You’ve heard of a swear jar, right? Let a curse word slip, throw some change into a jar. In my corner of the office a few of us AKHIAns have toyed with the idea of setting a Buzzword Jar in the middle of the common area. You know what I’m talking about…
Innovation. Solutions. Holistic. Big data. Best practices. Analytics. Synergy.
Now, look: there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these words. They all mean something, something specific that those in the marketing field know well. And that familiarity is what makes so many of us smirk a bit on the inside when they frequently come up in professional discussions.
It’s pretty easy to slip into snark here. People like to make fun of buzzwords and their use, surely: Buzzword Bingo, buzzword generators, buzzwords…for resumes? (All I did here was type “buzzword” into my search bar, and Google did the rest.) There are plenty of smart people who have blogged about buzzwords at length. “STOP USING BUZZWORDS,” many implore. It’s easy to see their point.
Some of the folks quoted in the Mashable piece are particularly interesting to me. On the term “value add,” Ty Morse from the firm Songwhale has this to say: “I’m providing a service or product or good that is useful to you. That is the value add. There’s nothing more to add to it. It works or it doesn’t. It has valuable characteristics or not. I just don’t like terms that suggest that something is or should be more than itself.”
When I think about the contexts in which I’ve seen the term “value add,” it seems to fit the definition that Morse describes: “I’m providing a service or product that is useful to you.” That is, in fact, simply all “value add” means; I’m not seeing how the term inherently says the item is “more than itself.” For me, that particular gripe is a bit irrelevant.
For a lot of these maligned buzzwords, it seems similar to the reaction some folks have when a word like “selfie” gets added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. A clear signal of the inevitable destruction of the English language, or something. But really, we’re just letting words that have naturally become part of our everyday lexicon into the official books. I think many buzzwords fall into this category—whether we like it or not. “Solutions” is another example—this one used to really irk me, when seemingly all anyone means when they use it is “product” or “service.” And indeed, that’s how the word “solutions” is used, often with the added implication that the product or service in question will help solve a problem. Overused? Probably. Egregious? Probably not.
To be sure, this doesn’t apply to all of them—there are plenty of buzzwords that are simple exaggeration, or just a weird way to say an already well-known idea. “Game-changer” is a good one—this probably ought to be reserved for truly revolutionary products or services, not interchangeable with “slightly different than what we’ve done in the past.” I also came across the term “growth hacking” when writing this, and…what?
The real issue, then, is that it’s easy to use words like these as a crutch. “Our optimized solutions will help our partners pivot and achieve key business metrics.” Sounds kind of smart on the surface, but hollow as an empty bottle. There’s probably nothing wrong with using these buzzwords in contexts where they make sense, where they contribute to a better understanding of an idea. But falling back on them out of laziness is something we should all resolve to do less often.
Bill Delaney is Content Architect at AKHIA.