New year; new election; same worn out metaphors.
We’ve heard the sounds of shattering glass, calls to build bridges, and threats to build walls—in both the metaphorical and terrifyingly literal sense.
As moving and monumental as some of these moments have been, I can’t suppress the flicker of an eye roll each time I hear one of these hackneyed metaphors.
I get it, there’s good reason why we use metaphors in political speeches: they’re powerful. A well-formed metaphor can quickly communicate complex subjects, spark emotions that resonate, and paint vivid images that cement the message in the mind—the exact reasons they make great copywriting strategies.
As the author James Geary explains in his Ted talk, metaphors influence decisions and open doors to discovery.
But when we hear a metaphor for the thousandth time—without pyrotechnics or cheering crowds—does it have the same emotional impact as it once did? Do we even notice it? What happens when the metaphor is used in a piece of website content?
“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.” – Salvador Dali
Reflecting on the Melania Trump–speech plagiarism fiasco, Marketsmiths copywriter Stacy Livingston argued an interesting point: that regardless of plagiarism, the speech is still bad (copy)writing. By rehashing sentiments made countless times before, Melania is guilty of “sacrificing original ideas and succumbing to platitudes.”
How better to describe the crime of the hackneyed metaphor?
No matter how strong your message, lazy delivery kills its impact. In your website copy, you must deliver your messages with originality, individuality, and flair.
You’re not peddling snake oil. You have a valuable solution that can make life easier for the right customer and you need to show this in your copy.
But use clichéd metaphors to describe your product or service, and you’ll turn your audience off. You’ll fail to capture attention or inspire excitement. You’ll appear no different to the ineffective solutions your prospects have already tried.
When you generate excitement, more people buy. What gets people excited? New (or, at least, new to your prospects), promising solutions. Rely on tired metaphors—in copy or political speeches—and you won’t appear to be the new solution people are hungry for.
“Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” – George Orwell
The endlessly inventive George Orwell taught us: on the quest for originality, avoid clichés (most of the time) so not to spin a string of half-baked metaphors when communicating your message.
But don’t be put off by the lofty language of the poetic. Metaphors in website copy don’t need to be literary masterpieces; they just have to be clear, relevant, and meaningful.
So, how do you write an original metaphor?
Although not an easy task, writing an original metaphor isn’t as difficult as you may believe.
Try approaching the problem from the tail end. Ask yourself: Where do I want my metaphor to leave the reader? What emotions do I want to stir? What actions do I want them to take?
Next, list the characteristics of your product or service. Then look for parallels in familiar domains that could explain your offer without directly mentioning it. Your metaphor should be easily understood—no mixed metaphors—and feel fresh, so scrap the obvious comparisons as you go.
Using this approach to breathe life into stale metaphors can help you craft messages that stick.
Let’s take a look at this in action…
What the hell is a website heat map, you ask? Crazy Egg explains with a metaphor:
Crazy Egg is like a pair of x-ray glasses that lets you see exactly what people are doing on your website.
In their website copy, Zendesk uses the extended metaphor of relationships to explain their customer service software:
Unlike pants, you never grow out of a good relationship.
And UK-based marketing company, Velocity Partners, uses cooking to describe their approach to their blog:
While other bloggers are Googling up social sludge to ‘curate’, we’re slaving over a hot WordPress to bring you fresh, fragrant insights from the actual front lines of B2B content marketing.
Seeking the perfect metaphors to enhance your brand copywriting? We’re here to help.
We know the tricks of the trade, and know how to use them to create actionable copy for your brand. This includes spotting metaphors and sprucing them up to be the best they can be. If they’re original, how can they more tightly pertain to the subject at hand? If hackneyed, maybe they serve a purpose? If not, we twist them to be fresh.
This is just the tip of our strategy iceberg. Want to know more? Give us a call.