As an experiment, I searched the web to find out which words different businesses use to describe themselves. My theory was that I would discover an overall pattern shared by all the businesses, but the results were much more surprising. The patterns within business types was striking and unexpected. Let’s look at the research and the results.
- “Installations from as little as £1700”
- “Leading heating company providing a quality service”
- “Over 35 years’ experience of servicing, repairing and installing boiler and central heating systems”
- “A company you can trust to deliver a service that is second to none”
- “Fully trained boiler installers”
- “A reputation for quality workmanship and friendly customer service”
- “You can be assured you’ve chosen the right company for your boiler installation”
- “Get your new boiler from as little as £42.99 a month”
- “We are your boiler specialist with a personal service”
- “We are an experienced team of highly qualified boiler engineers”
Boiler installers describe themselves with words that make them indistinguishable from their competitors. They talk about providing a quality service, having an experienced team, and that they deliver a service that is second to none. Although they’re trying hard to persuade people to trust them, they need to let their guard down and show us the human beings behind the mask of quality service and trained staff.
- “Dance tuition for all ages & abilities”
- “Dancing is for everyone so our classes are all inclusive”
- “Everyone & anyone can join”
- “It is our aim to teach quality dancing to all – from complete beginners to advanced dancers”
- “We provide lessons for all ages and abilities”
- “From the very young to the young at heart”
The dance schools I looked at were distinct from each other and had their own personality, which was encouraging. However, they could push their differences much further. All of them felt a powerful desire to say that they provide dance tuition for all ages & abilities, which means that none of them are properly targeting a specific audience. If they want to show the diversity of their students, then they could show it with photography, video and testimonials.
- Escape everyday life to relax and unwind
- Wide range of home-made meals
- Fabulous coffee
- Just the place for you
- Relaxed atmosphere
- Homemade cakes and sandwiches
- A fabulous cup of coffee
- Fantastic selection of food & drink
The three cafés I clicked on all had something special and attractive about them. Still, the uniformity was there, summarised as relaxed atmosphere, fabulous coffee and a range of homemade food. If this is the baseline that all cafés know they need to cater to, then there’s no need to mention it. Photographs can show the atmosphere. If the coffee is fabulous, tell me more about its origins and how it’s prepared. If the food is homemade, show me a video of it being cooked.
It looks like all photographers see the importance of having a unique brand. One of them did describe himself as “professional”, but I’ll let that go. I couldn’t find a single photographer that didn’t create a brand personality by emphasising his or her origin story. If you want to copy an existing business website, copy a photographer’s.
- Top quality Ladies & Gents hair salon
- We offer top class hair and beauty treatments
- An amazing experience
- A luxurious salon experience
- We offer exceptionally high standards in customer service
- We want to deliver not just good service but exceptional service
- Well-known in the area for delivering great customer service
- Delivered with unrivalled customer service
- We offer a relaxing environment
- You’ll leave us feeling relaxed
- A great, relaxed atmosphere
- Do you need an expert hairdresser?
- Delivered by experts who have unrivalled technical skill
Cutting hair is creative, so I expected to find low levels of uniformity. Surprisingly, hairdressers are more like boiler installers than photographers. Every one of them offers quality, customer service, relaxation and expert staff. This is strange because every haircut is an emotional transformation – a story waiting to be told. With a little bit of creativity and a lot of bravery, any individual salon has an instant marketing opportunity.
Break away from the pack
What’s clear is that many businesses feel compelled to use the same language as their established competitors, as though the words that their competitors use have some magic to them. Photographers, cafés and dance schools feel a healthy pressure to have an identity. Boiler installers and hairdressers feel an unhealthy pressure not to have a distinct identity.
If you’re ready to become a business that nobody can copy, don’t use anything in your communications that boasts superficially about how experienced, qualified, skilled, trained or expert you are. Instead, show us your actual qualifications and awards. If you struggled to achieve them, tell us about it – we’re interested. If you want to let people know that you’re experienced, tell us about your experiences.
Don’t tell us anything that is a meaningless superlative like best, top, fantastic, fabulous, amazing, exceptional, unrivalled, second to none, or great. Instead, ask your customers for testimonials and publish them. Don’t boast about your customer service. Instead, just treat your customers with respect and try to solve their problems. They will tell their friends.