A few weeks ago, for the lulz, I asked my Facebook friends (many who work in digital) which buzzwords they found most egregious. Hilarity ensued. Inspired by that rabid discussion, I felt compelled to write this Go UnFuck Yourself Jargon Manual.
Let’s establish the basics by stating:
Communicating persuasively means your message reaches its intended audience and compels them to act.
Easy fucking peasy.
And yet to put that in digital industry jargon, a content writer might be tempted to splash this keyword optimized heading on a home page:
Target Audience Conversion Delivery Through Content Marketing Strategies
If your intention is to reach potential clients who will clamor for your services, why the fuck are you requiring them to refer to a phrasebook forged from the gutter of a 2010 debauched SXSW after-party gone awry?
Who do you think your potential clients are? Other digital marketing agencies competing to keep up with the latest lingo?
Talk to potential clients in compelling language they understand, and exorcise opaque jargon that don’t say much but sound as if you’ve watched at least one TED talk in your life.
Here is a good place to start:
Here is a little exercise that I am borrowing from grammar school: take a word or expression and change the word forms (verbs to nouns, nouns to verbs, etc.) to weasel out meaningless concepts.
Let’s start with my fave, the ubiquitous title: Thought Leader. What does a Thought Leader do? Well, with a simple change of the noun forms to action words, it is obvious he think leads. He is thinking and thinking, and by thinking, he is leading others (his staff, peers, and potential clients) with all his thinking thinkity-think thoughts. What is he thinking? Where is he leading? Who the fuck knows.
Thought Leader is one of those nebulous terms for those who want to add swagger to the unsexy but clearly communicative titles: Marketing Consultant, Sales Strategist, Weather Forecaster, Account Specialist, Owner of a Small Digital Agency, etc. but aren’t bold enough to proclaim the deeds for Industry Leader, Authority, Expert, CEO of a renown company, or Futurist because they lack the accolades, industry respect, and requisite degrees to do so.
If by calling yourself a Thought Leader, you are implying that your brain is so ahead of the curve-ball of your competitors in think-leading that clients will want to follow the path you have boldly bushwhacked through emerging trends into the future, perhaps don’t employ a title that should have died back in 2007 along with ‘Social Media Guru’ and ‘Digital Rock Star.’ YOUR VERY EMPLOY OF THE HACK TITLE ‘THOUGHT LEADERSHIP’ IS NOT THINK LEADING; IT’S THINK FOLLOWING.
Save the title Thought Leader for the industry conference panel you weren’t invited to speak on because you have nothing new or interesting to say.
A phrase sociopaths love to exploit: ‘forging a brain trust’ (i.e. ‘picking the brain’ of everyone they meet without compensation). If someone approaches asking you to join their brain trust, they are seeking a free consult. Run away.
Instead of using this phrase, try calling people ‘mentors’ and ‘advisers’ or even circle of ‘trusted peers’ — suckers that will see a value exchange in offering free advice over beers because you are likable and not riffing from the playbook: How to Win Friends for Psychopaths.
Startups have become somewhat synonymous with volatile content/coding mills that want to disrupt labor laws by providing staff the opportunity to experience long work hours with little pay in toxic environments at companies that might fold at any time. It is used in place of ‘New Company/Venture’ when a business owner wants to conceal their agency’s lack of track record and credentials with techno-sounding bling. But now everything is called a Startup. That new hipster coffee shop down the street is calling itself a Startup. Businesses that have failed to get any traction will still call themselves Startups for years.
Just as new writers should avoid using the phrase ‘emerging writer’ unless writing a grant application, and boldly claim the title ‘Writer’ for themselves instead, agencies should follow suit. It is not being deceptive to call your business ‘a business’ while failing to call attention to the fact that it has only been incorporated within the last eight months.
Breaking Down the Silos
This expression made sense in the 90’s when the information superhighway was threatening to change the game. But the game has now changed. All the silos have long been broken: print is dead, media conglomerates have gobbled up all the verticals into unwieldy concrete blocks long ago, and a fascist is now President of the United States.
And yet, no one still listens to the cross-platform/interactive/social media/ content strategist they hired to unify their client’s messaging across all channels. Instead of using this phrase, perhaps you should listen to her (and simplify her title to Media Strategist while you are at it).
