by Nick Usborne
June 20, 2006

Sometimes, copywriters and content writers write in clichés.

They say things like, “Company X offers an integrated end-to-end solution.”

To a reader, the line has barely any meaning, and certainly no
impact. Why not? Because it is too familiar. Because he or she has read
the same phrase too many times before, in too many other places.

In other words, when a phrase or sentence has a very familiar ring
to it… it has very little impact in the new copy you are writing.

But this isn’t just about clichés…

Hopefully, most of us avoid using clichés in our copy. But there is a second shade of the same problem.

Even when we avoid clichés, we often use phrases that still
sound familiar. We slip into using tried and trusted ways of saying

For instance, here are the closing lines from an email I received recently from Network Solutions:

“Once again, thank you for choosing Network Solutions. We are
committed to providing you with the solutions, services, and support to
help you succeed online.”

There are no clichés there. Bu there is still a problem.

The problem is in the message. The message is too familiar, too
tired. We have all read a hundred letters and emails that say largely
the same thing.

The “thank you and we’ll always be here for you” message is an easy and lazy way to close a letter or email.

There are three problems with familiar messages…

First, when you begin or finish an email with a sentence or
paragraph that readers feel they have read a hundred times before, you
are undermining any sense that this is a letter from YOU.

How can this be a personal letter to the reader when they recognize so much of the message, tone, and language from elsewhere?

Too many emails sound like they were compiled from the equivalent of
a paint-by-numbers kit. Writers just vary the details of the opening,
body, and closing paragraph.

Second, the use of familiar phrases and messages undermines your
company’s brand. “Hey, these guys sound just like everyone else.” You
can’t afford to sound like everyone else. You need to find a unique
voice for your company.

Third, and this ties back to the other two, when you fall back on a
familiar message, pace, length, and tone in your emails… you are
missing out on a huge opportunity.

Unique language, used to express a new message, will make all the
difference in engaging a reader’s attention and interest. Familiar
messages just put people to sleep.

Be specific and relevant

If you have something to say, skip the fluffy opening and closing
and make every line of your email specific to the topic at hand. And
write every sentence in a way that is new. Avoid comfortable phrases
and ordinary ways to start and end emails.

Here is an example of what I think is a strong opening to an email:

“Dear Nick, A regular customer of ours contacted us regarding a
recent doctor’s visit. Her Bone Mineral Density (BMD) levels suggested
that she was suffering from severe osteoporosis.”

Not one word is wasted. It is specific and relevant from the first
few words onward. There is no fluff, and no familiar phrases are used
to pad the content.

Concluding thoughts

When we are in a hurry, or under pressure, it’s all too easy to
write a quick “form letter” or email. We have written them dozens of
times before, and we fall into repetitive ways of handling the opening
and closing. We even have favorite tricks and phrases to connect one
paragraph or thought to the next.

The trouble is, these kinds of emails also sound very familiar to
your readers. And when that happens, you lose their attention.

Try to write each new email in a different way. Make each one
unique. Be specific. Be useful. And avoid saying things in the same way
you have said them before.