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The Whiteboard: Seven branding cliches that deserve to be banished forever

The handshake photo. It’s arguably the biggest cliché in B2B communications and can be found throughout advertising, websites, collateral, Facebook and Instagram. It is easily one of the most popular stock photo categories.

And it means just about nothing.

Why? Because the implied message is basic trust, which is the most elementary component of every brand. Adding a handshake photo doesn’t build trust. Saying “Trust me!” doesn’t build trust. Experience builds trust. And it happens over time, not overnight. Think of any brand you ever bought for the first time. Did you trust it completely before you made the purchase? No. You had to see for yourself. And if that brand earned your trust, you were likely to buy it again. That’s the key: A brand can’t claim trust; it has to earn it.

“Our people make the difference.” The sentiment is admirable and may earn a brand a few points for recognizing the value of employees. But ultimately, this common phrase leaves unanswered the question of “What makes your people so much better when they walk through the doors of your building?” Is it training? Selective hiring? Embracing a philosophy of service or innovation? Answer some of those questions and your brand will start to stand out. Think of a brand that does have exceptional people, like FedEx or L.L. Bean. Do you see them claiming that’s what makes their brand better? No. And it’s partly because their training and brand philosophy is what really makes the difference. People power is great, but it has to be hooked up to a brand concept to be effective.

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Businessmen and -women running on a track in full dress clothes and with briefcases. This is another favorite of the B2B world. It is supposed to communicate competitiveness, but rather than being an interesting analogy, it usually just looks silly. Your brand is competitive? Wow. But what brand isn’t trying to win? The irony of these kinds of ads is that the brand in question is invariably not the leader of its category but is, instead, trying to convince you that they will try really hard to earn your business. Because they have no real point of difference to their product or their brand, all they have left is communicating (poorly) how much effort and desire they have. News flash: Everyone is trying to win. Everyone wants to succeed. There has to be more than that to a build a brand.

“Your trusted source.” See handshake photos above. Every brand is about trust. When no one trusts a brand, it ceases to exist. ‘Nuff said.

“We provide solutions.” This is possibly even more basic than trust when it comes to building a brand. Every product, every service is a solution for something. It’s a generic concept that essentially says, “We sell a product.” That isn’t news. It doesn’t differentiate. It doesn’t build a brand. Please tell us why your solutions are consistently better, not just that you have them. Apple continually provides some of the best solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had. But the brand is about what those solutions bring to you — the joy of the discovery process and individual creativity, or the simplicity of using a smartphone or a computer or an MP3 player without having to read a manual.

“Solutions you can trust.” All I can say is, two wrongs don’t make a right.

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“Got milk?” rip-offs (and rip-offs of other popular campaigns). Borrowing from another brand’s popularity and awareness may be cute or even entertaining for a short time, but it is ultimately unsustainable and legally hazardous. “Got milk?” has been perverted to “Got oil?” for an oil recycler, “Got poop?” for a septic tank pumping company; “Got debt?” “Got muscle?” and “Got Jesus?” were a few more. In fact, “Got milk?” was ripped off so many times that the originators of “Got milk?” actually produced a poster with more than 100 “Got Milk?” rip-offs on it. Jeff Manning of the California Milk Processor Board used the phrase “stupid rip-offs” to describe the spoofs in an “AdWeek” article. “We love them,” Manning says in the story. “They actually help us sell milk. Consumers hear ‘Got muscle?’ or ‘Got mongoose?’ and say, ‘What a stupid rip-off of ‘Got milk?’”

Got cliché? Get rid of it.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via

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