Marketing Buzzword Takedown

beeAll the cool kids are doin’ it. That’s right, they’re using marketing buzzwords. And every once in a while, I feel compelled to save the English language (or at least my sanity) … and more precisely, the language of my profession. I’m feeling feisty today, so let’s dive right in.

Marketers these days have this knack for using buzzwords to the point of insignificance. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when good words get destroyed, or when anything is not explained accurately, especially if it relates to my job or what I hope customers will pay for to keep me employed. I want to make sure what we marketers do remains significant—and is communicated clearly to the outside world, especially those who are investing in marketing.

On to some marketing communication essentials. Let’s start with a big, juicy one: Content marketing.

Content marketing

What it is: The use of content to selectively engage an audience–usually to inform, educate and/or entertain–with the ultimate goal (implicit) of creating an affinity for a brand/product/service that may only be tangentially related to the content itself. Yes, it’s a kind of soft-selling, and it’s “Hansel” hot right now.

What it isn’t: The answer to everything in business. It might be close, but let’s not get carried away. Despite what many great publications, minds and trends might indicate, sometimes you still need to use traditional direct methods and explicit sales pitches (or at least calls-to-action that stimulate conversions).

Demand generation

What it is: The cultivation of desire for a product/service.

What it isn’t: Why this phrase is so popular is beyond me. Well, I kind of get it: Creating demand is a fundamental economic principle. But what’s with the word generation? I just think of spontaneous generation and the images of maggots and decaying flesh it suggests. That could just be me, but marketers do tend to go overboard with this word, just like with the word drive, as in “Let’s drive results/revenue/business.” Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently inaccurate with these words, but I don’t think they warrant the usage that they’re getting. For example, instead of drive (depending on the context) you could say generate, create, stimulate, start, kick-start, propel, catalyze, activate or lead. And that’s just off the top of my head. Why not give these other good words a chance?

And don’t get me started on demand generation. The main issue is that people tend to use it in such a vague way … and then it has no meaning. It becomes a lazy fill-in word that says nothing. Oh, you’ll generate demand for my product/service? It’s like saying we’ll create engagement. Well, how exactly will you do that? Silence. Give us some details, and then I might start paying attention. And that’s not just me, that could be your customer talking, so be really careful about using this phrase.


What it is: SEO is a little different … and commonly misunderstood. Search-engine optimization has gone through so many interpretations as search engines (and search behavior) have evolved over the years. I can’t claim to give a one-size-fits-all definition for this, but I think the most PR-friendly (and appropriate) way to describe what I’ll call proper SEO is to say that it’s a collection of practices that make your site easily discover-able by search engines … and the people who use them.  These practices can be abused or they can be done according to commonly accepted ethical or official standards (read: Google/Bing guidelines). The choice is up to every marketer.

What it isn’t: A substitute for great content or great user experiences. You can call me out, too, because it’s also not a buzzword like the rest of these (it’s been around a while).

  • Not a cure-all for getting search-engine rankings or traffic, despite an occasionally (shady) reputation for being just that.
  • Not keyword-stuffing. Heck, these days it isn’t even about keywords that much.
  • Finally, it should not be throwing money and time at whatever is going to keep you one step ahead of Google’s long arm for short-term gain at the risk of long-term website reputation destruction. This kind of SEO gives the rest of us practitioners a bad name.

Marketing automation (MA)

What it is: In one sense, it’s simply a software platform that enables sophisticated lead-nurturing and deep reporting on marketing. However, the broadest definition would include 4 components:

  1. A data center (for forms, images, web pages, costs, schedules, templates, etc.)
  2. A reporting platform (analytics on campaign engagement, lead-scoring and financial return)
  3. A trigger-based engine for lead qualification/disqualification that improves sales efficiency
  4. A way to tie marketing activities to a customer relationship management (CRM) system

What it isn’t: Easily defined (as you can see).

  • Just the latest version of email marketing. Email marketing is merely one component of genuine marketing automation. To reduce MA to email is to underserve all the nurturing, efficiency and analytical power it brings to marketing processes.

Big Data

What it is: Reams of data (or quintillions of bytes) from diverse sources. The key here is the multiplicity of sources. It’s not just that you have a whole hulking heap of data, it’s that it’s coming from a bunch of different places.

What it isn’t: Data. You may have a lot of data. Congratulations! But that doesn’t necessarily make it Big Data. I don’t care that 50 million people might be misusing this phrase to capitalize on marketing hype: It’s still wrong. A lot of people don’t know how to use apostrophes either, that doesn’t mean you should go around saying things like, “You’re Big Data is so big and awesome.”

Now that you’ve got this little primer, go out and tighten up that language! Jargon cannot defeat our fair profession. Be the sworn enemy of bloated language and make it fear your precision. As Hoa Loranger puts it, Web users will love you for it.


Photo courtesy of Treesha Duncan via Flickr.

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