A few years ago, Australian comedy rock group The Axis of Awesome went viral with a performance of almost 40 hit pop songs that can be played with the same four chords.
The act is surprising, as we learned that songs like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” and Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” can all be played with the exact same building blocks.
Doesn’t sound right, does it?
Because when these popular songs came out, they sounded unique and fresh. That’s why they became popular.
The secret? The same four chords in these songs — or musical “clichés” — create a foundation for something deep and meaningful.
And, more importantly, something uniquely saleable.
Like master songwriters, you can use clichés to make many aspects of your business stand out.
Let’s find out how.
Boost the “U” in your USP
To succeed in business, you must fulfill a core and universal desire.
But sometimes we avoid naming these desires in our copy because our competitors already mention them.
Let’s take the description from the website of this gym:
“Our expert personal trainers are cutting edge and will work one-on-one with you to achieve your fitness and lifestyle goals through customized programs to suit your needs.”
This gym has unfortunately missed the cliché boat, even with words like “cutting-edge,” “one-on-one” and “customized.”
Because one essential cliché is missing: We help you lose weight.
Because isn’t that really what “fitness and lifestyle goals” boil down to?
Identifying your customer’s cliché desire — no matter how many of your competitors talk about them — is key to standing out with your prospects.
Concoct a memorable tagline
Big companies often turn to their friendly neighborhood cliché factory to spin unique taglines.
- Shave Time. Shave Money. (Dollar Shave Club)
- We’re cooking now. (Denny’s)
- Works like a dream. (Ambien)
Clichés work in taglines because they provide a familiar anchor as you zap your audience with a new twist.
So how could we use a cliché to write a tagline for our run-of-the-mill gym from above?
- Work your butt off (weight loss for women who want a bikini body)
- Bend over backwards (flexibility training for yoga enthusiasts)
- In for an inch, in for a pound (for men who want a mix of body sculpting and cardio)
And notice how each cliché gets to the heart of a specific benefit for a specific type of person?
Because they’re immediately recognizable, clichés can do a lot of heavy lifting to convey the unique value of your brand — as long as you think of a new way to apply them.
Improve your website usability
Ever found yourself standing at the back of a restaurant, staring at strange squiggly lines and curly cues, wondering which door led to relief and which led to public embarrassment?
Like these fancy restaurants and their bathroom doors, sometimes business owners itch to change up the “cliché” sections of a website to make them more interesting.
For example, this digital design agency changed its “Our Team” page to a “Tour.” You have to go on a treasure hunt for this company’s team members by scrolling around their virtual office.
The result? Weird mouse moves that cause frustration and confusion.
Even if they seem cliché, conventional web sections let people quickly get the info they want.
The more your business experience is seamless and quick (even if it seems cliché to you), the more you stick out in your prospects’ minds.
Beef up your headlines and subheads
Clichés can also put some unique oomph in your everyday content.
Just look to the New York Post, a cliché ninja if there ever was one.
When Kanye West’s fashion show went south? “Crime of Fashion!”
When Russian hackers hit the DNC’s email servers? “Russky Business!”
Even if you balk at this cheesy style, you can still harness clichés in your headlines by:
- Using clichés sparingly
- Using clichés that fit your tone and style
- Using clichés in surprising ways with plays on words
For example, a headline of “Meet Your Matcha” in a post about matcha tea is a much more effective headline compared to “Meet Your Match” in a post about online dating.
So give a cliché that extra squeeze to make it really stand out for scanning eyes.
Craft your About page and brand messages
Your brand story can also be enhanced with some delicious cliché sauce.
In this case, a trusty metaphor goes a long way in the unique department.
But how, you ask?
Let’s say you’re a personal trainer. Maybe you’ve thought of yourself as a “Weekend Warrior” because you love helping people get fit in their spare time.
But your inner cliché police have you stopped cold, as you’ve noticed so many fitness writers use this expression!
Just like a sculptor starts out with a lump of clay, you can create fine details in a clichéd metaphor to create a fresh image.
You simply mold your cliché clay by asking some quick questions:
- What are the qualities of a warrior that describe you?
- How do you specifically help busy people work out?
- How does this approach help your prospect?
Then you can create a narrative like:
“I think of myself as a Weekend Warrior. Why? I’m an unflinching trainer who helps busy moms make the most of every second of their limited workout time. My fearless fitness approach helps you build muscle faster than regular programs, even if your schedule is packed and you have no time for exercise.”
If you own a cliché with authentic specifics, then you’ve turned a shopworn idea into a gold mine of unique branding.
Show off your personality
What really boosts your writing chops — particularly with online writing — is a writing voice that emulates how you talk.
And guess what?
People talk in clichés all the time!
Jargon, idioms, old saws: clichés abound in our everyday parlance.
But a cliché to one person is just a regular ol’ expression to someone else.
In fact, the clichés you use say a lot about:
- How old you are
- Where you grew up
- Your life experiences
- Your worldview
- Your expertise
And these things can help your audience quickly identify with you as a unique person.
As another example, have you noticed some of the clichés I used in this post?
- Missed the boat
- Heavy lifting
- Gold mine
Did they jump out at you, or did you just read them as the author’s way of writing?
The trick is to have confidence in your style. If you notice a cliché in your content, ask yourself:
- Am I cutting this cliché because it doesn’t express what I mean and I can come up with something better?
- Am I cutting this cliché because the style police told me to?
For the former: indeed, cut that cliché out.
For the latter: feel free to use the cliché to rock your unique writing voice!
Create some cliché alchemy for unique business ideas
The problem with clichés is that — when used mindlessly — they drain the power of your writing.
But if you avoid clichés altogether, you may miss deep universal truths that immediately communicate your unique business value.
And just like the chords in a song, clichés give rise to an infinite variety of approaches.
Contrary to what you may think, getting rid of every cliché in your business actually may make it harder for you to do what you want: resonate with your audience.
So don’t fear clichés.
Instead, recognize them for what they are: fantastic building blocks for creating a business that stands out with your particular prospects.
Because in business, that’s the only unique message that matters.