It’s always nice to be praised, but have you ever met someone who doled out too many compliments?
I had a boss like that years ago, before I got into content marketing. Every day, as I left the office, she would call out, “Thanks, Taylor. Great work today! You’re a rock star.”
At first, her words made me feel appreciated and confident. But I soon noticed three things:
It didn’t matter whether I had actually achieved something great that day or whether she’d yelled at me for half an hour that morning. Regardless, I was a “rock star.”
After a while, her words didn’t make me feel like a rock star. They didn’t make me feel anything at all. Her praise was perfunctory, routine, meaningless. She might as well have just said bye.
Image attribution: Austin Neill
That’s the thing about words. Use them too much and they start to lose their power.
It’s also an important lesson in content marketing. Consumers and business buyers hear a lot of jargon and hyperbole these days. And the more they hear them, the less they listen.
Buzzwords have always abounded in business, and brands have never been afraid of a little hyperbole. But in the digital age, there’s just so much content, which means so many opportunities to use the same industry jargon as everyone else (which makes you seem lazy) and to exaggerate about everything (which makes you sound crazy).
More importantly, buzzwords and hyperbole dilute your message—and your credibility. Here’s why.
The hyperbolic nature of modern marketing even shows up in our punctuation. Just take a look at social media and your email inbox. You’re likely to see more exclamation points than periods.
English teachers and journalism professors have long cautioned students, “You only get seven exclamation points in your life. Use them wisely.” These days, many marketers blow through their lifelong quota in a single social media post.
Why wouldn’t they? After all, when you’re saying something is “life-changing,” “mind-blowing,” or “the best thing ever,” a period seems like an insufficient way to end a sentence.
But ask yourself this: How many products, solutions, or experiences actually are mind-blowing or life-changing? And how often do you believe brands when they tell you they’re the best thing ever?
Your audience isn’t stupid. They rarely think of household products as transformative, or food as epic, or new technology as disruptive. If you keep telling them it is, why should they believe anything else you say?
Think about a time you discovered a great new song—a song that moved you, that seemed like the words were written about your own life, or that simply brightened your day when you heard it. Either way, it meant something to you. It made you feel something…at least the first couple dozen times you heard it.
Then suddenly that song was everywhere—on the radio, playing overhead at Starbucks, even in commercials. After a while, you barely even heard the words anymore, much less felt anything about them. Worse yet, you eventually got so tired of the song that it began to annoy you.
A buzzword works the same way. When it first comes into use, it’s a new way to talk about something meaningful and important. But over time, it loses its emotional appeal.
For example, the word disruption was originally used to describe innovations that shook up entire industries, bankrupted competitors, and dramatically changed consumer behavior—companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Apple. Now it’s used to describe everything from new software functionality to new marketing strategies.
But if everything is disruptive, nothing is disruptive. And if everything is “the best ever,” nothing is the best.
Words lose their meaning with overuse, and if your words are void of meaning, you stand very little chance of making an emotional connection.
Disruptive innovators get famous. Disruptive school children get detention.
One problem with jargon and hyperbole is that they aren’t usually new words. They’re old words with new definitions. As such, they’re vague and open to interpretation. Just ask a roomful of people what cloud means or what epic means. You’ll get a lot of different answers.
Writers often use a buzzword or hyperbole to make content more conversational, but unless everyone in your audience understands the meaning of a word, some people are being left out of the conversation.
More often than not, the buzzword you’re planning to use is an unnecessary adjective or adverb, and as Stephen King famously said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
That’s because great storytelling—and great content marketing—is about showing, not telling. Saying an event will be “awesome” is telling. Describing what someone will take away from that event is showing. Calling a solution “transformative” is telling. Explaining how it helped a customer achieve specific goals is showing.
I’m being hyperbolic. Everything I said is true. But there’s a caveat: Hyperbole and buzzwords aren’t always bad.
Sometimes a buzzword or hyperbole makes the most sense. Sometimes it’s a good SEO keyword. Sometimes it’s even part of your brand.
Take Pure Organics, for example. My son loves their squeezable baby food pouches, so I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the packaging.
On the back are two short paragraphs about the brand and product. The word amazing appears four times. In bold are the words “feed amazing” with a registered trademark sign. The packaging also explains that “amazing deserves amazing” and that “the greatest, most amazing people on the planet are babies.”
That’s about as hyperbolic as it gets. The crazy thing is that it works.
Image attribution: Janko Ferlic
It works because parents are hyperbolic. We say our babies are the most beautiful babies in the world, the sweetest and most special babies in the world. We don’t just say it; we believe it. Everything they do—from walking to talking to going pee-pee on the potty—amazes us, even though there’s nothing extraordinary about it.
Pure Organics’ branding works because it’s hyperbolic with a purpose.
When I was in college, many English professors would mark papers down a full letter grade if students used even one sentence fragment or comma splice. A guy in one of my classes questioned the logic of the policy. He pointed out to our professor that the books of many famous writers—from William Faulkner to Virginia Woolf—are riddled with sentence fragments and comma splices.
The professor countered, “But you are still learning how to be a good writer. You have to know the rules before you can break them with purpose.”
Jargon and hyperbole break the rules of good writing. If you’re going to break those rules, do it with purpose, not out of habit or laziness.
Most brands want to create content that is conversational but also professional, approachable but also knowledgeable and trustworthy, engaging but also full of valuable insights. Jargon, hyperbole, and exclamation points won’t help do that. But great storytelling will.
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Featured image attribution: Joshua Earle