Language is a fascinating thing that, in any living language, continues to develop, and be tinkered with. The word 'Nice' for instance, originally meant 'foolish, stupid, ignorant' in the 13th century, before evolving into a compliment in the 19th century, and finally, returning to something close to its original meaning. When you say 'nice' today, do you ever mean it as a positive attribute anymore?
The thing about language is that it doesn't develop in a vacuum. In every situation where you are brought together for common goals or interests, whether this is your jogging group, your office, or your family, you will find yourself developing a specific vocabulary. Think nicknames, shortcuts for frequently used concepts, in-jokes,... It's a very natural tendency to develop a language as a bonding exercise - it gives you a sense of belonging, an identity...
Crucially though, at an often unconscious level, it is also a way of keeping other people out.
When it comes to Buzzwords, a frequent offender is the world of marketing. Google 'Marketing Buzzwords' and you'll find list after list of words marketers are seen as guilty of over-using. As a marketer you are under constant pressure to keep up with the latest trends and wield them effectively - but it's easy to forget not everyone is running on the same track as you.
In essence, Buzzwords are a shorthand that marketers can use with each other, but will not always make sense to anyone else (this is fine if you are marketing only to other marketers, though even then...). There is also a danger that in being repeatedly used out of context, they float further and further away from their original purpose, becoming eventually an empty vessel of a word.
I've asked several B2B marketers for their least favourite marketing buzzwords and for the reasons behind their choice. Peppered throughout this post you will find my five favourite answers from this informal survey.
You can sense common themes in their answers:
- Buzzwords make a concept sound new when it is anything but. (Why not nod to a buzzword's heritage to stand out?)
- Buzzwords are vague. Use buzzwords if you must, but unpack them with specifics.
- Buzzwords are misused. Sticking in a buzzword for the sake of it is a no-no. Don't claim to be something, or do something, that you are not.
Used wisely, buzzwords can make it easier for the right people to find you, and can help translate difficult concepts. As a marketer, you will need to know some buzzwords, and what they stand for, but it doesn't mean everything situation is the right situation for them.
With thanks to Shayla Price, Kirstine Storey, Valentin Danner, Gemma Rogers, and Peter Meinertzhagen for their thoughtful answers.