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21 marketing and branding clichés to avoid at all costs

Whether it's toe-curling stock imagery, or patronising website garble, we've all witnessed (and are guilty of) our fair share of marketing clichés. With help from the branding experts, Alex Clarke ranks the prize offenders

Vomiting out a banal and compulsory introduction that doesn’t really add any value to the article is probably a branding (kind of) cliché in itself.

We all know what branding is, so let’s skip the exposition and listen to what the experts have to say. Here are 16 of the worst B2B marketing/branding clichés and faux pas, along with advice that will help address any you might be guilty of (or even better, avoid them in the first place).

Thoughts from a client-side marketer. Brian Macreadie, head of brand and campaign marketing at Berwin Leighton Paisner, shares his most abhorred branding faux pas

1. International insensitivities

When I was a young B2B marketer, I went on a global roadshow with a B2B telecoms brand. We sponsored a number of trade events around the world, taking a pop-up booth with us. The booth design was a world map, showing customers where in the world we provided telecoms solutions.

For cost and ease, we used the same booth design everywhere, which got me in all sorts of bother. For example, our company logo sat over the top of Iceland, which a drunken telecoms official from Iceland didn’t like very much – swinging a punch at me in the middle of an internet conference.

And in the Middle East and Africa, telecoms representatives from Saudi Arabia and Morocco threatened me because their country borders weren’t correctly drawn on the map. I recycled the booth after that, and promised myself to always double-check designs before we roll them out in local markets. (I bet you never realised telecoms officials were so passionate either, right?).

2. Freakily positive people

The handshake. The lightbulb. The relay baton. We’ve all used clichéd stock shots in our B2B marketing. And we’ll probably all use them again, when we’re in a pickle with a deadline, perhaps.

Apart from one style of shot, I hope – which is my pet peeve. I fear there’s a whole circle of B2B hell reserved for those team stock shots that show perfect groups of super-happy business workers, in perfect suits, with perfect beaming smiles, and thumbs up, often jumping for joy or high-fiving each other. Because that’s what the real world is like, right? Well, if anyone catches me using a shot like that, please call Crimestoppers (I did say it was my pet peeve). My top tip? Challenge your creative agency or team to bring you better ways of making your messages stand-out.

X branding cliches (and how to avoid them)

3. Dull slogans

The power of a good slogan is undeniable. Alas, as many of us have aimed for our own B2B equivalent of ‘Just Do It’, we’ve often just contrived to come up with far more anodyne drivel.

Like ‘we mean business’, ‘more together’ or ‘building solutions’. Can you name the brands? Of course not. Can you even name the B2B sector they stem from? Of course not.

My thoughts on the matter are: don’t try and copy Nike; you don’t have to stick to just two or three words (but don’t go longer than eight or so); at least make it clear what you do; and, if in doubt, just don’t do it.

4. Fooling yourself

Unique selling points (USPs) are pretty rare in B2B marketing. So, when you see someone write descriptors for their products and services such as ‘unique’, ‘best-in-class’, ‘unrivalled’ or ‘market-leading’ – they’re probably not only false, they’re potentially harming your brand too. Because your customers, faced with the same claims from your rivals, will know they’re bullshit.

My advice on the matter is to avoid those words like the plague, and instead be specific. Spell out what makes you special in definite terms. (And if you can’t do that, at least you know how competitive your proposition is).

Insights from agency land (the Rooster Punk team and Stein IAS' dynamic duo Chris Place and Catherine Barnes weigh in)

5. ‘We appeal to all sizes of company and functions in them’

Could you imagine a B2C brand getting away with claiming their target audience is everyone? Let me guess, your agency works for everyone because your “why?” is to cut costs and drive revenue…

6. ‘We’re great people, our clients love us’

Not a useful differentiator. How many times have we heard that as a USP? People don’t realise the customers that don’t like them aren’t customers in the first place.

7. ‘We’re disruptive’

Great if it’s true, but it’s become a cliché that B2B brands want to disrupt, although, they often fail to say what or who they are disrupting.

8. ‘We possess real thought leadership content that will position us as trusted advisors to the c-suite’

No, it won’t. Unless you’re McKinsey & Co. you’re probably just a vendor to these guys. They might trust you, hell, they might even like you, but be honest about your place in their world.

9. ‘Our biggest asset is our people’

OK, this one might actually be true, and there’s a positive sentiment behind this, but that doesn’t stop it from being a cliché.

