Any brand needs to be able to communicate effectively with its customers, whether it’s an audience of one or millions. However, we’ve fallen into a bit of a pattern, overusing certain words because of their presumed impact on consumers. These words aren’t completely useless; in fact, at one time they were fresh and teeming with innovation. The problem is that when so many of us start to use them, they become stale and less exciting—also known as, marketing jargon.
Marketing Jargon 101
That’s okay, though. The first step is identifying the problem. And we’ve got a problem with marketing jargon. Here are some of the top words to look out for.
Thought leader is a term that’s tricky to use externally because it comes across as immodest, or even like you’re bragging. That makes it harder to connect with your customers. As Terminus CEO Sangram Vajre notes, this one comes in a lot of different forms: maven, visionary, guru, rock star, game changer, and ninja. You can use “rock star” to describe yourself if you’re in a band, but as far as being someone with a lot of knowledge to share, there are other options.
Just like “thought leader,” people glaze over “industry leading” because it’s used so regularly. Even if you are actually leading the industry in something, it’s better to show it, rather than merely making a claim. Compare your product with others—does it solve customer problems in a way other products don’t? Is it faster? More efficient? Uses less energy? Whatever your differentiators are, showing them and the results they provide goes a lot further than using a buzzword like “industry leading” does.
“I’m an influencer in this space!” Sure, influencer marketing can still be a very important part of any marketing plan, but we can be more strategic about using the term, especially for a Gen Z audience. Mallory Walsh, VP of Marketing at Stackla, adds that influencers, “as we think of them today are closer to reality TV stars than they are to your average consumer.” Think carefully before your market yourself as such.
Thanks to shows like Mr. Robot and You Don’t F*** with Cats, people can see the potential of hacking when used for good, but it’s still a term with a negative connotation overall. Tying it to your business, especially in customer-facing messaging, could backfire.
This is one of those words that looks fancy but can almost always be replaced by “use.” Don’t tell me we’re going to “leverage social media” as part of our plan. We’ll use it instead. While you’re at it, try to avoid “utilize,” as well.
Have you ever delivered actionable data or actionable results? Well, if you’ve ever provided data or results at all, then you have. Actionable doesn’t add much because if you’re combing through data that you can’t take action on, well…you have bigger problems than overusing buzzwords.
Saying something will “add value” is already fairly tiresome; we’d hope whatever you’re selling will be valuable to your intended customers. However, it’s much worse to flip it and turn it into a noun or adjective: “This service is a value-add for everyone across the world.” Doesn’t hold much weight, does it?
A quick sidebar: My dad sent me a story of a fourth-grader who recorded a delightful song about social distancing—here’s the video if you want to take a listen—and the story mentioned the song had gone viral. My dad asked when you know a video has gone viral, and it appears the answer is: you don’t. Going viral means something along the lines of “a lot of people have seen this,” but what that number is varies from person to person. It’s also a bad way to measure success. If your video “goes viral” but most of the viewers aren’t in your target audience, then it’s not a great marketing tool.
Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Honestly, I don’t agree with that.” And maybe you had a thought: Wait, does that mean they weren’t being honest with everything else they said? “Authentic” has the same issue. Customers expect companies to be authentic and genuine, and if your marketing is branded as “authentic” it may cause them to look elsewhere.
Holistic means you’re encompassing the whole of something, not specific parts of it. So, if you say you offer “holistic marketing,” you’re saying you can solve any problem. Here’s what’s wrong with that: no one company, product, or service can offer solutions for everybody. What if, instead of a blanket statement, you pose frequent customer questions or problems, and then show how you’ll solve them?
Similar to “holistic,” synergy believes two or more things offer a greater combined effect than one alone. A golfer and caddy may have great synergy. So do a guitar and amplifier. Even two pairs of hands playing pattycake can be synergistic. You can make the argument that any two things work better paired together, so you should make the argument to use a different word.
Psst, here’s a tip—every single business should be customer-centric. If you’re not focusing on your customers, your business likely won’t last very long. No need to say you’re customer-centric. Simply demonstrate that by solving problems for your customers.
This word has always meant something negative. “There’s been a disruption during the meeting” or “watching my 11th episode in a row of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix was disrupted by my router going out.” Yet, at some point, “disruption” became the hot buzzword for marketers and tech startups all across the globe to mean something that’s outside the norm. Of course, if everyone is “disruptive,” then really, nobody is.
This one seems a bit redundant, since you can just as easily address it with “pain,” or a less-used alternative, like “pulse check” or even simply “issue.” The biggest concern for your audience is how you’ll solve their problem. Caveat: If you’re a doctor testing out a sore area on someone’s body, you can maybe get away with asking a patient which spot on their back, arm or leg has the biggest pain point.
In these tough/uncertain times
This one has grown exponentially as companies navigate messaging around the coronavirus pandemic. You want to be sensitive to people’s situations, of course, but we all know these are tough or uncertain times. Go ahead and jump right to the heart of your message without including that setup.
Internal Terms We’re Overusing
As a bonus, here are some terms you’ve probably come across one too many times on conference calls, emails, and other meetings with teammates.
Let’s take this offline
A common conference call phrase, connecting offline refers to calling someone 1-on-1 instead of a larger group. It applies to emails, too; we’ll read about “touching base offline,” which makes less sense, since the touching base is usually still via email.
I’ll ping you
A similar technique to taking things offline, but a ping is a quicker message, while taking things offline is more of a commitment. Chances are high the ping comes when the recipient is in the middle of something more urgent.
These are the things you should be following. I had a marketing teacher in high school that always told us “we’re not reinventing the wheel here” with any project, and this is a similar mindset. Best practices tell us the proper way to do something, but it’s easy to overuse the phrase. And while guidelines are always good to keep handy, don’t fall into the trap of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or you’ll likely paint yourself into a corner.
This means finding easy opportunities to score some quick wins. I want low-hanging fruit in an orange tree in my backyard. Hearing it in a marketing context mostly just makes everyone hungry.
Another one that’s big in our current Zoom-heavy days, a virtual background is a fun way to travel to a far away destination without leaving your home. Prepare to see a lot more exotic scenery, and a lot more heads blending into backgrounds when users aren’t sitting at the right angle.