The quickest way to lose your colleagues’ already dipping attention during a meeting, or dissolve your client’s respect during an important pitch – is using marketing jargonese. Debatably the lowest and laziest form of communication, talking in corporate phrases and clichéd jingles is a guaranteed way to make you and your brand seem unoriginal. And unspectacular. And – worst of all – your business will appear untrustworthy as you simply can’t think for yourself and hold up flimsy concepts with stale safety words.
But why, Whitney?! Why does the language we speak have such an impact on the kind of professional relationships we cultivate? Well, hold your horses and listen to my honest opinion which, frankly, at the end of the day, has an uber-efficient ROI.
Did your bullshit detector just go crazy? I hope so.
I have personally witnessed the serious demotivating effects this kind of lazy language has on staff in corporate offices across the UK and wider world. I blame my early days working in marketing for the dry retch feeling I now get when a fellow professional says, “Hey Whitney, just touching base to see if you’re ideating at our blue sky thinking sesh later?”. Urrgh. Please no. Just speak plain English!
As a creative freelancer speaking plain English doesn’t mean I’m lazy or inefficient – as I happen to be bloody great at generating ideas I naturally can’t cope when the act of being creative in a forced office environment is boxed into the user’s choice of an over-rinsed corporate phrase. By using language such as “thought shower” or “idea balloons” or “mind rainbows”, suddenly the entire meeting is ironically awash with a forced, grey mediocrity that no one wants to be involved with. Perhaps your “brainstorm” sessions are not too different? It’s time to abandon this over-greased, smarmy style of communicating in favour of talking like real people, who make mistakes, don’t always know everything and aren’t judged for not knowing what ROI, persona or IMHO means.
Interestingly, many managers are often oblivious to their own high frequency of corporate jargon, often because they have lost touch with the original idea and are simply homogenising it to save time. The knock-on effect is reduced staff engagement and ultimately a boss failing to sell an idea to their own people…
Now that’s a business critical issue!
Ugly business buzzwords are more common in larger, corporate organisations – especially marketing and advertising agencies. By blindly speaking with words that make others roll their eyes, these agencies are losing what makes them approachable in the first place – relatable friendliness. This is summed up by Anne Cassidy in her piece for the Guardian exploring workplace riddles: “The larger the organisation, the more likely it is to be mired in jargon, which can be bad for business. Employees on the receiving end can feel confused and alienated." I felt this alienation Anne speaks of in full force during my own career, eventually leading me to work for myself away from that sinking mire.
How many creative agencies have you worked with who at first seemed so cool, clever and switched-on during that intro pitch, only to deliver tired, recycled campaigns for their second or third project with you? Unfortunately it’s not because they missed this month’s thought shower quota – it’s because they tricked you with fancy industry talk, then failed to walk the walk. I genuinely hate this boggy side of the creative marketing industry. But, I do believe change can begin today by refusing to listen to bullshit phrases that take up the space of real, original thought!
The first step to solving our problem is admitting we have one. Let’s self-diagnose whether you’re suffering from chronic BS lingo in your workplace, or delivering it...
Have you ever heard, or ever regularly use, MORE THAN THREE of the following office phrases (I've added some commentary to turn you off them even more):
- Sorry, I'm so snowed under *makes tea and chats to other colleague for 20 minutes*
- Well, in an ideal world...
- Well, at the end of the day...
- In my honest/humble opinion (worse written as IMHO)
- ROI (always avoiding the extended abbreviation)
- Let's do personas!
- Has it been sense-checked?
- Blue sky thinking
- Ideas shower
- Punch the puppy (who are you, Satan?!)
- It needs a certain je ne sais quoi...
- Ideate (on this *flips the bird and resigns*)
- Reaching out
- Put the feelers out (what are we, corporate octopii?)
- Uber-efficient (are we German now? Don't forget the umlaut then)
- Touch base (too sensual)
- As of yet (too formal, just say yet)
- Powers that be (sooo, you have no balls?)
- Forward planning (unnecessary use of forward)
Several of those gag-inducing terms were highlighted by journalist Joe Miller in a BBC News article responding to feedback gathered from the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. Miller writes about the infuriating nature of such phrases for employees, who often just want to talk sense and get the job done.
The solution, to me, is simple.
Use plain English. Talk honestly and openly about your ideas, concepts and campaigns. Our mistake over the decades since marketing and advertising exploded is letting the art of storytelling congeal with corporate sale speak – we must separate them again! Many workplace creative strategy meetings are better off in a relaxed environment, like a coffee shop, or a modern pub, as it allows you to chat – rather than be talked at. Some of my best ideas have come to me while walking in the fresh air – but rarely while sat in a pale, fluorescent meeting room with Post-it notes. That is time I reserve for doodling phallus.
I’ll finish by sharing this truth – my content writing business is successful due to two rules:
1. I am committed to continuously writing original creative content for my clients and agencies
2. I refuse to ever talk bullshit, generate fluff or regurgitate clichés to my clients and agencies.
I founded heapswhitty Creative Communication on the premise that I am ridding the business world of gobbledygook, and it seems I’m not alone in that fight! I recently discovered (and played with) The Plain English Campaign gobbledygook generator! Go on, have some fun creating meaningless buzzlines before you go cold turkey and give them up for the sake of good business.
Looking at your business communications and content in a whole new light now? Reach out to me and we'll "hug the puppy" and sort it down the pub.