If you really mean it, you’ll find a more human way to say (or even show) it. Most B2B companies are knowledge-based, so you’re stating the obvious otherwise.

10. 'We deliver 360-degree marketing'

Anyone else think this implies you're just going to end up exactly where you've started?

X branding cliches (and how to avoid them)

11. Always being positive

Brands thrive on conflict. If you’re delivering a positive story into a positive situation with a positive attitude – it’s too much glee to handle.

12. The branding blues

Why, oh why, does every B2B brand have to be blue? Blue logo, blue fonts, blue wash over grey photography. What’s wrong with purple?

Desperate brand values plastered around the place. Efficiency. Integrity. Respect. If you have to remind yourself of these things in public, we know you’re struggling with these.

13. The brand police

It really gets to me when more energy is given to millimetre alignment to margins than the actual content: “Erm, we've just been informed by the brand department that the logo is off grid by .25mm." Get your brand priorities straight!

14. A straitjacket in guidelines' clothing

Guidelines should guide, not put designers in prison. But brands can so easily do that by forcing a device like a curve or a swoosh across everything. What seemed like a good idea soon becomes a fort of inescapable graphic consequence. Everyone gets bored of it very quickly, especially the team that commissioned it.

15. A logo is not a brand, it's a logo

So many B2B brands are determined to make their logo their brand. Ads become a version of the logo as if reinforcing what the logo looks like will reinforce the values of the brand. It won’t. Because unless you establish what the brand stands for through great service, behaviour and communication, your logo stands for nothing anyway.

16. Your brand is not Apple or Coca-Cola, your brand is BoltCo

Your brand is the sum of its parts, and if those parts aren’t multimillion multi-channel, multi-product, multi-multis, then wind yer neck in. You are BoltCo and you make bloody good bolts so be true to your product and loosen up a bit, or keep your wildly misguided lips closed tight.

Stepping away from cringeworthy slogans and 'nails down the chalkboard' value propositions, Tom Chapman, SEO specialist at CandidSky, reveals his more general marketing gripes

17. Fake news

Blame Trump all you want, but ‘fake news’ is not just a recent development. It has existed in marketing for years and part of our job is to educate clients about false stories. This is particularly true for me as I specialise in off-site SEO and promotion. Frequently, I come across articles saying ‘link building is dead’ or have to reassure clients that my actions will not get them penalised after they’ve read a few stories on the internet.

There are plenty of good journalists and writers within the SEO community, but there are others which will write any old drivel to get clicks. In the case of the latter, we can overcome the problems this causes through client education and involving them throughout the creative process.

Mind you, my job would be much easier if these false articles didn’t exist in the first place.

18. ‘Build it and they will come’

Among content marketers, I frequently hear the phrase 'content is king' – almost spoken like a mantra. This is often followed by 'build it and they will come' or, alternatively, the belief that just publishing great content will get it noticed.

This isn’t Field of Dreams and we live in the real world. No matter how great your content is, it always needs a good promotion strategy behind it. Fortunately, overcoming this is quite straightforward:

  • Never create content without having a promotion strategy.
  • Always involve those doing the promoting at every stage of the content creation process.

19. Relying on gut instinct

In 2018, too many marketers and business leaders still use gut instinct to make decisions. This could be targeting a specific market on a hunch or not trying anything new because it might not work out. Although this sometimes pays off, it frequently leads to lost time and money.

Consequently, it's essential marketers have access to as much relevant data as possible before embarking on a strategy. Furthermore, when persuading clients, statistics are generally worth a lot more than some reassuring words.

20. Creating content for content’s sake

I understand why the default reaction for a marketer is always to create content. But similar to ‘build it and they will come’, there's no point creating additional materials without a plan behind it.

Therefore, the first question when planning content should always be ‘why’. As well as this, we should investigate:

  • What are we going to do with it?
  • How will this benefit us?
  • Who is going to read it?
  • How long is this going to take?
  • Are we going to get a good ROI?

21. Fixing stuff which isn’t broken

This partly ties into gut instinct mentioned above. However, the cliché ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ should – to a point – be applied to marketing.

Don’t get me wrong, innovation and trying new things must be encouraged. I’m more referring to changing fundamental aspects of your business on a whim. For example, one of my biggest bugbears is website migrations for no reason. Yet, I have found myself in this situation on repeated occasions.

Sometimes the reasoning is sound but excuses similar to ‘because we felt we needed a new website’ are not. The best way to overcome this is through education – and demonstrating with data that there are more pressing issues.

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