The top ten product clichés to avoid in 2022
If you’re involved in the product-marketing side of science, the New Year often means a new set of targets, and a reappraisal of the performance of your literature. But have you given any thought to the words you’re using to describe your organisation and its products or services? Run your eye down this list of phrases to avoid, and get some inspiration for alternatives that speak more clearly to your audiences.
Cut back on business jargon
Whatever field of business you’re in, every now and again it’s worth re-assessing the words you’re using to describe your company and your products. Descriptions that sounded fresh and exciting in 2012 will mostly likely be sounding tired and tedious in 2022.
The phrases I’m talking about are primarily those used to ascribe significance to something, to grab the attention – like ‘cutting-edge products’, ‘mission-critical processes’ and ‘paradigm shifts’. These particular examples have thankfully all now fallen out of favour, but there have been plenty to take their place, especially in the scientific and technical fields.
In some cases, these words and phrases are not inherently bad, but have been over-used, to the point that they no longer convey any useful information. And if your words don’t say anything useful, your readers will struggle to understand what you’re offering.
Some words considered to be jargon are not inherently bad, but have been over-used, to the point that they no longer convey any useful information
Scientific cliché countdown
So, in reverse priority order, here are my top 10 clichés to try and cut back on – or eliminate entirely – in 2020. I’ve tailored this list to scientific businesses, but many of these would equally apply elsewhere.
In each case I’ve made-up some examples of bad usage (red boxes), and what I would replace them with (green boxes). I hope you find them useful!
Some of the words in this list (and many others) are ‘filler’ adjectives. They’re in your writing merely because:
- You wanted to include an adjective to make your subject matter sound great.
- You needed something no-one was going to argue with.
- You were in a hurry when you wrote it (yes, I’ve been there).
‘Advanced’ is a great example of this sort of adjectival padding, and one that is ubiquitous in the scientific field. To be fair, it’s not doing any harm, but you need to be sure you’re not missing an opportunity to talk about the real value of your products or services – saving time, saving money, improving confidence, achieving regulatory compliance, acquiring prestige or competitive advantage, increasing throughput, and the like.
#9: Our mission
To be fair, this one isn’t so much a piece of jargon as the mindset you’re in when writing the copy. You see chunks of text describing ‘our mission’ quite frequently on company websites in all areas, but the scientific/laboratory sector seems to be particularly obsessed with letting everyone know about this aspect of their business.
Why is this a problem? Firstly, it’s too easy to become self-focused when writing such copy, and this comes in two flavours:
- An excess of detail about how your company operates – things like the formative experiences of your founders, your procurement strategy, your staff recruitment policies, etc. This may be important to you, but it’s unlikely to be of interest to your audience.
- Over-egged corporate social responsibility, with sentences that describe how you’re “making the world better” by selling your product or service. The reality is usually rather more mundane, and so such statements usually lack credibility.
Anyway, in either case, ask yourself what your lofty-sounding ‘mission’ would be good for if you didn’t have any customers, and you’ll realise that your true mission is to serve your customers better by giving them what they want. This can be a subtle change, but straight away it’s more engaging for the audience.
Replace your self-centered ‘mission’ text with messaging that focuses on your customers instead
Next up is an innocuous little term, but one that speaks volumes about how you view your customers. Who is the ‘end-user’? To me, it sounds like someone remote, with whom you only have a passing interest, so avoid using it in your customer-facing literature.
Fortunately, tackling this one is easy – simply replace ‘end-user’ with ‘you’ or ‘your’. Or if you’re not selling directly, then give them a name – ‘analysts’, ‘medical practitioners’, ‘materials scientists’, ‘lab technicians’, etc.
I have to be honest, I’ve sometimes used this word myself… but only to mean that the equipment can deal with whatever’s thrown at it. I then follow it up quickly with more details.
If you mean that your equipment can cope with a range of field conditions or rough handling, then I’d suggest ‘rugged’ as an alternative. And if you’re just saying ‘robust’ because it sounds nice, then it needs to go.
B2B marketing abounds with these sorts of self-congratulatory adjectives, with ‘market-leading’ being another common example. Sometimes they can be OK, for example when you have to say something good about your product, you’ve got 15 words, and a better description simply won’t fit.
However, ‘best-in-class’ in particular sets my teeth on edge, mostly because it sounds a little smarmy, but also because it’s so obviously devoid of meaning. Exactly what ‘class’ are you talking about… and who’s judging?
So take it out if you can, and remember to say something about your company or products that is of benefit to the reader.
