Generic, Cliched Messaging … and How to Avoid It

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There are plenty of landing page cliches out there. And Land-book puts them all in one place for you to see.

Flick through the site, and you’ll see more than a few design trends that startups are, clearly, adopting ad nauseam.

Beyond that, though, you’ll see a few messaging trends, too.

If you want to follow a design trend, that’s your business. But if you want to follow a messaging trend, you’re crazy. Let’s see why.

The trends

My (admittedly unscientific) review of the landing pages presented on the site suggested these five key messaging trends:

  • simplicity
  • the self/creativity
  • intelligence
  • beauty
  • connection

Actually, there are really 5.5 trends there: you could split out creativity from the self, but since production is self-expression, I’ve grouped those messages together.

For each of these terms, you could come up with any number of synonyms. For simplicity, there’s clarity, minimalism, ease, effortlessness, automation, and centralization; for intelligence there’s smart, clever, data, knowledge, technology, the future, and aggregation.

But as far as messages go, pretty much every page in the gallery focuses on at least one of these key messages.

Expressing position?

Your brand’s messages must naturally be an expression of its positioning — the unique way your offering meets a specific, identifiable need of a particular audience segment, relative to competing offerings.

And that’s why messaging trends are worth knowing about — and, I think, avoiding.

If you’re trying to present your unique selling proposition, why would you want to talk in the same terms every other startup is using? I can’t answer that question, yet it seems like that’s what most startups are doing.

Let’s look at a random example: money- and budget-related services. Here’s a selection from the first few pages of Land-book. Humor me and open them simultaneously in separate tabs:

In these three examples we see exactly the same messages played out: simplicity, the self, connection.

Simple actually provides access to money, so it’s a bit more detailed than the other two offerings, but the thrust of the messaging is exactly the same: your money, made simple.

How would a user choose between these services? You tell me.

Another trend that’s very clear in the Land-book examples is that of the three-word tagline. Like the generic messaging trends above, this one spans sectors:

  • Build beautiful APIs
  • Track anything anywhere
  • Beautiful. Clean. Writing.
  • Never miss out
  • Sculpt the web
  • Beautiful accounting software
  • Web layout evolved

It just goes on and on. There are plenty of more-than-three-word taglines out there, it has to be said, but this is a definite trend among startups, particularly in the “[Verb] anything, anywhere” and “[Noun or verb] made simple” formulations.

You can also see the generic messaging trends playing out in these taglines, which doesn’t help from a unique positioning standpoint, either. In the list above, everything’s beautiful, from APIs to accounting software. From this, if not our experience of the world, we can glean that beauty has become a given, a base expectation the user has for every piece of software or technology they use.

In that context, it ceases to represent a competitive advantage. So why talk about it?

But isn’t that what users want?

The devil’s advocate startup owner will argue that that’s what users want: life to be simpler, smarter, more connected, better looking. And within the realm of, say, internet-connected refrigerators, their brand’s offering really does make life simpler than competitors’ offerings, so…

So what? This is not a solid, defensible position. It’s generic, not unique. We all know technology is supposed to make things easier and simpler; to factory workers in the industrial revolution this might have been news, but to us in 2013, it’s not. A plethora of brands have been doing that for years, and many new players are doing it just as well.

Why play the game on their terms?

What’s your internet-connected fridge’s real USP? Who’s it for and why would they care? I’ll bet your answer isn’t “it makes life simpler.” Dig deep into customer motivations and you might well find that your “simple, connected, beautiful, smart” fridge is actually a stylish status symbol for cashed-up careerists. Or maybe it turns the kitchen back into the heart of the home for big families in the suburbs.

Those are unique positions worth owning. Especially if all your competitors are on the startup-cliches bandwagon.

What’s your difference?

If you think simplicity, personalization, intelligence, good design or connecting people/data/things are points of difference, you’re letting your competitors set the terms of competition.

Better to base your point of difference on a genuine, felt benefit that responds to a genuine felt need, and is actually unique in the context of your market space.

If you can do that, and you have the cojones to shout your point of difference from the rooftops through strong messaging (copy and design), you will not be lost among the sea of sameness that is the startup universe.

Who knows? You might even spark a new trend.

Georgina LaidlawGeorgina Laidlaw
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Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.

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