It isn’t easy to write an effective marketing piece that accurately describes your product, service or cause in simple terms, leaves people with a compelling idea and gives them reason to consider supporting you or your brand. And yet, some marketers seem to try to make their jobs harder, by talking as though their audience is comprised of something other than regular human beings. Why else would someone try to sell me something by promising “islands of excellence”, “carousels of progress”, “goldmines of opportunity”, or “nuggets of information”? I think I recognize those words as belonging individually to the English language, but I have no idea what those phrases mean in the context of your product.

In The GobbledyGook Manifesto, David Meerman Scott analyzes this epidemic of marketing failure, and explains why people are so fond of saying these confounding things: “Because these writers don’t understand how their products solve customer problems, they cover by explaining how the product works and pepper this blather with industry jargon that sounds vaguely impressive”.

Two years ago, inspired by @dmscott and frustrated by the barrage of buzzwords filling my inbox every day, I started keeping an Evernote list of “Banned Words and Phrases”. These are things my marketing team and I will immediately backspace over if we find ourselves saying them. All have been said in actual conversations I’ve been involved in, or marketing materials I’ve received. Feel free to contact me for the complete list (currently at 123 phrases and growing), but here is a sample:

  • 360-degree view
  • Best-of-breed
  • Competitive advantage
  • Cross-pollination of ideas
  • Deep-dive
  • Double-down
  • Integrated efficiencies
  • Off-the-shelf
  • Real-time savings
  • Second-to-none
  • Turn-key solutions

We add phrases to our banned list when they could be removed from the message without changing its meaning, or when they could be applied just as easily to the benefits of your so-called unique and innovative offering as to the cereal we had for breakfast.

Marketers, make it stop. Put a little more effort into speaking in terms that humans can relate to. Make me believe there are real people working at your company who want to talk to real people like me. It might take a little longer to get your message out, but I bet more people will want to do business with you.

7 thoughts on “Banned!

  1. Hi, I had to jump over here from Dan’s blog and check out the list of banned words. I made some notes—thanks.
    Have you read Ann Hanley’s book Everybody Writes? She agrees that some words and phrases deserve a tap on the delete key describing them as “weblish”, robotic speech, and Frankenwords. Haha. Nice to meet you Faith.

  2. I really loathe catch phrases in marketing. There is a commercial now that addresses retirement planning and the fellow talks then asks, “Can anyone here relate to that?” Oh God, I can hardly keep from throwing a shoe at his smug face. I would NEVER use that firm. Nice post Faith.

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