Sounding Off, Sounding the Same

– Solutions…innovation…partnership…out of the box…

We’ve heard the catch phrases so often that we’re numb to them. They’re the background noise in every CEO soundbite, the filler in every paragraph of copy. When we do notice these familiar phrases, it’s usually to encourage ourselves to find fresh terms, to seek more distinctive ways to express our brand, organization or enterprise.

And, yet, we often find ourselves circling back around to the same linguistic mediocrities. We take the safe route and go for subtle shifts as opposed to dramatic departures. I remember a few years back when the business world finally (and briefly) started to weary of the word “innovative.” We’d sheepishly switch in alternatives like “ingenious” and call it a day. It wasn’t long before we were back to innovative, which of course wasn’t very!

– Verbal hamsters?

Caught on a verbal treadmill, we continually test that famous aphorism about insanity by expecting the same old language to deliver new results. Everyone knows that the market demands novelty, right? We acknowledge and admire those companies that breathe fresh air into the marketplace. But when we set out to do so ourselves, we find that creating distinctive messages is easier said than…said.

At a business banquet where guests would really like to try a spicy new dish or two, why is it that we so often serve up the same bland verbal oatmeal? To a certain degree, we’re the victims of our own dubious logic. In a marketplace version of keeping up with the Joneses, we latch onto common phrases as if to prove that we know what we’re talking about. After all, it’s no good advertising “products” when everyone else is hawking “solutions” is it? We might look like we’re out of the loop. Drinking our own Kool-aid, we try to stand out by sounding like everyone else.

– So, how do we get beyond the blah, blah, blah?

Ironically, the answer may lie in another over-used phrase: Be true to yourself. The words have special meaning for today’s brands. Your brand is the story that sets you apart from the competition and connects you to your customers. An author who copies someone else’s work is a plagiarist and will never make it to the best seller list. The same is true of marketers. Truly great brands have a storyline and a language all their own. BMW. Apple. Coke. Cover up the logo and you still know who’s talking to you.

– Voice recognition

What makes the voices of these brands so recognizable? Why are they so memorable? It’s because they themselves have such a profound sense of who they are. True originals, they’re cognizant of their competition, but they don’t copy it. When they speak, we listen, because we know we’re going to hear something we haven’t heard before.

So, how will you get to the best seller list? How will you become your own Michael Crichton or Anne Rice or Tom Peters? To be the best “brand author” you can be, you must find the unique language that captures the individuality of your company.

The next time you sound off, try to sound more like yourself.

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