Here’s the most common marketing copy to avoid, why it doesn't work anymore, and what you can do instead.
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Email marketing and other parts of your content empire are often littered with common phrases that don’t add anything to the power of the content. But we end up using these tired phrases because we already see them so much in marketing copy.
At best, these bad copy habits fill up space we could use for other purposes. They take up room in your emails and cost money—it’s wasteful.
At worst, these words and phrases can turn off a modern reader. They harken back to the tacky olden days of late-night TV marketing and put consumers on the defensive. That’s not the kind of relationship you want to establish with your email marketing.
Here are five of the most common examples of marketing copy to avoid, why they don’t work (or don’t work anymore), and what you can do instead.
1. Talking About Yourself
Examples: Award-Winning, Best-in-Class
It’s tempting to wax eloquent in your email marketing about how great you are and how innovative and excellent your product or service is. (Gotta self-market, right?)
You’ve earned the accolades and awards and designed a top-notch offering, so why not tell readers how awesome you are?
Here’s the reason: They don’t care.
Consumers don’t care about your company or its offerings—at first. They’ll only get to that point after interacting with your email marketing and other elements for a long time. You don’t earn that engagement by talking about yourself. You deserve it after multiple iterations of not making that mistake. It’s like the marketing version of Inception.
Instead: Talk About Problems and Solutions
Everybody loves talking about themselves—your customers included. To get them to care about you (and your products), talk about their problems and how you can solve them.
Find the pain points for your leads, and send emails that address them. Once you’ve shown that you can solve consumers’ problems, they’ll care enough about your brand to appreciate your awards and achievements.
2. Marketing Speak
Examples: Guaranteed, Act Now
Marketing speak includes any word or phrase you might see on a used car dealership ad or hear on late-night television.
Last century, marketers used these words to build confidence in a brand (“Satisfaction Guaranteed!”) or create urgency (“While Supplies Last!”). They worked at the time because those concepts were critical parts of the sales and marketing playbook.
This century, they’ve been used so often people often fail to notice them at all. When they do notice, they’re more likely to be turned off than respond the way you want them to.
Modern consumers aren’t going to believe everything you say if it sounds gimmicky. It’s too easy to factcheck your claims of legitimacy on social media and review sites. If you do put a limited time on an offer, it’s easy to find something similar online.
Instead: Use Social Proof
Social proof is any evidence that a great third party provides you.
You can use any of the following:
- Screenshots of a review left by happy customers
- Brief video interviews
- Links to complimentary press write-ups
- Counters to show that your Facebook page or YouTube channel has lots of likes/subscribers
All of these verifiable and quantifiable methods are how you really prove you’re worth the business of the modern, connected, sophisticated consumer (e.g. anyone with access to Google).
3. Overused Slang
Examples: Epic, Chic
We see this error more often than you’d expect. A marketer becomes aware of a popular slang term, then tries to slip it into an email, thinking it will endear them to their audience. The result is usually a cringe-worthy effort that’s better left to everyday English.
This is the same reason you don’t try writing your ad copy in a foreign language.
Unless you’re intimately familiar with the slang and the audience that uses it, you’re going to mess it up. It’ll most likely feel awkward and ham-fisted.
Your regular audience will feel the disconnect, and the market you’re trying to impress will sense a lack of authenticity.
Instead: Use Trade Terms
Good slang (i.e. meaningful and necessary language) and jargon may help endear you to certain in-groups, but you want to target those groups carefully.
Know the lingo of your industry and the insider terms related to your key customer personas’ interests. You should already know the former, and you can get to know the latter through continual, meaningful interaction.
That way, you’re using the language properly and applying it to strengthen your relationships and legitimacy.
4. Unnecessary Description
Examples: Very, Unique, Really
Stephen King famously wrote, “The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.” Avoid the temptation to insert unnecessary (and often meaningless) descriptor words like:
These words fill up copy space without saying anything meaningful. They’re generally positive, but don’t paint a clear picture or offer useful information. They’re just there, doing nothing.
Another famous author, Mark Twain, advised replacing every instance of words like this with the word “damn.” When he wrote drafts, an editor would remove the curse word, and the sentence would then be as it should.
Instead: Use Meaningful Description
Replace every empty word in your copy with descriptive text that paints a vibrant, specific picture of the value and benefits you offer.
Your product or service is never “unique”; it’s “developed over 10,000 hours of testing and consulting with consumers and experts alike.”
Nothing is “amazingly well made”; it’s “constructed to specifications (you list by the numbers), according to your industry demands.”
5. Indicators of Entry-Level Qualities
Examples: Expert, Experienced, Friendly
This final item is a slight variation on the above theme.
Don’t mention your expert consultants, experienced technicians, or friendly customer service representatives in your email marketing.
Consultants are supposed to be experts. Why would you hire a consultant with no expertise?
Likewise, technicians are supposed to be experienced, and unfriendly customer service representatives have no place in your company (@Mark M. of Comcast…). Don’t waste valuable ad space and customer time bragging about a baseline level accomplishment.
Instead: Use Personal Instead
Instead of using a generic, blanket statement about your team, write up a specific team member profile and insert it in an email.
Don’t tell the reader about your expert consultant. Tell them about Jenny Tran’s education, experience, and career accomplishments.
Don’t mention your experienced technicians. Describe Arthur Wise’s training in the military, followed by 1,000 hours in your shop. This proves your team’s qualifications while building a connection in a way flat adjectives can’t.
Another way to look at it is to ask yourself, “What would Don Draper do”?
Then, don’t do that.
If you’re tempted to include a phrase that would fit perfectly into Mad Men-era broadcast marketing, cut it. What worked for that sort of marketing not only fails for content campaigns but can actively alienate modern consumers.
If Don Draper would do it, you should at least think carefully before doing it yourself.
Because who wears a suit to work anymore, anyway?
Peter Langer is a California-based marketing specialist who provides one-on-one advice to small and medium-sized companies.
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