October 28, 2010How to avoid marketing cliché in branding

Can we talk about cliché for a moment, people? I’m not talking about clichés like “easy as pie” or, to borrow from Mad Men again, “the cure for the common…” because in actual fact, so long as these clichés aren’t overused, or displayed too prominently, cliché actually serves a purpose by reinforcing perceptions quickly and easily using an instantly recognized standard.

In other words, “easy as pie” can get your message across to your customer a lot more effectively than “our product is so much simpler to use than your competitors and we think you’ll love it” and is more informal and playful than “easy to use / to get started / to set up” etc. An occasional cliché of this type isn’t always a bad thing.

I’m taking about business-speak and marketing clichés.

Need an example? Look no further than the insidious, omnipresent word solution. Let me put it in context for you. I snapped this outside my house the other day:

I was amazed to discover that’s their actual brand now. “Brakes Foodservice Solutions”. Now in the future they told me my food would come in pills. But in a solution? That’s just disgusting. I put my contact lenses in a “solution” when I go to bed at night.  E=MC squared is a solution. Sorry to be blunt, but “Foodservice solutions” just makes you sound like a dick. Let’s compare their pre-and-post rebrand logos:

This is the logo I grew up with –

This is the logo after their 2002 rebrand –

See what they’ve done there? That’s right. They’ve jumped on a bandwagon. Some marketing genius with an MBA in delivering powerpoint presentations decided to rebrand their company as a “solution” because they think it makes them sound really super professional. The bad news. Everyone else had the same idea.

Now, I don’t market myself as a supplier of copywriting solutions. I’m a freelance copywriter. “Copywriting solutions” sounds suspiciously like jars of watery ink. Likewise, if I went into business selling parrot cages, I could market myself as a “bird confinement and presentation solution,” but I think I’d just be met with a lot of scratching of heads, and not just from the parrots.

The fact is, the only thing the word “solution” solves is the problem of describing what your company does. And as an answer, it’s a very, very poor one. The word solution is a stand-in for an actual description used by people who don’t fully understand what it is their company actually does. There’s nothing comforting about being sold a “solution” when what you really want is a parrot cage, ten thousand frozen ready meals, et cetera. Companies that market themselves as solutions generally don’t have a great grasp on what they sell.

Use cliché to make people feel more comfortable with what you’re selling, not to confuse them.

Don’t claim that you “deliver” unless you’re a mailman or a take-away pizza place. The chances are you don’t deliver anything. “Cooking our ready meals is as easy as pie!” is good. While “We deliver solutions” is just weird. Perhaps you deliver “deliverables.” Stop. Start telling people what it is your company actually does.

The reason why people come to good, freelance copywriters is because we’re better able to articulate what your business does, how you can help people, and why they should choose you.

So leave the powerpoint presentations in the office.
Explain, in real terms, to your real customers, what you really do.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 28th, 2010 at 1:42 pm and is filed under Blog, Branding, Copywriting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. Simon Hoare says:

    A quick look at their website suggests Brakes are no longer peddling “solutions”. Perhaps you shamed them into thinking a little bit harder :-)

  2. Simon Hoare says:

    By the way, just a little bit of feedback.

    Regarding your point on using clichés to make the customer feel comfortable, you might be interested to know that I hesitated before clicking on because I am not familiar with the “.cc” top-level domain name but perhaps that’s just me.

    Fortunately for you a) I clicked anyway b) I’m not a customer (well not right now in any case).

    All the same, do you want anything that makes a potential customer hesitate?

    Otherwise, very good site and very strong message.

  3. al says:

    I doubt they’re readers! But there is a trend towards ditching the hideous “solution” bodge and going back towards saying what you actually do.

    Ultimately I think I picked on Brakes because they didn’t pass my very own toddler test, i.e. explaining in plain English to a toddler what you do. As a 5 year old I remember a Brake Bros van pulling up every day with a picture of two chefs on it — I knew instantly it was bringing my lunch. A five year old who saw a van saying “Brakes Foodservice Solutions” would be confused or afraid, certainly not looking forward to his lunch. What does the word “solution” add in this context? Nothing.

    Glad they ditched it and went back to some sensible branding.

    Next on the list – Pirtek “Fluid transfer solutions” – can you guess what they do?

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