Going forward, let’s run it up the flagpole and see what falls through the funnel


We humans like to come up with new words and phrases – try listening to a couple of teenagers having a conversation. It’s sick. But do buzzwords and fancy terminology really help us tell our story better?

In every type of business, the terms we use to describe concepts, processes and activities are naturally going to change over time. That’s one of the things that makes language and communication exciting – fluidity, the way it evolves as rapidly as society and human influences evolve, and how we use the diversity of language to reflect our personalities.

You’d wouldn’t say ‘run it up the flagpole’ any more (please, tell me you wouldn’t). Trends change and that’s a good thing.

I know I’m getting old and cynical, but some of the jargon we use in marketing these days either amuses or bemuses me. Who comes up with this stuff, for goodness sake! Are they trying to make themselves sound hip (or whatever the 2018 word for hip is) or are we supposed to be listening in awe at how smart they sound?

It’s no different from when we used to talk about above-the-line and below-the-line advertising, I can see that. Above-the-line was all paid advertising, whether it was TV, radio or print; below-the-line was, well, pretty much everything else, so direct mail, brochures, displays and so on. When the internet came along (OK, I’m showing my age again), we added online and offline to the mix. If it was on the internet or email or was online, if it wasn’t it was offline. Nothing complicated there.

New technologies, particularly social media, have forced us to create new ways of explaining an approach but, in many cases, those approaches aren’t new in themselves. For example, the word ‘content marketing’ seems to pop up all the time. Doesn’t all marketing have content – words, pictures or video, a story, a message?

Well, yes, but the social media fun fare has given us a new twist on this. According to Wikipedia’s definition, content marketing “is a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.” Apart from the choice of media, what we’re doing here is nothing new, but now we have such an extensive marketing toolkit, I concede that we do need a new terminology in order to differentiate.

There are some odd words doing the rounds for the way we plan and think, let alone how we execute our ideas. Like disruption, agile and, my personal hate, ideation. They’re all on the buzz-word bingo card for sure.

Disruption. Is that like ‘zigging when others zag’? For centuries, innovators have shaken things up in their particular area, it’s nothing new and we all understand what it means in a business context. Disruptive marketing professes to be all about connecting brands with customers through an unfamiliar route, or by challenging their thinking. Well, isn’t that just smart use of creative ideas?

Agile. Is agile done badly simply an excuse for poor planning? Just saying.

Don’t get me started on ideation. I’m probably missing the point and there’s actually a wonderful process behind the concept if it’s applied properly but, researching this article, I came across multiple references to the word ideation getting a bad rap, even ridiculed.

My advice? If marketers try and bamboozle you with jargon, insist on the plain English explanation. Get them to relate what it means to your particular business challenges. Call them out.

I stumbled across an old NBR article where an equally cynical commentator called Scott Berkun put it astutely but hopefully not too unkindly: “Pay attention to who uses the most jargon: it’s never the brightest. It’s those who want to be perceived as the best and the brightest, something they know they are not. They use cheap language tricks to intimidate, distract, and confuse, hoping to sneak past those afraid to ask what they really mean.”

It’s more than 60 years since the phrase ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ emerged from the US Navy as a design principle that is still relevant today. Of course, we ironically turned it into the KISS acronym because we just can’t help ourselves.  We humans may never curb our penchant for buzzwords and phrases, but KISS is one we should all aim to uphold. Simple as that.


About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz