Spend as much time as I have (more than 15 years) in this industry and you’ll see that there are a lot words, phrases, and expressions that start grinding your gears. I’m sure this happens in most industries, but the marketing and business lingo is something we’re all affected by.
An architect receiving the umpteenth unbeatable offer sprinkled with dozens of buzzwords can’t do much about it. But as marketers, we have the responsibility to clean up our language.
Well, if not for the sake of language itself, do it for the sake of conversions and sales. Phrases that are devoid of meaning…don’t mean anything (shocking, I know!). Readers don’t know what to do with them. A lazy CTA won’t get anyone to take action. A buzzword will be glanced over and forgotten the next second.
Sales and conversions happen where meaning exists.
Here are some examples that lack meaning, depth, or common sense.
1. Going Viral
“How fast can you make my social media posts go viral? What about my article?”
Yes, I’ve been asked this by some of our potential clients. (They never fulfilled that potential, by the way.)
When I hear someone asking about going viral, I know they have no idea how the internet works. Going viral was a thing back in 2005-2010. Even then, you couldn’t make things go viral just because you wanted them to.
If this expression could die a painful (but fast!) death, I’d be incredibly happy!
2. People-First Culture
I know, I know, using this common phrase is supposed to humanize your brand. But guess what? It does the exact opposite.
It makes you sound sleazy, like you’re organizing genocides for petty cash. (Can you tell I really hate this expression?)
If your company or organization isn’t fighting for animal welfare or for the Amazonian forest, then you INHERENTLY have a people-first culture. You don’t need to mention it. Every culture built by people is built FOR people.
Of course people come first, what else – the cookies you sell or the code that runs your SaaS? The real question is this: exactly which people come first?
When I hear “people-first culture”, I imagine a company that only cares about the CEO and the board. The employees, the customers, and the other “smaller” stakeholders are replaceable.
Let me give you an example from another culture: the ancient Egyptians built pyramids for some people and mud-brick houses for some other people. See where I’m going with this?
If your company really cares about people other than the big guys at the top, do yourself a favor and name them. “People” is far too generic.
3. Reach Out
Reach out became famous back in the 80s, when AT&T used it in an ad. It was spot on for that ad because it referred to AT&T’s long-distance phone call plans. “Reach out and touch someone” was a great slogan.
Some of your customers today may not even know what a “long-distance” plan is since they are too young to have ever used a landline.
Instead of reaching out, today everyone calls. Or texts. Or emails. See, you’ve got options!
4. Touch Base
Still using this? Please don’t, unless it’s about basketball.
25% of respondents in a Glassdoor survey named it the most hated office buzzword.
I especially hate it when it’s forced into a sentence: “Let’s touch base about this report next week.”
Why not “talk about this report next week?” What happened to good, old simple, zero-cringe language that we can all understand?
5. Digital Transformation
We have all transformed so much (digitally!) that we’re barely recognizable now. This pet peeve was nearing its much-deserved end, when the pandemic hit.
And boom! We needed yet another digital transformation. Laggards needed to adopt technology FAST so they can pivot (another gem that could easily be on this list), early adopters needed to…adopt MORE technology, and so on.
In itself, digital transformation has meaning. It refers to replacing obsolete systems with digital-first technologies with the goal to improve business processes.
However, the poor phrase has been overly used and abused so that it now refers to buying yet another solution or subscribing to a new SaaS when you already have 12 similar ones in place. This is not digital transformation. This is digital evolution at best and an overcrowded tech stack that falls under its own weight at worst.
6. Thought Leader(ship)
Ever had more than 100 reactions to a social media post? Congratulations, you’re a thought leader!
Again, nothing wrong with the phrase itself. It’s the users that stripped all of its meaning.
Being a thought leader should mean that you have some clout in your online or offline community and that people follow you (and your advice) because you care about ideas. So you strive to promote thoughts, ideas, principles.
This would mean that there are very few thought leaders and a lot of followers.
But who wants to be a follower these days? Everyone wants to innovate and disrupt (I’ll get to this in a second). Thus, we’ve gotten to a point where there are more thought leaders than followers.
Sadly, this also means that there are fewer and fewer real thought leaders and that we have a harder time separating the wheat from the chaff.
Have you noticed how everything disrupts nowadays? Saying that your solution improves something is far too mild. I mean, do you even want to be a thought leader?
If so, you need to disrupt.
There’s just one problem: very (VERY!) few things actually disrupt something.
Let’s bring the dictionary into this one: “To disrupt a market or a technology is to change the way it works by introducing new methods that are completely different from those that have been used in the past.” (Bolded text belongs to me.)
Before you say that your product disrupts something, make sure it’s completely different from its predecessors.
For instance, an amphibious car is a car that can stay afloat as much as a boat. If it can “briefly” stay afloat, it’s a useless (and dangerous!) submarine. OK, Elon?
Rant over! What about you? What expressions do you hate with a passion?