How Popular Clichés Apply to B2B Marketing

Ever since the end of the 1990s, there has been backlash against the proliferation of clichés in the business world. We have had our collective fill of managers preaching “synergy” and “putting the best foot forward.” Although well intentioned, even useful mottos collapsed under the weight of overuse. However, in my opinion, we’ve let a lot of helpful tips go by the wayside – in other words, we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

By the way, sorry for the overuse of clichés in the preceding paragraph, but hope it helps you get the idea. Following are a few of my favorites quotes, including their origins and how they apply to today’s marketer.

Stop beating a dead horse. This phrase was first used by a British politician who was saying that trying to get Parliament to act would be like trying to “flog a dead horse” into action. We’ve since transmuted that to mean that the point has been made, and there’s no further use in discussing it. But the truth is, when an idea is universally accepted in the business world, that’s just the time to challenge it.

The new kid in school. Not only is this a cliché, it’s a cliché every one of us has lived. We all know what it’s like to be a new presence in an environment where everybody knows each other. In business, this can refer to a company with a new way of doing things in a time-tested industry. We need to stop treating such companies as the weird new kid, and start listening to see if what they have to say might help us change the way we do things. The new kid is sometimes the smartest kid.

Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill. This phrase is actually a modification of a Russian saying: “Make an elephant out of a fly.” They mean the same thing in principle, which is to not focus all your attention on something insignificant in the grander scheme of things. For example, don’t put all your efforts into a logo redesign if you’ve got a weak branding statement. Another cliché used to remind us not to waste our efforts on the smallest part of the problem: “don’t major in the minors.”

Time heals all wounds. This phrase goes as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers, and if you can’t believe Socrates, who can you believe? It means that no matter how much something hurts now, the pain usually dulls with time. When you make the big mistake, or you are a victim of a merger or cutback, or a hundred other painful experiences, such situation often rebound to your benefit. As the book title says, there are only two rules: first, don’t sweat the small stuff and second, it’s all small stuff.

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Run it up the flagpole – and see who salutes. This catchphrase originated in the USA in the ’50s and has since been replaced by “send up a trial balloon.” At its core the meaning is the same: Let’s put the idea out there and see if anybody likes it. This pretty much describes every new marketing campaign I’ve worked on in the past 25 years. We roll things out in progressive stages and test response. If prospects salute (respond or buy), we do more of the same. If not, we try a different approach.

All’s fair in love and war. This phrase originated in John Lyly’s “Euphues” back in 1578. The original quote was “The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.” If we consider the competitive world of B2B marketing as a war, you bet this still applies. If we come upon a piece of information we can use to push ahead of the competition, we use it. We exploit their weaknesses and leverage our strengths in any way that does not violate good business ethics or do harm to our brand. Of course, as one of my 2011 blog posts points out, your marketing claims must always be believable.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk through the land of marketing clichés. There are many more on my favorites list so, perhaps I will revisit this subject in the next post.

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