Seth Godin on Cliches



When you launch a new idea or project into the world, you’ll probably use connections to what has come before as a way to tell your story.

Caribou Coffee, for example, uses all sorts of metaphors and cues and even verbal tropes that we learned from Starbucks. These signals help us understand that the place we’re about to enter isn’t a steakhouse, isn’t a shoeshine stand and isn’t a massage parlor. It’s a place to get a latte.

Books that want to be bestsellers work hard to look like previous bestsellers, from the store where they are sold to how many pages long they are to how much they cost. These signals help us determine that this object is something worth buying and reading.

Cable TV does this, politicans do this, computer resellers do this.

Here’s the thing: you can’t stand out if you fit in all the way, and thus the act of deciding which part isn’t going to match is the important innovation.

Matching an element almost looks like failure. Matching not-at-all, on the other hand, is the refreshing whack on the side of the head that causes attention to be paid.

When your car looks like a car but the doors are gullwing, we notice them. When your suit looks like a suit but the lining is orange, we notice it. When you apply for a job and you don’t have a resume, we notice it.

This was the secret of the golden age of comic books. 90% of every hero was on key, professionaly done, easy to understand… which allowed the remarkable parts to stand out.

You can’t be offbeat in all ways, because then we won’t understand you and we’ll reject you. Some of the elements you use should be perfectly aligned with what we’re used to.

The others… Not a little off. A lot off.

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