The eyes are the windows to the soul. He’s a night owl. You chickened out. 

Metaphors are everywhere. We find them in our day-to-day speech. In entertainment and literature. There’s even one in the title of this article. 

Typically, metaphors aren’t associated with corporate content. They’re seen, perhaps, as too creative or floral to have any place in professional writing. Once you add them to the mix, though, you’ll have yourself stronger and more relatable content.

Comparing the incomparable

The concept of a metaphor is actually quite simple – although it can definitely be hard coming up with fresh ones. Metaphor is a form of comparison; taking two things and placing them next to each other, both for more engaging writing, but also for frame of reference.

Now, the trick that’s specific to a metaphor is that the two things you compare are actually completely different from each other.

But your argument is good enough to make the comparison between them believable.

Let’s say you’re doing a business journal series on how to build good customer relationships. In the beginning, you make the comparison that these relationships are exactly like plant seeds. They must be cultivated, watered, tended to with patience and appreciated in order to grow strong.

Now, we all know that a customer-business relationship and a plant seed are two entirely different things in their own right. But by building this argument, and balancing the concepts of relationship and seed against each other, you can eventually use the metaphor seamlessly;

First post: We like to think of our customer relationships as plant seeds – and we’re the gardeners responsible for them. When an individual has started interacting with us, it’s our job to cultivate the relationship with plenty of water, good soil and care.

Second post: Remember how customer relationships are the plant seeds of business? This week we discovered how much good a little water can do when the plant’s almost withered.

Third post: This week, we want to take a look at how important the gardener is to the customer relationship plant seed. If you don’t educate your team on how to water and tend to the plants, no weather conditions, soil or expensive flower pots will matter.

By the third entry, the metaphor has been established. Customers are plants. Company team members are gardeners. Emails exchanges are water and soil. None of these things are actually the same. But the comparison works – and so it’s plausible to the reader.

Plant seed metaphor

Significant detail as a creative writing tool 

There are two ways of using comparison in your content. The first one is what’s called a simile, and the second is the metaphor. The easiest way to tell these apart is: 

  • simile uses the word like or as for comparison
  • metaphor doesn’t

In practice, picking one of these is about how credible the comparison you’re making actually is. If it’s a stretch, you’re best off with a simile.

If you’ve set up the argument for your contrast – if it makes sense, in other words – a metaphor can be punchier.

Let’s say you’ve spent an entire blog post making mentions of how warm a meeting room was. The main topic of the piece are the things you’ve learnt in that meeting, but to make it more relatable and entertaining to your reader, you’ve added in significant details about the climate in the room.

When the audience is let in on your experience, finishing the piece off with a metaphor would make sense. ‘We walked out of the furnace,’ or ‘We left the room excited for our next steps, office roasts the lot of us,’ are both comparisons that don’t specifically point out the contrast you’re illustrating – but still serve the point.

On the other hand, if you’d want to start the piece off with a comparison, a simile might work better. ‘The meeting room was like a furnace,’ or ‘Our boss looked like a roasted chicken; it was so warm in the meeting room,’ both make sense because you’re iterating the comparison with the direct reasoning behind it.

Furnace metaphor

Ever metaphor you didn’t like?

And then there are the comparisons that don’t do what they’re supposed to do. They’re too obvious. Or too far of a stretch. They’ve become a cliché. Or they have no effect on the larger argument of the piece you’re writing.

Metaphor falls under the creative writing umbrella called ‘Show, don’t tell.’ The purpose of this tool is that it’ll illustrate or illuminate something to the reader. Something that makes the piece they’re reading more meaningful or relatable.

And ideally, you want to do that in an innovative way. If the metaphor doesn’t make the reader stop and think, you can probably do without it. If it makes them stop and question your argument, it doesn’t work either.

In business writing this means you should avoid:

  • clichés (metaphors that have been used so many times they’ve lost effect)
  • far-fetched metaphors (metaphors that aren’t convincing or believable)
  • mixed metaphors (metaphors that try to compare more than two things at the same time)

When you get comparisons right, you build a new dimension of reference for your reader. You create a world that they recognise and want to be a part of – and so develop the foundation for that customer relationship plant seed to grow exceptionally large and strong. 

Want to learn how to use metaphors in your business writing? Check out the 15-minute workshop here.