Buzz off

Alex Hartle | 10.26.16

The Case Against Buzzwords

In recent years, those of us in branding and marketing have become inundated with blogs, social media posts, and white papers wherein self-proclaimed thought leaders (people with good ideas about stuff) exalt disruptors (companies that do something differently) and pontificate on influencers (people with influence). Or, we’ve heard co-workers that are client-facing (talk to people) discuss best practices (methods that work) when reaching out (again, talking to people).

This phenomenon, however, is not unique to this industry. Regardless of your profession, or even outside of work, buzzwords have become inescapable. This is not to say, however, that buzzwords are inherently negative. They can be effective shorthand for common ideas, or even express truly new ones. It is the overuse of them with which we at Nium take issue. For small- and medium-sized firms like ours, there are tangible reasons to limit the use of buzzwords.

Generally speaking, smaller companies enjoy a benefit from consumers that larger ones do not: a presumption of authenticity. As consumers, we feel better making a purchase from a mom-and-pop shop as opposed to a big-box store for a variety of reasons. To start, many people feel that they get a more genuine, personal interaction from small brands. Furthermore, the trend of “buying local” indicates that many of us like to see exactly where our buck stops, rather than emptily casting our dollars into the coffers of the big guys. And this feeling extends beyond simple retail transactions. For smaller companies of all kinds, an authentic connection with our audience is a valuable point of distinction when competing for business.

So how does this relate to buzzwords? To be blunt, overusing them betrays a lack of authenticity and originality. They are the teleprompter of everyday speech: a safe, but ultimately meaningless way of posturing that keeps the listener firmly at arm’s length. For branding firms and other small businesses alike, this is critically important. In the United States, the millennial generation now makes up the largest segment of the workforce, and a large portion of the consumer base as well. And here’s the kicker: according to a joint study by Forbes and Elite Daily, many millennials “value authenticity as more important than content” and “connect best with people over logos.” For small companies, the use of disingenuous speech squanders an invaluable difference between their brand and another in the eyes of a dominant consumer group. It places a barrier between speaker and audience, when the goal is to bring both closer together.

Beyond the effect that lack of authenticity has on relationships with clients and consumers, there is a reason to cut back on buzzwords in the office as well. There are numerous studies showing that employee engagement is low and trending downward. Again, millennials are the largest part of that disengaged workforce and place high value on authenticity. This translates directly to money lost, with some estimates stating that disengagement around the country adds up to $500 billion per year. We are not suggesting that dropping buzzwords is going to be the sole or even primary contributor to meaningful change in engagement, but it is a step toward creating a culture of authenticity that is valued by employees. At the rate of $500 billion per year, we think that is a step worth taking.

The impetus to choose our words wisely is now stronger than ever, especially as those of us in marketing generate (make) more and more content (stuff that people consume) across platforms (ways that people consume that stuff) to engage our audiences. It is important that when we do communicate, we do so with purpose. It is critical that our words hold weight, lest they float off into the clouds – or Cloud. Buzzwords, plain and simple, are fluff. On the receiving end, they come off as wanting to be heard rather than listened to, as monologue and not dialogue.

At Nium, we believe in the importance of effective communication and the power our words have to affect how others think about us. We believe that thought leaders, if we insist on using the term, should use their own words and not someone else’s. After all, that is what leaders do. More than anything, though, we understand that authenticity in our relationships is too valuable to be spent puffing our chests. We won’t claim to be thought leaders, because we’re not. We’re just a firm that means what it says.