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Never Mind The Buzzwords: The Jarring Jargon That Needs To Go (And The Ones I Just Made Up)

(This blog post stems from our editor's over-zealous devotion to the English language and does not reflect our attitude to digital marketing in general, just those pieces of jargon he constantly gives out to us for using)

When you have the bandwidth to growth-hack your enterprise to move the needle and hit your KPIs with deliverables that prove ROI, can you revert with bleeding edge solutions to capture the low hanging fruit? That might make sense to seasoned digital marketers, but many potential clients are likely to respond with: ‘What? What? And, erm… What?’

Digital marketers work within a very specific industry, and as within every industry there are certain terms, phrases and coinages that become commonplace when we talk about what we do. This can lead to the overuse of some, but can also lead to confusion for anybody not permanently living and working within that sector or a modern inbound agency, and this is when buzzwords and industry-specific jargon can become a problem.

It's worse still when acronyms come into play. (I was once working in a large multi-national organisation and in my first week was sent this memo: 'EUA issue for 185 in OCS needs CR raised with the DSS team'), but for now, let’s stick to ‘real’ words.

Language is fascinating in that it is constantly changing to capture and define new concepts, new relationships and new ways of working, but when we start to overuse words that only make sense to a select few, we are at the same time risking the alienation of those not within that circle, losing sight of the true meaning of those words, and infuriating some of those forced to listen.

Potential customers can become bamboozled by a barrage of terms and abbreviations they are not familiar with, and an agency can often make the mistake of trying to wow them with its knowledge when they are actually helping them to make the snap decision that you are not the right fit for them. How can you help them if you don’t even seem to speak the same language, right?

In short, as this blog from B2Interactive mentions, it sounds like you are compensating.

Inbound marketing, and all successful marketing really, should be focused on communicating in an engaging way, in a language common to all – the business, the digital marketing agency or department, the potential customer.


If we continue to use terms specific to our industry, we distance ourselves from clients and by default from their audience, and while it is not easy to get rid of all those phrases and coinages, we can at least start by cutting out the more ludicrous, unhelpful and just plain annoying ones that are not only overused, but sometimes just plain wrong.

Here are just a few overly-used examples and why they can sometimes grate:

Bandwidth – Used to define whether a person has the capacity to do a task, regarding ability, time and resources. Why did we start using this word instead of ‘ability’ or ‘time’? It’s even overtaken ‘scope’, which was another terrible way of saying the same thing. Mentioning bandwidth to a client with no online marketing knowledge may confuse them into thinking you are talking about their internet service provider capabilities – why present this confusion in the first place?

Asking if someone has the bandwidth to take on a task may be answered with: ‘Yeah, the WiFi is pretty good in her,’ leading to confusion all-round.

Customer-centric marketing – is there any need to have to make clear you are focused on customers when you are in marketing? It’s completely unnecessary, like saying ‘puppy dog’ or ‘tuna fish’.

Revert – reportedly supposed to mean ‘to get back to someone on something’. The correct word is ‘reply’. To revert means to return to a former, previous state, belief, condition, etc, which means going backwards. If you say you will revert to somebody or something, it means you are going to take a previous opinion, action or condition as your current or latest position.

It’s appearance in the place of ‘reply’ seems to,as this article points out, come from a mistake that took hold in Asia, and has now started to nudge its way into our daily working lives.

Deliverables – it’s tasks, or job, plain and simple. Deliverables is just a fancy way of saying it, but if you can’t say it plainly, why be in marketing? We are supposed to have moved out of the snake oil business, so why cloud what we do with words like this?

Bleeding edge – was cutting edge not enough? Also, bleeding edge suggests damage and mess, which I wouldn’t want introduced to my business.

Low hanging fruit – in an age when we are all preaching personalisation and engaging with consumers as people with targeted content and approaches, why do we continue to refer to potential customers as objects, such as fruit? I get the analogy, but it’s just been used too often.

Drinking the Kool Aid – this has been mentioned before, but it really is a horrible phrase with horrible connotations referring to a forced mass suicide and mass murder of people. People use it as a means towards self-deprecation (which they shouldn’t, given the origins), but others seem to use it as a snappy slogan.

buzzwords_jargon_to_stop_using_outreach_find_real_and_made_up_jargon_in_list_from_get_focused.gifOutreach – there’s got to be a better way to say this that doesn’t smack of desperation, like something an explorer would do when stuck in quicksand.

