“You should ensure that all your marketing efforts are effective.”

According to Wikipedia:

“A platitude is a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease. The word derives from plat, the French word for “flat.” Platitudes are geared towards presenting a shallow, unifying wisdom over a difficult topic. However, they are too overused and general to be anything more than undirected statements with an ultimately little meaningful contribution towards a solution.”

Whether you’re in marketing and communications or not, you’ll see platitudes everywhere. And for some reason, platitudes are becoming the go-to format for many branded content strategies.

Let me give you a few examples of commonly used platitudes seen everywhere in B2B-type content:

Exhibit A: “It’s important to have a strategy.”

Honestly, how many professionals would think that their brand should go without a strategy?

Exhibit B: “Be patient and think long-term.”

Sure, but how? How exactly do I get rid of those pesky feelings of impatience and those internal pressures of producing results as fast as possible?

Exhibit C: “Always put the customer first.”

Once again, a perfectly valid approach to business in general: being customer-centric. But how exactly does one put the customer first? That’s the actionable type of advice we’re looking for.

Exhibit D: “You should produce epic content.”

Good content tends to perform better than not-so-good content. Right. Producing really, really, really good content must then be many times better? Please…

The Sad Part…

Platitude writing tends to do relatively well in social media. A text loaded with obvious statements and no real knowledge can still attract quite a lot of social engagement. How is this possible?

For one thing, people often hit that “Like” button (or emoji-button or whatever) without even reading the actual article it refers to. Instead, their engagement reflects how they agree with the headline and how it adds to their own personal world view1. It’s probably also a psychological bandwagon-effect2 at play, a way of signal belonging to important social circles.

In short: Those are not the kind of brand ambassadors your brand should be aiming for.

How to Fight Platitudes

If you’re a content producer — how can you avoid dispensing platitudes in your own persuasive writing?

As you copy-edit your content, also schedule a platitude check and kill them off without mercy. With a little bit of conscious editing, you’ll soon become ‘allergic’ to platitudes and removing them will become second nature.

Happy hunting!

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  1. See Wikipedia: Cognitive Dissonance.
  2. Wikipedia: The Bandwagon Effect.
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stefankrafftDoctor SpinEric Lindesvärd Recent comment authors

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stefankrafft
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stefankrafft

Nice post Jerry! I do think a lot on what quality in content marketing really is. Lately I’ve been struggling with one particular issue and that is why we tend to think that all great content must be aimed to solve a real problem. Or as it often is described, help your customer on their buying journey. I am not a big fan of that platitude at all. Not all good content must be aimed to solve problems, there are more to it. Inspiration, feel-good and more. I am working on a post on it, will come back and post when I am done.

Now, back to your post and one of your examples. If a post with the title “Always put the customer first” only told me the importance of doing that, it’s crap. If the post also described a model for how to do it in a really smart way, it would probably get my attention. Than it goes from just “noise” to at least having a chance to add some value to me. Also, when doing so, that content piece includes a personal touch and a story that might attract me to some level to its writer.

See what I mean?

stefankrafft
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stefankrafft

Glad you got my point. There is of course obvious that answers on questions from your audience is crucial, but I the very best of content marketers do more than that. They support my buying journey as everyone tries to do. But even more important, they support my personal adventure as an entrepreneur and marketer.

By doing that they secure a place in my mind as enablers of my own success what ever that might be. I’ll even fight to keep those brands/solution even though there might be good logical reasons to make switch.

Take care Jerry!

Eric Lindesvärd
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I fully agree with you. That is why I find the messaging hierarchy model (budskapshierarki) so useful. Basically, there are four levels in the hierarchy. I think it works for personal posting as well as for brand dev, because in the process of using it, you can’t escape the ‘why’ question.

At the top there is a brand promise or brand positioning statement. This promise can be very open since it’s reflecting the brands understanding of a basic human need. It’s the answer to ‘why should I care?’.

Second level is the product or service promise, for each and every product the brand is providing. These promises are the ‘reasons-to-buy’.

Third level is handling rethoric issuses and persuasion. Facts and benefits for every second level promise, where every fact corresponds to a single benefit. It’s the answer to ‘how is it possible?’.

Fourth level is about the offer. The answer to ‘why right now?’. Or call-to-action if you like. But that’s a separate topic.

Thinking through the three top levels should wipe out any platitudes in messaging. The third rethoric level in particular. The process can take weeks or months for a brand organisation. But the cognitive process itself is not very hard and can be applied to any messaging activity.

Eric Lindesvärd
Guest

Thank you for a great post! I would be honored.