How far should you go to avoid a cliché?

[Image courtesy of Tom Newby at Flickr Creative Commons]

“Can’t we use another term instead of best practices?” said a client of mine recently. “Everybody uses it, and I feel like it’s become devalued. What does it actually mean anyway?”

And when you think about it, he’s right: everybody does use best practices all the time. So maybe it was time for change. And guess who was first in the queue to find an alternative?

“You’re the writer,” he said. “What do you suggest?”

So I went into thesaurus mode. Standards? Sounds too much like they’re imposed by a third party, or written down in a list. And they they seem less good than best. Industry-leading approaches? That sounded clunky, and replaced one buzzword with another. Latest ideas? Sounds too theoretical, as if the ideas haven’t been tested, as practices have.

The more I looked for an alternative, the more difficult it became.

I roped in my client, to see if he could help in the search – after all, he was the one who wanted to throw out the buzzword baby. But had the bathwater gone the same way? It was increasingly beginning to look so.

He drew a blank too, so I decided to go back to basics. How are best practices defined?

A procedure or set of procedures that is preferred or considered standard within an organization, industry, said

I started to get that sinking feeling. 

The search for original copy

The thing is, these buzzwords have become popular because they’re short, snappy and memorable. They’re instantly recognisable, and everybody knows what they mean – because everybody uses them. They’re common currency in the world of work, so they’re a quick way to get your message across.

But does that mean you need to avoid them? Perhaps.

But then you’re faced with an even bigger problem than using a cliché – finding an alternative that’s as short, snappy and memorable.

And that’s a big ask. (See what I mean?)

I’m as guilty as anybody else. Probably more, in fact. Because sales and marketing copywriting is chock-full of these buzzwords.

Synergy, solutions, leverage, thinking outside the box, doing more with less, cutting edge, state of the art. End-to-end, top-down/bottom-up and the ever-popular one-stop shop.

These handy little buzzwords are the very nuts and bolts that hold much sales and marketing copy together. Pull them out, and the whole machine falls apart. You’re left with limp prose and woolly words, lacking the bite of the buzzword.

To be or not B2B

It’s worth stating at this point that we’re talking here mostly about B2B. Because when businesses talk to each other, they adopt this buzzword lingo. If you’re talking to real people, it’s best to talk like a real person.

Does that mean you can’t do the same if you’re talking to businesses? After all, it’s one person in that business who’s reading the copy, and surely they like to think they’re a real person too?

It’s a simple question, but the answer is slightly more complicated.

Yes, they’re a real person, but they’re representing an organisation. They’re used to corporate-speak, which is liberally sprinkled with buzzwords, so ironically, if they don’t see them in your copy, they may think you sound less serious or even amateurish.

And if your competitors are throwing buzzwords around with gay abandon, you may not measure up favourably. So the informal, buzzword-free approach is best kept for B2C.

So how did I end up resolving my cliché crisis? Well I helicoptered out, got 360-degree visibility, and decided that the status quo was the way to go.

Because sometimes, best practices are just that. Best.