Thought leader – also guru – to start, think about the two words ‘thought leader’ – putting them together is pure, 100% jargon. Apart from the horrible crime this is to the language, there does seem to be a tendency for thought leaders to be thought leaders simply because people say they are.

As I mentioned in a previous blog / rant, guru, from Sanskrit meaning ‘grave or weighty’ evolved to mean teacher of great stature and status in spiritual matters, but in what way does that apply to somebody who knows a lot about the internet, or any commercial activity?

Awesome – to inspire awe. Ok, teenagers and West Coast surfers may use it, but that doesn’t mean we should in business. Put it this way: How many times have you seen a piece of content that truly, genuinely, made you feel struck with awe, which is defined as ‘a combination of dread and veneration’? Has any content you read filled you with dread? Or veneration? If it has, you should see someone about your nerves.

Hack – this word’s use with regards to journalists is an entertaining tale from etymology, and to describe surreptitiously accessing somebody else’s files self-explanatory, but its use to mean a tip is completely unnecessary, and completely overused. Life hacks, growth hacks, marketing hacks – whoever first used it in this sense deserves hatchet hacks.

As a (hopefully) interesting exercise, I have delved into my imagination and tried to come up with some ludicrous new terms and expressions of my own, and included them in a list containing those bits of jargon being used already, as detailed in an excellent recent article from The Guardian.

What I found unnerving when putting this piece together was that 90% of the most ridiculous terms I came up with turned out to already be in existence, which shows that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and that there are a lot of people out there coining new terms just to stand out.

Take a look and see if you can tell the real ones from the fake (no cheating on Google now)…

On all fours – As in, ‘Are you on all fours with that?’ or ‘Let’s get down on all fours with this to see it from the client’s point of view.’ Apparently in use back in the 1950s by Madison Avenue ad men, it has returned as a boardroom favourite, but since when was losing the advantage of being bipedal a good thing?

Serve and Volley – The tactic brought to a sales pitch whereby an agency or service provider pitches a campaign to a potential client and has a pre-planned counter argument to every possible objection, question or disagreement. It’s what all agencies should really be doing, and is another way of ‘covering all bases’.

jargon_buzzwords_to_stop_using_and_made_up_ones_from_get_focused.jpgFingerprint the octopus – The concept of overall management of an integrated marketing or business strategy, similar to project management and its utilisation through a platform such as a CRM or HubSpot COS. Similar to the idea of putting socks on the octopus, though that suggests attempting the extremely difficult, whereas this implies traceability, and the idea of putting your hands on the challenge, as you would see with a child’s depiction of a tentacled sea creature made with prints of their hands.

Pivot – An excellent euphemism for failing. It’s what you do when your business model fails. You pivot to another one, and maybe another one after that, until you find one that vaguely resembles success. It’s borrowed from the military term of pivoting to swing around and come at the enemy from a different angle.

Straddle the unicorn – To turn quality into the everyday by imposing a routine use on it, ultimately debasing it to the point where it is no longer valuable, as with overuse of email marketing to the point where subscribers no longer care (which is not to say that proper use of email marketing doesn’t work, because it really does).

Vase (verb) – The action of putting something pretty such as a glowing testimonial or sought-after qualification for your business on display on the mantle of your website. ‘Let’s vase that case study,’ you might say, if you got a particularly good result from working with a client.

Moat - Trending in Silicon Valley, and used to describe products or services that protect a company from incursions by competitors.

buzzwords_jargon_to_stop_using_outreach_find_real_and_made_up_jargon_in_list_from_get_focused2.gifCow corner – From cricket, the area on a website where nobody goes and so which can be left untended until all other areas of website redesign, SEO, etc are covered.

Inflection point - An inflection point is a moment after which things will change, usually for the better. It originally comes from differential calculus, meaning the point at which a curve changes from concave to convex or vice versa. Used in corporate circles, as with so many other words, it is pretty much applied to anything and thus loses its real meaning and usefulness.

Tiger team – No, not the makers of Frosties cereal, but a group of industry experts brought together for a specific project to instruct on and incorporate best practices. For when ‘experts’ is not enough.

Burning platform – An impending crisis that won’t be averted unless dramatic action is taken.

Breaking down the silos – The adoption of a process whereby an organisation implements a policy of integrated and collaborative work between departments, such as you get with another buzzword: ‘smarketing’.

Barabbas (verb) – The action of releasing an inferior product, service, version or iteration for a client against better judgement but at the insistence of that client.

Defibril-late – The nefarious tactic of leaving a client hanging until crisis point and on the verge of a business heart attack before wading in to offer the fix, thus proving yourself invaluable to them in their time of need.

Sweep the sheds – Meticulous attention to detail and not being afraid to get your hands dirty to ensure the product or service you provide covers all bases and is the best it can be. Originally found in a life lessons book that uses the New Zealand rugby team as an example of excellence (they use brooms to sweep out their changing rooms, which I guess were once sheds).

content_faucet_and_other_jargon_buzzwords_from_marketing_some_real_some_not_guess_Which_is_which_from_get_focused.gifContent faucet – A company’s blog and web page copy writing resources. The word ‘writer’ seems to have been thrown out the window in recent years. Now we are ‘content creators’ or these inanimate sources of word flow.

Change agent – The Mamas & The Papas sang that nothing is quite as sure as change, and the perceived wisdom in both business and self-help is that change is always good, which is debatable. The US has seen some change recently, for example. Nowadays, it’s not enough to be an expert, to have experience, or to just quietly go about your business, you need to be a ‘change agent’ who influences what others think, say or do.

One throat to choke – An unnecessarily violent new way of saying ‘a single point of contact’ in an organisation that all services, updates and sign-offs are worked through.

Open the kimono – To reveal information that has until recently been kept hidden in order to give a better view of what it is an organisation is looking at. Ugh.

Thought shower – To come up with many ideas for your business, similar to a brainstorm but with more need for towels.

bueller_marketing_jargon_buzzwords_made_up_why_we_need_to_stop_using_them_and_communicate_clearly.gifBueller (verb) – To master social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc, to boost online presence of an organisation and to promote blog content, from the always amiable and universally loved character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

GNU – Gated Non-subscribing User – A visitor to your website who clicks on a CTA but leaves once they see a form has to be filled in to download an offer, etc. The suggestion of lumbering bovines is somewhat derogatory when applied to online consumers who are herded into your sales funnel but are too ponderous to do anything.

Runway - How long your company can last before running out of money. Why we can’t just say ‘financial stability’ is down to our inherent need to shorten everything into a snappy slogan or buzzword. As with many other such words, it doesn’t really make sense, because the end of runways usually come in the form of fences, ditches or the sea, which is not where any organisation wants to find itself.

Jak sie mash – From Polish for ‘how are you?’ but altered to suit, a 1-2-1 meeting or ‘mash’ between a manager and staff member to assess how that person is getting on in the company and to air any concerns, grievances, etc, and for the manger to offer views on their performance.

Deadballing – Ruining a campaign strategy or proposal by trying to do or promise too much and losing out on what should have been a guaranteed success. From rugby, where a player gets overexcited and overruns the pitch without touching the ball down for a try.

swimlane_buzzword_jargon-example_we_need_to_stop_using.jpgSwin lanes - Columns or rows in a flowchart devoted to one unit or process within a business, such as content creation, SEO, website redesign for better lead conversion, etc. Can you imagine the scenes of jubilation when someone innocently quipped in a business meeting that the whiteboard resembled the swim lanes at their local pool and a buzzword was born?

Garryowen – Another one from rugby used for a tactic whereby your business gives an issue the old up and under in a move that gives an even chance of gain and loss, such as when you point out that a website needs a complete redesign and could see a client baulk and walk away, or take you on for the additional contract.

Let us know which ones you think are real and which are false, and share your own personal dislikes in the comment field below. The best comments will receive a free portal audit.

Find out how Get Focused can help you create and maintain a winning digital marketing strategy for your business (without the buzzwords) by booking a call with us, and download our eBook to find out how you can create great content that will generate leads for your business or agency:

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Adam Hyland - Chief Editor

Adam Hyland - Chief Editor

Adam is the most vital link between your message and your audience, ensuring your tone is on brand and optimised for engagement.

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