October 23, 2013: The online marketing business uses a lot of complicated language that pummels meaning into confused uselessness. Verbal junk that would be laughed out of any ordinary business environment– say a plumbing repair shop — thrives and festers within our digital ivory towers.
In the interest of clearing the galleys of this suffocating linguistic kudzu, here’s a of list phrases that causes our teeth to grate and our minds to needlessly reboot. This list was compiled by informal polling within Didit’s various departments, including Sales, Client Services, and our own C-Suite (note: none of these phrases has ever – not once –been uttered in our own offices – honest – we just overheard them at industry trade shows).
1. “Optimize” – “Optimize” – which came from Math & Engineering, is everywhere. In the old days people either improved things or made them worse. Today, however, you can take any human activity – say, dog-walking, add “optimization,” and you can anoint yourself a pioneer who’s discovered a monetizable trend. “Optimize” wouldn’t bother us so much if people used the term properly – which is to say, to describe the process by which campaigns are run based on tough trade-offs among competing opportunities and virtues. Unfortunately, most people use “optimize” as a substitute for “maximize,” a simple-minded concept that does nothing more than encourage more spamming.
2. “Shifting the Paradigm” – Today this phrase is so wretchedly clichéd that even critiquing it seems old hat. Interestingly, “shifting the paradigm” is very seldom spoken aloud these days, but still frequently sneaks into the third or fourth paragraph of articles published in 3rd-tier, blog-based trade publications. Sorry, but unless you’ve actually read Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” you have no business thinking about, much less speaking about “paradigms.” If you have actually read this book, you’re clearly a Data Geek, so the prudent thing to do is to just shut up about paradigms and focus on getting your multivariate tests done on time.
3. “Low Hanging Fruit” – This phrase – which harkens back to humanity’s glorious hunter-gatherer days, is a corruption of an established Six Sigma concept known as “quick hits” and is usually heard in conversations in which resources must be allocated to achieve either tactical or strategic goals. Unfortunately, hacking away at low-hanging fruit is often, well, fruitless, because everybody and his brother is also out there doing it. Unless you’re 11 feet tall, or are willing to shoot every other creature approaching the Tree of Plenty, the concept can all too easily become synonymous with “slitting one’s own throat.”
4. “Herding Cats” – Everyone from John Boehner to Tim Armstrong seems to be herding cats these days. We have nothing against cats (except for the fact that the feral ones are killing off all the songbirds). But the notion that people have become as willful, lazy, and uncontrollable as cats makes us queasy. “Herding Cats” is often used as a synonym for “we have no organizational control because everybody in the kingdom thinks they’re king.” Stop using this phrase and examine your org chart – if you’re lucky enough to have one.
5. “Always Be Testing” – A sly but not particularly amusing reference to Alec Baldwin’s “Steak Knives” speech in Glengarry Glen Ross, “always be testing” is actually a useful idea, because having a strong testing paradigm (oops, sorry – I mean “program”) in place should be part of normal operations. Unfortunately, analysis paralysis can take hold if one focuses too narrowly on a particular set of metrics (e.g. impressions, Page Rank, click-through rates, etc) without understanding the “big picture.” For example, if it’s a true but untestable fact that 40 percent of people who view banner ads don’t actually see them, any tests you do run will only ensure that you’ll Always Be Wrong.
6. “Jump The Shark” — Our diverse workforce was divided on “Jump The Shark” because almost half of them were unaware of the term’s prehistoric Happy Days/Fonz origins. “Jump the Shark” means, of course, that you’ve crossed the line separating mediocrity from disaster. Fortunately, usage of this term is way down these days, having been replaced by “it’s done” or “we’re toast,” which is a good thing, because the only sharks we want to think about are the sharks riding the NY subway system.
7. “Personas” — What the heck is a persona, anyway? How is it different from an “audience bucket”? Using this New Age-sounding term occasionally might help you construct customer categories, but people who repeat the word “personas” over and over often seem to suffer from a delusional blindness that makes it impossible to see individual people anymore – just generalized, spectral personas. Steer clear of people like this – especially if you’re a pedestrian and they’re not.
8. “High Level” – “High Level”, we feel, should only be used as a term in Dungeons and Dragons.
9. “Crowd Sourcing” – This phrase is marketing code speak for “It’s cheap, it’s ubiquitous, the results are junk, but who cares – it’s just the Internet,” and provides an excellent excuse never to spend a penny on making anything good. See – User Generated Content.
10. “At the end of the day” – This soul-crushing cliché, when spoken early in the morning, is thunderously intoned in a loud but usually futile effort to summon the Reality Principle. When muttered after 3:00 PM, it usually comes out as a cosmic sigh. A substitute for “ultimately” or “when all is said and done,”“at the end of the day” remains in use by marketers only because of its wishful, nostalgic character. The sad, ultimate, end-of-day fact is that because of the Internet, there is no “end of the day” for marketers – or anyone else.
Got an egregious example of “Marketing Speak?” Please send it on and we’ll plough it in to the content stream.
(Update 1/5/2: Ridiculous Marketing Cliches – Chris Bell adds to Lame Marketing Phrases canon).
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