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January 25, 2007

Experience the what?

“Experience the excellence.”

That tagline was on a brochure that just came across our desk. The excellence of what, you might be wondering. A supercharged turbo-powered automobile? A revered educational institution? A facial?

The brochure is actually for a company that offers luxury vacation home rentals. But from that line, you’d never know it. That’s the problem with a line like “Experience the excellence.” It doesn’t really say anything about anything. Its essence is such a trite sentiment – “Try our product, it’s good” — that it barely registers, much less makes an impression. As a tool of marketing communication, it fails.

In their new book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explore the elements that make an idea “sticky.” They use a number of real world examples and leave readers with an incredibly useful – and accurate – guideline for identifying why an idea does – and doesn’t have impact. According to the two authors, a sticky idea is always: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and a Story (leave off the last S for succinctness, I guess).

While it could be called simple (in the sense of common or plain, rather than easy to understand), “Experience the excellence” fails to exhibit any of the other attributes. It is, in fact, quite the opposite: Typical, Ambiguous, Questionable, Cold and Prosaic.

You can see what that spells.

Why would a person trying to push a product rely on such an ineffective message? Heath and Heath refer to the “curse of knowledge” that keeps marketers from being simple and condemns the rest of the world to a barrage of information we can never understand or care about. Well, there’s another thing that often gets cooked up in the marketing cauldron: the curse of generic superlatives.

We’re all afflicted from time to time. I know I’ve positioned products “heads and shoulders above the rest.” Who hasn’t anointed the “best of the best” at one point or another? Raise your hand if you’ve ever described something as “exceptional in every way.”

Now use that hand to smack yourself in the head. (Ouch!) Maybe that will teach us to avoid such overused and useless platitudes when we’re trying to make a point.

This product is good. You should try it.

Guess what? Every single marketer for every single product on the planet can—and will—make that same claim, including your competition. So you better find something more compelling to say if you want your audience to pay attention.

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