Cutting Through the Crap: The Benefits of Banishing Business Buzzwords
In this blog, we will take a deep dive into your ecosystem and provide you with visibility into how you can leverage your core competencies to ensure that you are able to synergistically retarget your resources in order to holistically impact your deliverables.
We’ll drill down into the roots of the issues, unpack the pain points, and move the needle on sustainability, whilst allowing you to maximize your wheelhouse. We’ll provide you with quick wins that can ensure alignment with your hyperlocal presence, outline touch points to disrupt your industry, and low-hanging fruit that will accelerate your ability to hack the system.
We will think outside the box, be transformative, and lean into next-level insights, learnings, and prevent you from boiling the ocean. Moving forward, we’ll ensure that you’re empowered to create omni-channel solutions that allow you to effectively play in your space, whilst benefiting from fail-fast practices that prioritize bandwidth and allow for transformative mindfulness of the bottom line.
At the end of the day, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. But before we circle back on this game-changing paradigm shift, let me put a pin in this statement, exit my swimlane, perform a hard stop, and ask you one question…
What did I just say?
Sure, these are all English words. They all have a “meaning” within the confines of business, but it’s a meaning that’s devoid of any, well, meaning.
I have been raging against the Business Buzzword Machine for the better part of two decades. I have worked at organizations that embraced them with a passion usually reserved for steamy romance novels. And I’ve worked in places that, in general, try to avoid them like the plague…
But like any plague worth its salt, things seep in -- just listen for the “going forwards” in your organization. You know, as opposed to calling up Doc and firing up the DeLorean to go back in time.
And I’m not immune! I was not all that long ago (appropriately) called out for an over reliance on the use of the term “socializing.” I put myself in the penalty box, felt an appropriate amount of shame, and have done my best to keep that term in check. Some buzz words are a necessary evil -- in UX, we talk a lot about pain points, but I’ll argue that that’s where they should be talked about! It’s an appropriate use of the term.
I’ve recently read a shocking missive from an employment site of some reknown that had the audacity to suggest that buzzwords are actually a good thing -- “... business buzzwords are important because they can simplify complex concepts into a word or phrase that is easy to understand... Buzzwords can also increase employee engagement by using metaphors and interesting phrases to express daily tasks and goals.”
I can think of another “B” word that accurately describes what I think of that, but I prefer not to use it in polite company.
In my opinion, there are exactly two times when using Biz Speak is appropriate:
- You have nothing of real value or interest to share, but you want to hide that behind a wall of words to make it sound like you’re saying something; or
- You want to hide the truth of what you’re saying, so you’re trying to obscure what you’re actually staying behind a wall of words that sound like they mean something.
You’ll note that clearly conveying something in a way that allows your readers to quickly understand it isn’t in that list.
The English language is a wonderful thing. It is filled with so many delightful words: verbs, adjectives, adverbs… a veritable cornucopia of terminology that effectively says what we need to say? But why do we rely on so few that mean so little? Why do we run certain terms into the ground to the point where they’re self-parodying (for example, using the overused, tired, and trite “out of the box” to describe something that’s new and innovative is Alanis-level ironic these days.)
It is, in large part, our corporate need to “sound smart.”
I mean, I enjoy a good game of Business Buzzword Bingo as much as the next person. But there’s real risks caused by so casually using empty terms.
As in lack thereof. One of the wonderful principles of universal accessibility is that it means that your content is accessible to all. That’s why we almost exclusively advocate for Plain Language principles.
At its base level, embracing a more Plain Language-based approach will help you connect with readers no matter what their background or literacy level. As I shared back in May, statistics show that nearly half of all Canadians have low literacy skills -- either testing as poor or narrow readers.
Add to that the increasing number of Canadians for whom English isn’t their first language, and you are creating an intentional barrier to comprehension for your content.
Sure, that may be your intent. But if it isn’t, then remember the dangers of trying to “sound smart.”
Buzzwords are horrible for SEO? Why? Because very few people actually search for those terms. In fact, using this type of language is completely misaligned with how users are finding content.
We’re seeing far more long-tail, natural-language search patterns, simply because of the way people use technology. Whether it’s asking Alexa, Siri, or yelling Hey Google! Whether it’s typing in a search bar on their laptop, or voice searching on their phone, we’re far more conversational and natural in our search language.
So doesn’t it make sense that you’d want to align with that?
Expecting users to use your language or terminology is simply an invitation to failure. Going where they are and using language that they use is far more likely to see them find your content in a way that’s natural and intuitive to them.
There are just so many levels of frustration here: there’s the people who can’t parse through this dense forest of biz speak and get frustrated by their inability to understand what’s being said; there’s the people who can see the trees that make up that forest and get frustrated because we know what you’re doing and don’t like to be “played.”
Neither of those is a positive. So why do it? Is “sounding” smart more valuable than intelligently crafting useful content?
I was not always immune to that idea -- and occasionally I slip up to this day. Early in my career I worked for a medical website that was allegedly targeted towards average people, but my senior editor wanted us to use medical jargon and terminology. If you’ve ever read an abstract from a medical journal, you’ll see that the language is not exactly public-friendly.
But I wanted to flex my linguistic muscles. I wanted to show off my big vocabulary. I wanted to sound smart. It took a while for me to realize that the only thing I was satisfying was my own ego (and the misguided intentions of my boss). Our users suffered.
It’s still a challenge. Working with clients, Plain Language can be a scary concept because they don’t want to “dumb down” their language. But that’s not what it’s about. In the past we’ve given you “Real Talk on Plain Language” and specifically tackled the misconception of dumbing down language. Simple doesn’t mean inelegant. Our language is full of wonderful words -- use them.
When I read something that’s riddled with Biz Speak, my initial reaction is mistrust: what are you hiding? What are you trying to obscure? And that impacts my level of confidence in your organization.
But that’s not all. Sadly, we live in a time where distrust in organizations is high. Government, medical, big business -- there are pockets of people who are convinced that these bodies are conspiring against them. Using language designed to obscure and confuse only adds to that level of mistrust.
Openness, transparency, and honesty are the holy trinity of consumer trust. That level of trust is best achieved through clarity. Simply put, unless you have something to hide, there’s never a reason to use opaque language.
Hey, I know you’ve heard me sing a version of this song before. One of my first Echidna blogs back in February 2013 was on this topic. And in addition to the posts to which I linked above, I’ve talked about variations of this message many times -- whether it’s Biz Speak or puffery.
The topic is on my personal Greatest Hits album because the song and dance continues to this day. But slowly, I’m seeing change. A lot of it is motivated by people and organizations understanding how important web search is to their efforts. They’re understanding that black-hat SEO doesn’t work, but quality content can bring results. They’re understanding “how” people use the internet, based on data and research. And they’re embracing the importance of user experience research -- not just assuming they know what their customers want, but actually asking them and getting first-hand responses.
It gives me hope that we’ll eventually be able to cut through that dense forest of Biz Speak and build a more clear pathway to success.