I’m sorry to say that, in my opinion, disruption is what happens to train services to make me late for a meeting. In the context of a boardroom presentation, I’m just about OK with phrases like ‘disruptive technology’ (to mean a market-transforming product). But elsewhere it has unavoidably negative connotations, and shouldn’t be used in marketing literature to describe your company, products, or services.
True, you may have come up with a technology that’s going to change the way things are done in your business sector. But do your customers care about that? No – they care about their time, their money, their ability to get the job done. So focus on the difference your technology is going to make to those things instead.
OK, this is a tough one. We’ve all used it to describe our products and services, and as a word it hasn’t yet lost its shine as a description of all that is new, exciting, and fresh-from-product-development.
The trouble is, in the scientific equipment field we tend to use it for pretty much anything with a power switch that’s had a software update in the last five years. And once everyone uses it for everything, it loses its distinctiveness and becomes a cliché.
So I’d urge you to deploy ‘innovative’ with good reason, and when you do, take the time to explain why the thing you’re talking about is innovative.
You should always have a good reason to describe something as ‘innovative’ – and take the time to explain why.
Next up is a term that on the face of it sounds good, but on its own is actually pretty meaningless. In addition, many products provide more than one function, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any good at doing them, which is what customers are generally looking for.
So focus on what the user can achieve with your ‘multi-functional’ product, not what the product does.
I have a little story to tell about this word. As a Ph.D. student in an organic synthesis lab, I wanted to know the method used to make a commercial reagent, in order to understand a side-reaction that I suspected resulted from an impurity. I was therefore disappointed to be told by the manufacturer that the method was simply ‘proprietary’.
Ever since then, I’ve been against this word when used outside legal documents, and particularly when it appears in sales literature. I’d agree that you don’t want your customers (and especially your competitors) to know the method you use to make your new reagent, or the electrical settings you use in a key component… but appearing to be so defensive about it is not going to help your brand image.
More than that though, it doesn’t say anything that conveys the value or status of your product. To resolve that, come to it from the customer’s perspective – why should they be interested in this proprietary thing you’re talking about? You could, for example, invoke scarcity – phrases like ‘exclusive to us’, ‘not obtainable elsewhere’ or ‘only available from us’ may be useful. If it’s patented, then that’s a possible alternative too – so long as the true benefits are spelled out elsewhere.
So, we come to the great-grandparent of all product-description clichés. Despite much criticism of ‘solutions’, it still persists on company websites in uncountable numbers.
Long ago, it was a useful word – indicating a situation in which you provided not just the hardware, but software, expertise, and ongoing support. Quite often it also meant something tailored to that particular customer (rather than off-the-shelf).
Sadly, overuse has all but eliminated this meaning, with the result that the only thing it now conveys is that you’re trying to sell something, whether that be a £100k scientific instrument, healthcare insurance, or a bag of compost.
The problem with the word ‘solution’ is that it fails to explain what is actually being offered.
Like other clichés, it’s used because it’s short, non-specific and requires minimal effort to deploy. On their own, these are not bad things, but unfortunately, the problem is often compounded by a failure to explain what it actually is that is being offered – leaving the reader to work it out in their own time (if they can be bothered, of course).
So why is ‘solution’ still so popular? I think it’s because using it makes you sound ‘on-trend’, and because it’s rather difficult to come up with good alternatives. However, there are three basic scenarios, and in each case I’ve explained my approach:
Keep it: Sometimes, ‘solutions’ is used in the sense of addressing a challenge, and in that sense it can be fine. Just beware of implying to the customer that you think they have a problem!
Delete it: Quite often you’ll find that it’s simply possible to delete ‘solutions’, when it’s being used unnecessarily to describe something that has already has a perfectly good name:
Change it: But most of the time ‘solutions’ is used alongside other words, which together fail to explain the true meaning. In these cases an alternative needs to be found, such as:
You might not be able to make such replacements everywhere – for example, if the word is baked-into the URLs and headers of your website, or even your company name – but at least aim to avoid repeated use in a block of text. Make it easy for your readers to uncover what it is you’re actually offering.
Don’t worry about replacing jargon with longer descriptions – it’s better to use five words that mean something, rather than one word that means nothing.
Clichéd business jargon will always be around – as fast as old words fall out of favour, new ones will arise, making it difficult to avoid. But in scientific businesses, where these terms are used so liberally, there’s an opportunity to distinguish yourself from the competition by eliminating at least some of the language that fails to explain clearly what you’re offering your customers.
When everyone else is providing ‘advanced software solutions’ or ‘leveraging disruptive technologies’, then you can make an impact with fresh, clear language that means exactly what it says, and doesn’t leave the reader wondering what you’re on about.
And don’t worry if you find yourself using more words than before. Ask yourself: is it better to use one word that means nothing, or five words that mean something?