Blog PostsOnline CreativeStorytelling & WritingThe platitude sickness: Taking out the trash of corporate speak

The platitude sickness: Taking out the trash of corporate speak

I sometimes hate what I do for a living.

A sizeable portion of what I write for clients will pass through numerous of filters before getting published. And the end result is nothing but a dwindling tirade of cringy corporate platitudes.

I’m not alone in feeling this way. We’re all exposed to corporate speak. Whether you’re in marketing and communications or not, you’ll see these platitudes everywhere. And for some reason, platitudes are becoming the go-to format for many branded content strategies.

According to Wikipedia:

“A platitude is a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease. The word derives from plat, the French word for “flat.” Platitudes are geared towards presenting a shallow, unifying wisdom over a difficult topic. However, they are too overused and general to be anything more than undirected statements with an ultimately little meaningful contribution towards a solution.”

Corporate platitudes are such a waste of editorial space. Unfortunately, the platitude sickness tends to do quite well in social media.

A text loaded with obvious statements and no real knowledge can still attract quite a lot of social engagement. People often hit that “Like” button (or emoji-button or whatever) without even reading the actual article it refers to.

“It’s important to have a strategy.”

“Always put the customer first.”

“Be proactive and think long-term.”

“Publish epic content.”

Their engagement reflects how they agree with the headline and how it adds to their own personal worldview1. It’s probably also a psychological bandwagon-effect2 at play, a way of signal belonging to important social circles.

So, how can you combat the platitude sickness in your corporate communication?

Make it your personal mission to find platitudes and to destroy them. As this becomes a ritual, you’ll develop an “allergy” to corporate platitudes — and removing them will become second nature.

Welcome to the fight — I’m happy to have you onboard.

Photo by Niko Lienata on Unsplash.

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  1. See Wikipedia: Cognitive Dissonance.
  2. Wikipedia: The Bandwagon Effect.

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Avatar of Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.org/
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
  1. Nice post Jerry! I do think a lot on what quality in content marketing really is. Lately I’ve been struggling with one particular issue and that is why we tend to think that all great content must be aimed to solve a real problem. Or as it often is described, help your customer on their buying journey. I am not a big fan of that platitude at all. Not all good content must be aimed to solve problems, there are more to it. Inspiration, feel-good and more. I am working on a post on it, will come back and post when I am done.

    Now, back to your post and one of your examples. If a post with the title “Always put the customer first” only told me the importance of doing that, it’s crap. If the post also described a model for how to do it in a really smart way, it would probably get my attention. Than it goes from just “noise” to at least having a chance to add some value to me. Also, when doing so, that content piece includes a personal touch and a story that might attract me to some level to its writer.

    See what I mean?

    • Glad you got my point. There is of course obvious that answers on questions from your audience is crucial, but I the very best of content marketers do more than that. They support my buying journey as everyone tries to do. But even more important, they support my personal adventure as an entrepreneur and marketer.

      By doing that they secure a place in my mind as enablers of my own success what ever that might be. I’ll even fight to keep those brands/solution even though there might be good logical reasons to make switch.

      Take care Jerry!

  2. I fully agree with you. That is why I find the messaging hierarchy model (budskapshierarki) so useful. Basically, there are four levels in the hierarchy. I think it works for personal posting as well as for brand dev, because in the process of using it, you can’t escape the ‘why’ question.

    At the top there is a brand promise or brand positioning statement. This promise can be very open since it’s reflecting the brands understanding of a basic human need. It’s the answer to ‘why should I care?’.

    Second level is the product or service promise, for each and every product the brand is providing. These promises are the ‘reasons-to-buy’.

    Third level is handling rethoric issuses and persuasion. Facts and benefits for every second level promise, where every fact corresponds to a single benefit. It’s the answer to ‘how is it possible?’.

    Fourth level is about the offer. The answer to ‘why right now?’. Or call-to-action if you like. But that’s a separate topic.

    Thinking through the three top levels should wipe out any platitudes in messaging. The third rethoric level in particular. The process can take weeks or months for a brand organisation. But the cognitive process itself is not very hard and can be applied to any messaging activity.

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