- Too many clichéd compound adjectives
- Too much positivity
- Shameless exaggeration
1. Too many of the dreaded compound clichésCompound adjectives are single adjectives (describing words) made up of more than one word. They’re usually joined by a hyphen. Think ‘free-range’ egg or ‘sweet-ass’ post’ (if you weren’t already). Sometimes, you really need them (with hyphens though): But most of the time, you don’t. Which is why it bugs me that so much of today’s content is riddled with compound adjectives. There must be some horrible copywriting self-help book I don’t know about that once said “stick as many flattering words as you can together with hyphens” and after that things just got way out of hand. Here are five of the worst offenders:
- Best-in-class UGH. There should be a special place in hell for people who come up with ‘best’ when they’ve had at least 30 seconds to think of an adjective.
- World-leading KILL IT WITH FIRE. Very few (if any) brands can get away with calling themselves ‘world-leading’, and even they don’t, because they know how gross it sounds.
- Gold-standard Is it though? IS IT THOUGH…
- Top-of-the-range Sounds like something Gordon Ramsay yells at customers in Best Buy when there’s a new JML cooker on sale…
- Near-real-time So…not-real-time. Good to know. Points for honesty though.
2. Too much positivityOne of the quickest ways to lose credibility with a stranger is to say, “You know that thing you’re doing brilliantly? Well, even though you’re doing it brilliantly, we think you should give us money so you can do it brilliantly.” That kind of positive-only content lacks a frame of reference for readers to distinguish between ‘problems’ and ‘solutions.’ And as a result, it only ever leaves them feeling one of two ways: sceptical, or confused. Remember the ‘Life is Short, Have a Diet Coke’ ad that came out a few months back? Unfortunately, I do. And I get flashbacks of it as soon as I start veering towards the happy-clappy end of the spectrum: The like-to-dislike YouTube ratio speaks for itself. The moral of the story? People know ‘if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.’ And if you paint an unrealistically positive view of a prospect or customer’s world, you’ll lose their respect in a heartbeat. That doesn’t mean B2B marketers have to paint gloomy pictures of the world or push out condescending content that says, “The world is going to hell and you’re terrible at your job, lucky no one’s fired you yet, sucker!” in order to sound compelling. But there’s definitely a happy (scuse the pun) medium between gushing positivity and abject misery. You may be thinking, “That’s great, Emma, but how do I achieve that medium when I’ve got a stakeholder who insists on unrelenting positivity?” And, well, I wish I had a fail-proof answer to that question. The only advice I can offer is to push back and argue against positive-only content as much as you can without jeopardizing your relationship. But don’t do nothing. Trust me – you’ll always regret doing nothing. Not to be negative or anything.
3. Shameless exaggerationI was guilty of this one when first I started writing. I think a lot of writers default to exaggeration and hyperbole in the beginning. Overclaiming feels a lot less dangerous than underclaiming when you’re a newbie. You want to please your boss, not your client’s readers: ‘So what if I pumped things up a little? At least my copy wasn’t dull!’ Thing is, most B2B writers aren’t still working through their probation periods. So the exaggerated claims I keep coming across in B2B content can’t all be rookie errors. Let’s look at a few examples: HP: everywhere you do business. I mean, for starters this conjures an image of a dog fouling and its owner yelling “come on, do your business!” But I digress…HP, try harder – that’s just a silly promise to make. American City Business Journals: ‘Five Biggest Benefits of Moving to the Cloud’ Camaaaan. William Bratton and Zachary Tumin: Collaborate or Perish WHAT!?!?!!!!??!?! Okay so sometimes it’s funny when marketers exaggerate to the point of nonsense. But if exaggerated claims continue to flood the B2B marketing space, content marketing itself will become a pretty hypocritical enterprise. So let’s put a stop to it. How do you hide the ‘tell’ of shameless exaggeration? Simple: stop exaggerating. Or do the opposite: be insanely honest. And if both of those are easier said than done, try asking questions at the earliest possible stages of content creation like, ‘What’s the most impressive point I can make about the data alone, client claims and demands aside?’ Or, ‘What one thing can my reader get out of this that could realistically be turned into a KPI?’ The answers to those questions should reveal just how much you’ll need to exaggerate (if at all) to meet the expectations of your client. Then it’s over to you to manage the disparity.
Right.The point of this post was to show you why writers who sound like marketers don’t get anywhere in B2B – and how to stop sounding like one. I should make the point that the three reasons cited in this post aren’t the only reasons why your writing might sound like marketing (in fact, I might make that point in a future post). But for the time being, I’d love to know whether you’d add a fourth, fifth or maybe even a sixth reason to this post based on your experience. If so, do leave a comment below.