Friday, July 23, 2010

Buzzword Bonanza!

Every profession has jargon that is used as shorthand, and that’s great. Using jargon is necessary so a carpenter doesn’t have to say “that big metal doo-hickey” and so scientists don’t have to use long, boring explanations to explain what a uberthermodynamic enthropic reaction is (disclaimer: that’s not real). Buzzwords in business, however, seem to be around to confuse everyone.

We’re not very fond of buzzwords. Tiny Fey and Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock aren’t fans either. Buzzwords are overused in our line of work. Being the marketing and PR superstars that we are, we have a pretty decent idea of what they mean. We’ve waded through our share of acronyms and ridiculous “concepts” (Example: The Hedgehog Concept. It means “do what you are best at.” Really.) Naturally, we’re a bit jaded.

We recently saw an article about the most overused buzzwords in press releases. We realized nobody really knew what they actually mean. So we’ve created a layman’s dictionary of buzzwords you’ll encounter in business, PR and marketing. If this blog was a tabloid, we’d call this article “The Meanings THEY Don’t Want You to Know!!!”
  •  Innovation: New product or technology. Pretty simple idea, but when you think about how many times something is called “the most innovative thing ever,” it gets a little annoying. Artificial light was an innovation; that new flavor of Mountain Dew is not. 
    • Usage: “Announcing a new innovation in the way you drive to work!”
  • Real-Time: Just like it sounds. Instant feedback or answers. We’re in a real-time environment. Twitter is real-time feedback from the world. Morse-code on a telegraph was real-time feedback, too. Remember that. 
    • Usage: “Delivering real-time answers to all of your innovation needs!”
  • Dynamic: Quick-changing. Today’s industry and technology is a lot more dynamic than it used to be. 
    • Usage: “New, dynamic innovation that provides real-time answers to life’s problems!”
  • Groundbreaking: A really awesome innovation (see above). Changes the industry, sometimes the world. Not always great. (Right, hydrogen bomb?) 
    • Usage: “Controlling fire was a groundbreaking technology for cavemen.”
  • Best Practice: We’re pretty sure this means agreed-upon strategies that provide value in an industry. (Wikipedia confirms.) 
    • Usage: “A best practice in the fishing industry is to use bait.”
  • Cutting Edge: New, groundbreaking product or technology (see above). 
    • Usage: “Pre-slicing bread was cutting-edge slicing technology
    • See also: “Bleeding Edge,” meaning something was SO cutting-edge that it made you bleed.
  • Product Integration: AKA “Product Placement.” Paying for your product, logo or service to be in the media. Reese’s Pieces in the movie “ET” is considered the grandfather of product integration. 
    • Usage: “But sir, putting Marlboro in “Toy Story 3” sounds like poor product integration!
  • Seamless Integration: One thing and another thing go well together without any problems. Used most in mergers and acquisitions. I imagine this comes from the garment-making industry. 
    • Usage: “Marlboro is seamlessly integrated into “Toy Story 3” because one of the main characters is a cowboy!”
  • Think Outside the Box: Novel and creative thinking. Term coined by someone who probably never actually thought outside the box. 
    • Usage: “They must have really thought outside the box when they put cigarettes in a children’s movie, because now I really want a Marlboro!”
  • Synergy: Oh, synergy. Poor, poor synergy. Whipping boy of the buzzwords. The scapegoat. It’s a medical term adopted by business that basically means “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It’s not always a great thing in medicine, but businesses LOVE synergy. 
    • Usage: “By combining our businesses (chocolate and peanut butter), we can achieve synergy by making an incredibly delicious snack! This peanut butter and chocolate candy is better than if you just added peanut butter and chocolate together!”- Whoever invented Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  • Low-Hanging Fruit: Some sort of fruit-picking metaphor adopted for business. In reality, it just means to reach the easiest goal without much effort. If you were a lion, it would mean to eat the slowest and fattest antelope. 
    • Usage: “We can capture the low-hanging fruit of the fast-food industry by targeting fat kids who already like our cheeseburgers!”
  • Secret Sauce: This was new to us before the list came out. Apparently people use it. Presumably, it’s derived from the fast food industry and means “Thousand Island Dressing,” but in reality it just means “your strategy or product that gives you an advantage over everyone else, but your competitors can’t figure out what it is.” 
    • Usage: “We need more secret sauce! Put that mayonnaise out in the sun!” (Disclaimer: That quote is from The Simpsons) 
    • Business Usage: The secret sauce of McDonalds’ success is its consistency between each store; a Big Mac in New York is the exact same as a Big Mac in Tucson. And the secret sauce of McDonalds’ Big Mac is actually the secret sauce.
  • Paradigm Shift: This should mean “using your secret sauce and thinking outside the box with a groundbreaking, innovative, cutting-edge technology that provides synergy and allows you to capture the low-hanging fruit with more ease to get real-time, dynamic results.” However, it just means something new and different is happening that revolutionizes the way people see your industry, business or environment. 
    • Usage: “Social media has caused a paradigm shift in public relations.”
Captain Buzz
There are hundreds and hundreds more, but it’s your turn to find them. Really, there’s a time and place for everything. Even these buzzwords. We’re not condemning their usage, just their frequency. Writing with buzzwords is like going out for a night of drinking (maybe that’s why they’re called “buzz”words?). Think about it: if you have a few buzzwords or have a few drinks, you feel smarter and more confident. After a few more, you start to feel dizzy and unbalanced. After too many, you feel like vomiting, nobody understands what you’re saying and you wake up in the morning feeling terrible about yourself. Remember, the content you create and the strategy you come up with is more important than the words you use to describe it. Use these words in a way that provides actual value and understanding. Buzz responsibly.

What is your favorite (or least favorite) buzzword? If we get enough responses, we can have a sequel!

(all images via Creative Commons)

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