Businessman running away from angry bees
Run, run as fast as you can from buzzwords — and those who use them to bullshit you.

I like words. A lot. Probably more than the next guy. But I like my words to add clarity, not confusion.

That’s one of the reasons why I HATE buzzwords.

I have to be careful here because not all buzzwords are bullshit. New stuff happens all the time. Sometimes we need a word or phrase to describe this new concept. I’m good with that. Take content/inbound marketing; not entirely a buzzword. However, it’s a concept I now make a living making reality for our clients so’s I could be slightly biased here. It’s not new, but “inbound” is a good enough phrase to describe a break – well, a shift – in marketing focus. Not a huge fan of the phrase, but it works.

What I hate is when brain-dead folks attach their lips to the teat of the buzzword and start a-sucking as they try to add life to a failing business or product line (or goose a successful one). Especially when they don’t quite “get” the new concept. And even MORE especially when what they sell/offer is only tangentially related – if at all – to this great, new, life/business-altering stupendous THING.

One example, in the late 90s, knowledge management was a thing in the IT space. As a discipline, KM has deep roots and is a fascinating field of study focused on managing change and culture and how organizations can harness what people know. In the ECM space, collaboration and some of the DM companies locked onto the concept and began touting themselves as KM platforms. Slack or Yammer could’ve been branded that way had they existed back then. Anyway, more than most concepts, there’s never going to be such a thing as a KM product. Any KM plan is going to first be a strategy reinforced by culture and supported by technology.

Anyway, I knew that “knowledge management” as a buzzword had jumped the shark when I saw an ad in inform (the magazine I edited at the time) from a scanner manufacturer. Yep, the marketing folks at Bell & Howell thought that advertising their scanner as the start of a KM solution was a good idea.

A scanner. KM.

I saw the link – digitize paper so that it can then be found and shared. Still. I thought at the time and still do – fucking kill me.

Buzzwords Sow Confusion

This is the real reason I hate buzzwords. They are used by unscrupulous (or simply wrong) people to create confusion and sell services. If you’ve been in business for any length of time and have happy customers, that’s a good thing. Why companies think they have to glom onto the next new thing all the time WHEN THEY DON’T DO THAT THING eludes me.

I wrote this in 2002 after that year’s AIIM Show and Conference:

The most important next step, in my opinion, is to stop confusing users with buzzwords. Hyland, a solid company with good products, has a “Web content management” product that really isn’t. Other companies do the same thing. Xerox Global Services document management product isn’t really what we think of as document management. So, muzzle the marketing folks, describe what your product does in plain English, and let’s start making those billion dollar market projections come true. Here’s to no new buzzwords in 2003.

Yeah, that wish came true. I was in for seven more years of crappy pitches and constant rejiggering of products to match what was “current.” I even asked the marketing guy at the time for Hyland “is it really a WCM product” and HE SAID NO!

For fuck’s sake. 

I’m now in marketing and doing my best not to play buzzword bingo for our clients.

It’s hard.

Some of the material I read that potential clients use . . . e-fucking-gads. There have been pages that I’ve read about a product or service offering that I have no idea what they’re selling – and I know what they’re selling! It’s larded with business speak, dollar words, and sprinkled with buzzwords when they can. 

And I’m constantly getting push back for using simple language. (That’s a rant for another day – but, no, you don’t fucking sound smarter or more professional when you use big words. Almost always, you just sound like a marketing twat who swallowed a book on bad business writing.)

So please, for the love of all that is good and holy, the next time a new concept comes your way THINK about how appropriate it is for you and what you do before you try to figure out how you can slap it on to your current line up of services and say “Yep, we do this great new thing” when you don’t.

There are folks doing this with inbound marketing in our industry. And they’re just pissing in the punch and screwing it up for those of us who know what we’re doing.

Stay in your lane – or learn how to swim in the new one.


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