Sep 29, 2009

The Power of Buzzwords

Those of you who’ve been reading me for a while know that few things make me cringe like buzzwords, particularly when they’re used in place of simpler language that would make the writer’s point both clearer and easier to comprehend.

Buzzwords are the refuge of those who doubt their ability to lay out a cogent argument, who know that cloaking everything under a vague term like “storytelling” or “engagement” is a perfect way to deflect any kind of criticism: if you’re not really sure what someone is saying, it’s tough to actually disagree with them.

That said, buzzwords are incredibly popular and, as students of marketing, it’s worth stopping to reflect on why they’re so well-loved.

My theory is that since buzzwords allow a statement to mean all things to all people, they allow readers to conclude that the writer is brilliant because he or she is in complete agreement with them. And that, in turn, lets the reader feel like an absolute genius too.

So that no matter what your actual definition of “engaging with consumers” is, a blog post preaching the benefits of engagement will leave you feeling wiser and more on top of things, since the writer is just reconfirming your sage thoughts on the topic. That's why (subconsciously, for the most part) so many people are likely to repeat the word or phrase: using it makes them feel smarter.

It’s a tactic I find prevalent in most mainstream publications, regardless of topic: their purpose seems to be solely to reassure their audience that they do in fact understand the topic while providing them with well-crafted quotes to use in their next report. Something to the effect of “not listening to your consumers is like not wearing a coat in the snow” -- nothing objectionable there and broad enough so that whatever your take on “listening to consumers” may be, you can walk away feeling smart.

Now taking the leap to brands, it would seem that the lesson we can learn from buzzwords is that the broader the message, the more likely it is to resonate. Buzzwords have a POV, but it’s a POV that most everyone can find themselves agreeing with. Sharablity (who doesn’t like sharing?). Engagement (who wouldn’t want to engage a customer?) Groundswell (grass roots support? Always a good thing.)

Buzzwords, in fact, have a lot in common with tag lines. (End lines, for you Brits.) A great tag line like “Just Do It” speaks to serious athletes and amateurs alike, soccer fans and baseball fans, runners and badminton players. The universality of its message--- along with its unarguably upbeat premise-- allow a world of executions to exist under its umbrella.

Which is just the sort of thing the new consumer-lead digital landscape calls for: a broad theme that can hold a variety of executions.

Don't believe me? Just crowdsource it ;)