Consider dusting off some other skills.
Why is it so much fun to trash clichés? Their banality is not their own fault; they’re just the innocent victims of other people’s misguided use.
I like to think of them as the mullets of the writing world: earnest intention at face value, immediately deflated by a lack of credibility upon closer inspection. The proverbial “business in the front, party in the back.”
Haircut choices and mixed metaphors aside, we’ll just use “cliché” to mean a hackneyed phrase that takes the place of articulating an original thought. Although creative people must admit that some of the nicknames for mullets are rather inspired. Kentucky waterfall, anyone?
As communicators, content marketers and product marketing managers (any of us focused on crafting messages for employees, information for customers, or materials for sales) like to think we consider clichés to be in a dead heat with jargon for being unimaginative at their core, confusing at worst, and marginally useful at best–and then, only as a last resort.
So why do they so often make it into the core message platforms we create before a product launch–the go-to words, phrases and claims we craft for our solutions so the entire company will communicate about them consistently (and maybe cleverly)?
Well, let the critics say what they will, but the most reviled characteristic of clichés–that they are, by definition, overused–is also their most valuable: people understand them immediately without requiring any explanation.
Using clichés can be productive, because all the work has already been done, all the time has already been invested in them over the course of their existence, to achieve a state of near-perfect understanding.
- Clichés are efficient in copy and in person, because they make it easy to get a point across without clarification, wasted time, or excessive word count.
- They can unify an audience if the group shares a common language or culture, because in a word or a phrase, clichés can paint a picture, get everyone on the same page, address people in their comfort zone, and lead people to achieve that lightbulb moment of comprehension.
- As communication shortcuts go, they’re the rhetorical equivalent of infographics, whose power and popularity lie in their ability to simplify a convoluted concept of often loosely related statistics. Judging by the number of times inforgraphics are pinned, shared, liked and tweeted, customers (or at least other marketers) eat them up. Likewise, the right clichés can accomplish this shortcut to conveying meaning, but in text.
- Then there are the sitting ducks too easy to pass up because of the pun effect they can provide if they’re connected to your offering, like a good egg or a pot of gold. But beware that someone may have thought of it before you… a hundred times before you.
Of course, none of this is a prescription to start writing in clichés because it’s easier. Or worse, to have you stop trying to sincerely help people understand how your offering can improve their lives.
If the clichés and shortcuts you’ve used have trimmed the meaning and relevance out of your writing, then go back and rewrite without them. Period.
But if the cliché you’re using truly illuminates the issue, the pain, or the solution for customers, then if it ain’t broke…
Please use the comment section to tell me how many you counted in this article!