sales performers. How do they tell your story?
Armed with these insights, how are you going to tell your company’s story in a way that genuinely and lastingly stands out from the crowd?
Executive messaging workshop
By the way, these are some of the themes that we’ll be pursuing in an executive messaging workshop in London on the 20th September. Registrations are now closed, but if you’d like to be put on the wait list, or kept informed of future events, please drop me a line.
A tip of the hat...
One final thing: I’d like to pay tribute to Erik Peterson and Tim Riesterer of Corporate Visions, and Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board. They have helped to inspire and inform much of the thinking in this article.