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Do Sales Cliches (Still) Work?

Posted on June 23rd, 2009 No Comments

There’s a lot that web marketers can learn from the successes, failures, and ideas of experienced print copywriters. As I pointed out in a previous post, solid sales principles don’t change, no matter what type of media you’re using. But that doesn’t mean that sales techniques are static, any more than language is static. As people change the ways they communicate (or develop new ways altogether), marketers will need to adapt.

And that brings us to the topic of sales clichés. You’ve probably seen/read/heard these clichés before, but let me provide a few examples:

  • “At Last! No More Back Pain!”
  • “New Breakthrough Product Cuts Fat Fast!”
  • “This Product Will Change the Way You Look at Computers!”
  • “Revolutionary Technique Makes Learning a Snap!”

Sound familiar?

Of course, these are all headlines that I made up, but you get the idea. “At last!” … “Breakthrough!” … “Revolutionary!” are just a few items on the long list of sales clichés that have been used (successfully) for decades.

But are these clichés relevant today? With more and more advertising moving online, and with the increasing consumer demand for information, NOT sales pitches, should these clichés be considered time-tested techniques or simply outdated relics?

Before I address these questions, let’s look at three of the reasons behind some of these sales clichés.

Reason #1: For Best Results, Speak Clearly

What does a headline like: “At Last! No More Back Pain!” do well? Why not use a headline like: “Formula X Supplements Inhibit Muscle Fatigue by Reducing Production of Hormone Y?”

The simple reason … is simple language. While the second headline may be scientifically accurate, it does a poor job of communicating with the reader. A phrase like “inhibit muscle fatigue” is much too dry. Compare with “At Last!” – you can almost hear the author talking to you.

Do you see how effective this technique can be?

Marketers have known for years about the power of simple, direct language. Most people don’t want to read a long, boring, technical report about a product or service; they’d rather read an ad that sounds like a conversation. Colloquial phrases like “At Last!” or “A Snap!” use a conversational, engaging tone to convince readers to lower their defenses.

Reason #2: The Solution is Change

Whenever people have a problem, a dilemma, or a difficulty, they want change. They might want to lose weight by finding a better diet (change themselves), waste less time doing dishes by buying a new dishwasher (change their property), or make more money (change their company). Even though a person might not know what the solution to his/her problem is, he/she knows that some kind of change is the solution.

That’s where clichés like “Revolutionary!” and “Breakthrough!” come in. Headlines that imply change draw people in two ways: first, by suggesting or agreeing that something is wrong with the way things are, and second, by promising to reveal the necessary change to make things better.

These headlines also do something else important, which is…

Reason #3: Spread the News

People like new things and new events. The concept of “new” implies “better” – and who doesn’t want a better product or service? Human beings are programmed to notice new things. If you’re walking along the street, and something whizzes by you, you turn to look, because something has changed in your environment.

Studies have shown that advertisements which are written like news items or editorials pull much better responses than advertisements that look like advertisements. Consumers are sick and tired of obvious advertisements; they won’t think twice about throwing out that “junk mail” or zoning out during a “word from our sponsors.” On the other hand, phrases like “Breakthrough!” and “Revolutionary!” suggest a new discovery or development, which immediately compels people to sit up and pay attention.

So what does all this mean for our sales clichés discussion?

In one sentence: clichés are marketing techniques developed from proven sales principles – and they have been shown to work in the past.

But that doesn’t mean they continue to work as well today.

Consider a point I made in Reason #3 above: people don’t like advertisements that look like advertisements. To get past the modern consumer’s defenses, an ad must disguise itself as a report, a helpful advice column, or even a personal letter.

Here’s my first problem with using clichés – people recognize them. When someone reads a headline like: “At Last! No More Back Pain!” they’re likely to identify it as an advertisement immediately. Now, some back pain sufferers may indeed be intrigued by such a headline, but many others would ignore the ad altogether.

Consumers are jaded. For years, they have been bombarded by advertisements trumpeting revolutionary new products. They’re in a state of revolutionary overload. Products or services portrayed in this way are often dismissed as “misleading” or “hype.”

That’s not to say that sales clichés are entirely out. People still want new products. People still want to change their problems and fix what’s wrong – but they’ve also got a daunting credibility filter. Call it the “if it’s too good to be true it probably is” filter. If you headline your ad with these common sales clichés, that filter immediately puts up a red flag and goodbye goes the prospect.

This is doubly true on the internet. Remember when pop-up ads were everywhere? So does your audience. They hated pop-ups then, they hate pop-ups now, and if your salesletter reminds them of a cheesy advertisement, they’ll leave.

The moral of the story? Sales clichés need more setup now than ever before.

Don’t greet your prospect with a giant headline blaring “New Revolutionary Product!” Save the revolutionary language for later, when you’ve already built up credibility through informational content and compelling testimonials.

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