Marketing’s Unprecedented Use of “Unprecedented” is Weakening Your Message

August 26, 2020

Written by John Centofanti

John’s background spans the creative side of business, including content writing, branding, graphic design, and more. In 2006, John founded Creative Stream Marketing, serving national retailers, tech companies, and B2B companies across the US.

The use of unprecedented has certainly only been followed by uncertain.

Unprecedented

A quick search of my inbox a few months back showed more than 300 instances of the word “unprecedented“ and over 450 instances of the word “uncertain.” Add to that the number of times we’ve heard them on TV commercials, social media, newscasts, and everywhere online. We know these are unprecedented and uncertain times. Why? The news and caring companies everywhere have told us so.

It’s true. We’re living in unprecedented times. Marketers everywhere have been tasked with assuring customers their respective companies will be there for them during these unprecedented times.

It is uncertain if I can ever use unprecedented again without thinking of COVID-19. I hope we don’t ruin this word. To be clear, it’s not that any one company has overused this word. It’s that everyone says it in every place possible. Now it’s time to stop.

Unprecedented:

Without previous instance; never before known or experienced; unexampled or unparalleled.

Uncertain:

Not able to be relied on; not known or definite.

Euphemism:

A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

Does the Continued Use of “Unprecedented” Matter?

Yes. It does. Why? The entire world knows these times are uncommon, unusual, uncertain, and yes, unprecedented. It’s a word you hear world leaders use to assign some sort of meaning to what we are facing. Unprecedented is a euphemism. It’s a kinder way of saying, “We don’t really know what’s happening, but since we’re leaders, we can’t say that. We didn’t prepare for this because we couldn’t fully prepare for this. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we have to let you know you’re safe in our hands anyway.”

This isn’t a criticism of anyone using the word. In fact, one of our fine clients used this word for the same reasons as everyone else. Now, we need to move on. Everyone knows that government, business, and academic leaders are doing their best to address something that’s not taught in school, and no events like it in modern history compare.

Same Boat

I read a social post that illustrated this time well:

“WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT… I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.”

The point is that some people have lost loved ones, and some don’t know how they will buy food tomorrow, while some have been enjoying a paid, three-month vacation. Same storm. Different boat.

COVID-19 will still be headline news indefinitely. I’m finishing this post while waiting for an appointment at a well-respected hospital. Any staff here will stress the gravity of the virus. One healthcare worker told me she helps intake patients who arrive with COVID-19. It’s real.

Regardless of your political persuasion, the media will make sure the COVID-19 story does not go away for a very long time. It’s easy to predict endless news stories of the terrible impact of COVID that they supposedly didn’t mention in the previous 7 months. The media will continue to push an impending apocalypse.

Why Stop Using the Word Unprecedented?

1. COVID Fatigue.
Every person who hasn’t been in a coma has heard it too many times. There’s more to life than COVID, and people want to move forward.

2. It dilutes your message.
Unless you work in the healthcare space, COVID is not your business. Of course, every business and human on the planet is affected by COVID. If your business is producing a technology solution, selling cars, painting, performing accounting services, building websites, or basically anything else, stop with this COVID messaging. Go back to the messaging that matters to your business.

Do we think people are sitting in their homes and saying, “I need to find a technology firm for my business, but I need to find one that can partner with me during this unprecedented time.” I’ll answer for you. They are not.

It’s safe to say, by now, all businesses have adapted in some way and will continue to adapt more over time. Further, many tech companies prior to COVID were either fully or partially virtual. Remote and distributed teams have been around forever. I’d guess the invention of the fax machine in 1843 increased the number of people who worked from home.

I’m proud to say Creative Stream Marketing has been virtual since its inception in 2006. Ironically, I felt the need to one day drive to an office to feel validated. Of course, early on I realized that was foolish. The results we deliver are far more important than where we sit.

3. It’s time to return to your reason for being in business.
If you think that reason is money, there are deeper issues I won’t address here. Almost all people I know who started and run a business want to change the world, even if in a small way. You know what I mean:

  • To create supply chain software that improves the customer experience and increases profit
  • To guide businesses in choosing the technology that’s most effective to scale their business
  • To help people find a time to meet without numerous back and forth emails
  • To make cupcakes that are sweeter and larger than all other cupcakes. Yes, please.

These reasons are why you had a business in the first place. These reasons are why customers will return to you. No one will return to you because of a strong COVID message reiterating these unprecedented times.

I often wonder what happened on December 11, 1941, when the US declared war on Germany. Certainly, Americans likely said, “These are unprecedented times. Our local factory is going to make airplanes instead of thimbles.” After a short period, I bet people stopped saying it.

Do you know of one person who chose to do business with a company because they felt assurance the company would be there for them during these unprecedented times? Me either.

For Creative Stream Marketing clients, here’s what we have done, and will continue to do: We adapt where necessary and reinforce their brand message that has helped them gain business in the first place.

Now that’s unprecedented.

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