My first real writing job was as a copyeditor with a company that produced travel guide magazines (the kind you pick up free in the hotel or airport) for cities across the country.
(They brought me in to help proofread because a guide for a very large city on the East coast had been published with the word “accommodations” misspelled on every single page of the hotel listings section. I will never misspell that word again in my life.)
It was a wonderful learning and growing experience for me. I’d never been around that many writers and editors in a professional setting before. It was invigorating to hone my skills with a group of people like that!
Because we were all writing about the same sorts of things (hotels, restaurants, attractions) all day, every day, it was easy to fall into certain language traps, using the same tired clichés over and over. To combat this, we had the writer’s equivalent of a swear jar.
A big white board was erected with a list of all the words and phrases like “world-class” and “world-renowned” that we shouldn’t be using — and if anyone was caught putting one in their copy, they had to put a dollar in the cliché jar. (We used the proceeds for happy hour.)
Your market may not be saying “world-renowned” every other second, but the same sort of thing can happen in any niche. Whether it’s for your blog, your landing pages, or even your products, we can fall into the trap of using the same tired language everyone else in our market is using.
It’s easy to do! And it’s not that you’re consciously trying to copy anyone, either. Certain words tend to pop up a lot within certain niches. This is especially true when you have a prominent person in your market that many people want to emulate and follow.
The big problem with using those words, however is that you will start to sound like everybody else! And that is exactly the opposite of what you want in business.
In a crowded marketplace, you want your business to stand out. The voice you use is one major way you differentiate yourself from the competition — and your voice is all about the details.
If you really want to sound different, watch out for these words in your copy and find a replacement for them — STAT.
These are just a few that I thought up and crowdsourced (oh God! Is that another one?), but I hope you get the picture.
And this list isn’t to make you feel bad if you’ve been using some of them — hey, we’ve all been there! There’s nothing wrong with these concepts, and there’s nothing wrong with these words in general. What’s wrong is that our conversations have become so saturated with these terms that they’ve lost all meaning.
Once a word or phrase reaches a certain level of popularity, it also loses a lot of its power and meaning.
The power of your voice is in its distinctiveness. It’s in how you stand apart from the crowd, not how you blend in. And the way you stand out is all about the details — the words you choose and the way you choose to string them together.
There are two easy steps you can take to put the power back in your words:
It may sound old-school, but when I’m working on branding copy for a client, or going through the Voice Identification Process with a client, I’ve got my thesaurus out (OK, I actually use thesaurus.com) and I’m constantly looking for the best word — and not just with the clichés.
Did this person “get” something or did she acquire it? Or steal it? There’s a big difference. And the difference is in the details.
After you’ve written the first draft of any piece of important copy, go back through it with an eye to choosing more specific words. I’m not talking about putting in big multi-syllable SAT vocabulary words just because you can; I’m talking about choosing the perfect word for what you want to say.
You may notice that a lot of the words on my cliché list above are used so much that they’ve lost any meaning they used to have. Revolutionary is a good example. The dictionary definition is “involving or causing a complete or dramatic change,” but how many times to people use this word to mean something different — but not truly revolutionary. It’s been used so much, it’s lost its power.
Instead of telling us that it’s revolutionary, what if you showed us how? You could:
In this case, you might not be able to replace a word like “revolutionary” with a single new word. It might require a complete rethink of your copy. And that’s not a bad thing.
Think about the last time you made a purchase online. What was it that sold you on the product or service? Can you point to the moment on the sales page when you made the decision?
It’s going to be different for everyone based on what’s most important to them. Maybe you were swayed by the statistics that showed how effective the product is. Maybe you liked the customer stories and testimonials. Maybe you liked seeing exactly what you get when you purchase.
But whatever it was that swayed you to buy, I can bet it was a specific detail.
I challenge you to go through the next bit of copy you write and see where you can be more specific, where you can show instead of tell, and where you can remove those clichéd terms to get down to the real details that will help you sell.
What are the clichés in your market? Help me add to my list! Let me know your favorites/least favorites in the comments below!