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Tired marketing and hackneyed phrases – why navel-gazing loses customers

March 24, 2010
A Velocette Brochure from the early 1930s

Velocette - early users of the one line caption. It worked then but is hackneyed now.


Many marketing pieces fail because they are too clever for their own good. This is particularly the case with older product ranges because marketers (particularly in-house marketers) lose their grasp of what made the product successful in the first place. Instead, they turn to the wild and wonderful to try to create a marketing piece which makes their work interesting to them, if not the customer. 

This is usually because marketers don’t like having to repeat old things (because they like to be thought of as clever). But as my old boss, Philip Kogan of publishers Kogan Page used to say, “the old ways are always the best – why don’t we just try it again”. And of course, he was right. 

In attempting something new, when something old is just as good, key performance can be lost. This is especially the case if your marketers are the type who delude themselves that just by being a member of the marketing department means they know about marketing. In the words of Malcolm McDonald, “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department”… 

The problem with narcissistic marketing is that it loses sight of what it is trying to achieve. And this becomes manifest in the bogus creativity which populates those teams which have lost touch with their true audience. 

Out of such places come those really tired marketing slogans which mean nothing to the customer. For example, a picture of a plate with some hackneyed phrase like “it’s time to step up to the plate”. Or one of those dreary “inspirational” campaigns using some celebrity or other alongside a single word such as “Performance”. 

 Sometimes you end up with imagery based on an in-house reference (e.g. a company I once worked for had a product known internally by its acronym “PILS” and some wacky marketer chose to have a load of pills as a cover image – even though the product was nothing to do with medicine). 

Campaigns with slogans like this highlight an enormous disconnect between marketer, product and audience. The task in hand has become one of doing something interesting to keep the marketer and designer happy rather than  actually addressing the problem. 

The problem faced by all marketers should never be “how can I make this interesting for myself”. It should be “how can I make this interesting for the customer?” Not “what’s in it for me” but “what’s in it for them”. 

In writing any marketing brochure, you must have in your mind a number of customer-focused attributes: 

  • What your product does.
  • How does it affect the customer’s life?
  • Does it enable your customers to deliver better service to their customers?
  • Why is it different to other products on the market?
  • Is it unique?
  • Can you prove the benefits of ownership (photos, testimonials etc)?

If you are spending thousands of pounds/dollars/euros in developing marketing activities then it is crucial to focus the activity on the customers you are trying to convert. 

In using tired marketing and hackneyed phrases you will please no-one, win few (if any customers) and probably end up looking over your shoulder.

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