Ban The Buzzwords

Ban The Buzzwords

Sometimes it’s better to say nothing than what everyone else is saying.

Marketing, like other business disciplines, has a particular parlance, but all too often certain words get overused, applied to everything from chewing gum to toilet cleaners, and become cliché. So from time to time we need to remind ourselves—and in this case, others—of words to avoid, lest our personal brands become a cliché and lose all distinctiveness.

Here are the current buzzwords in every marketer’s lexicon that you should officially banish from your ads, content and general vocabulary unless you want to sound like everybody else—and where’s the distinction in that?

Game-changer. Everybody’s a game-changer these days. Whether it’s popping up in résumés of unemployed marketers or on tap at Buffalo Wild Wings (Red Hook, Gamechanger beer), we’re all changing the game—not. Unless you work for Hasbro and are rewriting the rules for Monopoly, chances are you’re not a game-changer. One exception is if you’re watching a sporting event on television and you switch channels to another event. As for résumés, if you’re such a game-changer, with 20-plus years of experience you wouldn’t be applying for an assistant account executive position; that’s just desperate, in a personal game-changing kind of way. But that’s a whole other ball of wax better left to your therapist or accountant.

Disruption. A first cousin and possible precursor to game-changer is “disruptor” or “disruption,” words applied to business back in 1997 by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma. The mere fact that this term is 18 years old is reason enough not to use it. If that creates a dilemma for you, just type the word into Amazon’s book search and you’ll see about 15 different business and marketing books with it in the title (then maybe check for “lemming”). I think some people got tired of being disrupters and evolved into game-changers, although there appear to be plenty of holdouts.

Thought leader. Are we talking mind control here in an L. Ron Hubbard Scientology kind of way, or something else? Almost every client has at one time or another said they wanted to be a thought leader. Even though the term has been around for roughly 20 years since being coined by the consulting firm Booz and Co. in its Strategy+Business magazine, of late it’s gained “traction” (which will be addressed later). There’s even an article on Mashable on “How to Be a Thought Leader,” which we can now officially say has jumped the shark. If you have to say you’re a thought leader, you’re definitely not. As a subset of all those thought leaders out there, “guru” falls into the same category. If you anoint yourself a guru—unless you’re a Hindu religious master—you’re most certainly not.

Traction. Brands get traction, projects get traction, but let’s keep this one where it rightfully belongs: in the automotive category. Worst-case scenario is you spew something like this in a meeting: “We’ve got to get some traction on our thought leadership positioning, so we’re the game-changer in our category.” Game over—you’re fired for being a walking cliché. Now you have zero traction.

Granular. When’s the last time you scrubbed the data so you could get, like, really granular? Are we talking about sand or salt? If neither, don’t get granular. Do you want to get to the foundation, origin or root of something? Or perhaps you’re talking about the basics or individual aspects—then just say that, and it will give you all the traction you need.

Transparency is great when it comes to adhesive tape, or if you’re Claude Rains, but otherwise let’s get rid of this overused word. Every company wants to be more transparent because they think it sounds good and, well, everybody else is saying it. How about just being open and honest? If you’re really serious about being transparent, then keep your doors unlocked and give me access to all your data. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Authentic. Here’s one that is often paired with “transparent,” as in, “We want to be authentic in a transparent kind of way.” Really? How about we all just be ourselves? If you have to say you’re being authentic, are we to believe that up until now you’ve been masquerading as something completely different? (And I thought I really knew you.) Brands that say they’re authentic are like companies that have to tell you that they have great service—both are something you have to experience and decide for yourself. If you have to tell me you’re authentic, I don’t believe you.

Curated is a word that’s getting a lot of traction among thought-leading game-changers. It’s not enough that we put together a collection or group of something, or that we selected and organized products, information or content—no, now it has to be curated. Why? Maybe because it sounds cooler to define your work as some kind of precious art collection. It also sounds expensive. I mean, wouldn’t you pay more for a curated selection of chicken-wing flavors versus a mixed basket? Of course you would. Start curating and watch your margins soar.

Artisanal. From cheese to toast—yes, toast—curators are slapping this moniker on a whole variety of things these days. I think the trend is from hand-crafted—which enjoyed a good run for a few years—to artisanal. We now have artisanal cheese, cupcakes, coffee, wine, jam, popcorn, chocolate, beer and toast. God help us. Oh, and if you’re still using “robust,” I don’t think there’s any hope. You’ve been officially warned in the most authentic, transparent, granular way I can think of. Now go out there and get some traction.

Glenn Karwoski ( is founder and managing director of Karwoski & Courage marketing communications agency. He also teaches at the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas and in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota.