Marketing Words That Won’t Die

Bill Weinstein

I’ve been fighting these words for years with every red pen at my disposal. But there’s no killing them. They’ve bred and propagated like tropical insects, infecting every paragraph of B2B and technology marketing writing. Still, I fight on, because these words are useless. They have either lost their meaning from overuse or, in some cases, mean the opposite of what they’re meant to say. Yet they appear in more B2B and technology company taglines, headlines, company descriptions and text than any other words.

Google the word “the.” You’ll get 25 billion hits. As the most common word in English, “the” is found in almost every search, so let’s say that’s the approximate size of the Google universe. Let’s see how often our most reliable clichés appear.  

CUTTING EDGE / LEADING EDGE / BLEEDING EDGE

Google Cliché Analytics: 200 Million Hits

Tens of millions of products, technologies and research projects are apparently teetering at the end of the line. They’re stuck. Because any serious researcher will tell you there are no edges. An edge is a boundary, and researchers hate boundaries. If you’re on the leading edge, where does that put the Israeli researchers who created “DNA origami,” strands of DNA that penetrate cancer cells and then open like flowers to release a few molecules of toxic chemicals? If there were boundaries, IBM wouldn’t try to use nanotechnology to create transistors one atom thick. You’re that far ahead of the crowd? Look, instead of making an unprovable claim, just explain what your product can do that no other product can. It may not sound edgy, but it sounds believable.   

WORLD-CLASS / WORLD’S LEADING / GLOBAL LEADER

Google Cliché Analytics: 449 Million Hits

There’s no question who leads the world in everything: everybody. As a result, there must be very few followers, so who are you leading? Let’s make this simple. Get a copy of the Fortune 500. If your company is #1 in your industry sector, then yes, you apparently are world-class. And world-class companies don’t bother to use the phrase “world-class.” For everyone else, don’t claim an inflated reputation that means absolutely nothing to anybody. Instead, explain why what you’re doing improves your tiny corner of the world. You’ll be the leader in sending customers your way.

INNOVATIVE / INNOVATION

Google Cliché Analytics: 1.2 Billion Hits

Some branding research contends that 70% of all B2B companies describe themselves as “innovators.” That leaves only 30% of companies to make the stuff that already works. (How big is your R&D budget, anyway?) What does a word so overused mean anymore? Some engineers say “innovative” is just another way to say “unproven” or “untested.” Beyond that, the word is so ubiquitous, it’s invisible. Fortunately, there are any number of alternative words that readers do notice. Are you inventive? Curious? Experimental? Ingenious? Creative? Scathingly brilliant? Recently, a company told me that they didn’t think they were particularly innovative. They thought of themselves as “perfecters.” Perhaps that’s a more valuable endeavor to their customers.

STATE-OF-THE-ART

Google Cliché Analytics: 1.3 Billion Hits

No, it doesn’t mean what you think it means. The phrase “state-of-the-art” was coined in 1910, and means “the way things are done currently.” So, if your product is state-of-the-art, it’s routine. It’s no different than your competitor’s product, because they do things pretty much the same way you do, unless they’re using stone axes, reeds and mud. In reality, with 1.3 billion appearances, “state-of-the-art” means absolutely nothing to anyone. If your product or facility is demonstrably better than anyone else’s, indisputably the best on the market, don’t make a meaningless claim. Prove it.

SOLUTION        

Google Cliché Analytics: 3.3 Billion Hits

Consider this: If the most hits you can get in a Google search is 25 billion, the words “solution” or “solutions” is used in 13.2% of all the documents on the web. Yet, unless you are a chemist holding a beaker of a solution, you’re probably using it incorrectly. “Solution” is an abstract noun. It has to be nailed to a concrete problem or puzzle to mean anything at all. On its own, it describes zilch. Yet it’s used to describe absolutely everything. This may be because “solution” sounds more important and impressive than “product” or “valve” or “software” or “network” or “equipment” or “air conditioner.” But those are perfectly good nouns. That’s the stuff people buy.  A hammer is an excellent solution. And it’s easier to find when you call it a hammer.

CUTTING-EDGE, WORLD-CLASS, INNOVATIVE, STATE-OF-THE-ART SOLUTION

Google Cliché Analytics: 18,800,000 Hits

When it doubt, use them all. (That’s what at least one well-known, global consulting firm does.) “Comprehensive” is another B2B cliché, with 468 million hits. So when it comes to B2B writing, this compilation of clichés is a comprehensive solution.

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