As most of my colleagues at Clarity know, I am a big lover of words. My most oft-used mobile app is Shortyz Crosswords. I occasionally coin my own terms when the existing ones don’t quite do it (favorites include deja tune, which is having a song stuck in your head, and klognichtfreuden, which is the exclamation one cries out upon the sudden realization that he/she is wearing totally the wrong shoes for their outfit). I even joke about officially changing my middle name, so I can legally be Sherry Word Smith.
But there is one word that I can no longer stand, and I see it all the time, especially in marketing and PR. I’m so fed up that it’s now my mission to eradicate it. And it’s not one of those like “Moist,” which is just kind icky sounding. This one has just been so overused that it’s now meaninglessness, and so it must die.
I am on a mission to kill the “Leader.”
Just go take a look at a bunch of random press releases. I bet at least 75 percent of them use “the leader” or “the leading” right out of the gate, in the clause known as the strapline. The strapline is supposed to a short, easily-remembered phrase that highlights a company’s differentiators or the core of a brand. The word “leader” does not accomplish either of those things. In fact, it almost says the opposite – that you’ve nothing else to rest your laurels on than an empty and meaningless word.
So what’s the alternative? Be descriptive! Remember that you have precious little time to grab a reader’s attention. When you waste that window by filling it with benign phrases or low-impact superlatives, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Don’t default to thing that everyone else does. Instead, highlight the thing that actually makes you different from your competitors. If you claim to be the leading whatever because you have more users, then you can say, “company X, the world’s largest whatever by number of users worldwide.”
Now, don’t leave off that last part. We PR professionals are great guides for helping you tell your story the way you want the listener/reader to understand it, but the truth always has to be at the heart. If you make a claim, you absolutely have to be able to support that claim. If you don’t, you’re back in the no-meaning zone.
So take a look at your strapline and ask yourself if it’s really doing anything for you. Could another company just swap your name for theirs and it’d still hold relatively true? If so, you should change it. Don’t treat that strapline like an afterthought. Think long and hard about what it really is that separates you from everyone else. Patents? Awards? Growth rate? Revenue? A feature no one else offers? There’s got to be something, or else you wouldn’t still be in business. That’s what you want to call out. Something memorable, something unique.
Just don’t use “innovative.” Or “disruptive.” Those are on my “hit” list, too.