Of all the oxymorons. Your business is either innovative, or it ain’t. This term made sense in the freewheeling anarchist days of the Old Internet when New Media was vying to topple Old Media.
But all we managed to disrupt is a sustainable living wage for the creative class.
What the fuck are you marketing other than content? All the content you are marketing is content. Billboards market content. Commercials market content. It is all fucking content!
‘Content Marketing’: Let’s sexify ‘Marketing’ by prefacing it with the most generic term that is already inherit in the word marketing.
By ‘content’, do you mean you just provide text and graphics for a client’s website to differentiate from agencies that also do print media or TV/Radio ad spots? Or is it more expansive than that to include handy freebies like infographics, podcasts, guides, etc. to drive traffic to your clients’ sites? I DON’T KNOW because you just used a word that is ambivalent to all meaning and could mean any of this shit. If it is specific marketing services, be explicit or GTFO.
Our Comprehensive Marketing Services Include:
*All this shit here
If your services are more extensive to include SEO, Trend Forecasting, Big Data analysis, etc. just say Digital Marketing. Don’t make potential clients get lost googling “what the fuck is content marketing” before they inquire about your services because they won’t: BARRIER TO ENTRY, people!
And if by Content Marketing, you mean you use a content management system (an actual valid phrase) to write blog posts and shit: YOU AREN’T FOOLING ANYONE by trying to make it sound like you are doing anything more than operating a Wordpress site.
I’m not saying using the expression Content Marketing does not have its place, particularly if your focus is creating shareable content to engage target audiences when describing what you do to others in the industry or dusting off your resume. But with your client face forward speak in plain English.
Fuck, if you are going to be that generic, forget ‘Content Marketing’ and just use the phrase ‘Word Farming’.
I don’t know how the world managed to make the title Writer more lowly and less respected than it already was, and yet it did.
A better alternative would be Word Farmer.
‘Blue Sky’ Thinking
‘Blue Sky’ Thinking is ‘Let’s Think Outside of The Box’ with a New Age spin. Imagine this very real scenario in a meeting with a client in which someone on the team is suddenly inspired to utter the ominous phrase:
“What if we were to blue sky our thinking on this project?”
The client naturally wonders what the fuck this means. They might ask aloud or, wanting to be seen ‘in the know,’ keep quiet, hoping to catch on. In the event ‘Blue Sky’ Thinking is explained, words such as ‘unrestricted,’ ‘unconstrained,’ and ‘without limitations’ will be bandied about.
But the client now has pressing questions (and conclusions they are drawing) that they may or may not be vocalizing:
What do you mean without limitations? We have budgetary limitations? Time limitations? The laws of physics!
They want more money, they are gonna ask for more money…
Meanwhile, what the team member simply meant is ‘we have creatively painted ourselves into a corner’ and need to look at this with a fresh perspective, while the rest of the team is staring at the ceiling, hoping the roof will rip open and The Rapture will provide an escape from this fucking gawd-awful meeting.
There are many more words that I could easily expound upon: Pain Points, Lead Nurturing, Deep Dive, Drill Down, Open the Kimono (seriously, WTF with this one, just STAHP!), Nurture Tracking, Client Onboarding, All Hands Meeting, Sales Funnel, Workback Schedule, Influencer, and Business Intelligence just to name a few.
That doesn’t mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater. Our industry uses a fuckton of jargon that makes sense to use among ourselves (but not clients). For example: scalable, call to action, bounce rates, etc. are words that actually mean something specific, and it might be in our best interest to educate clients what those words DO mean during the loathsome onboarding process (*shudder), and never take for granted that your clients do or care to know them.
I’m guilty of a lot of buzzwords and phrases too: “There are No Problems, Only Opportunities” is a particularly offensive phrase I employ oft. (Conversely, I am also often found screaming “I AM NOT SCALABLE!” in frustration when confronted with a plethora of ‘opportunities’ in my way.)
And who the fuck am I? Why the fuck should you listen to me? I’m not a Thought Leader. I don’t think lead! I’m not an authority. I’m just an Internet Word Farmer who believes words should mean something — anything really.