Do Buzzwords Get in the Way of Progress?

Have you read a column in the past week, month or year that’s void of buzzwords? Probably not. In the age of 5,000-plus choices of what partners, technologies or agencies to choose from, I find it uncanny how the marketplace is fraught with complex ways to explain simple things.

Have you read a column in the past week, month or year that’s void of buzzwords? Probably not. In the age of 5,000-plus choices of what partners, technologies or agencies to choose from, I find it uncanny how the marketplace is fraught with complex ways to explain simple things. Blame it on analysts who define industries? Blame it on a competitive marketplace and people trying to stand out with that killer phrase that describes what they do? Blame it on retailers striving to explain and justify what they do to their corporate leaders? Or startups striving to associate new ideas to mainstream challenges? Or blame it on consultants for making the simple complex and charging for it.

What it doesn’t help are retailers. In a perfect world, retailers live their brand. They look for simple ways to communicate with a broad spectrum of customers, and need creative yet practical approaches to words. You’re a merchandiser, an e-commerce company, and a lifestyle brand, and it can be a cultural challenge to balance buzzword frenzy with simple words the market needs to hear about your company. My main problem with buzzwords — and I’ve been as guilty as anyone in the use of them, just read a few of my columns — is using terms in loose context can minimize the impact of the term and make it actually more confusing. Therefore, in the spirit of no buzzwords, this column is just that: real talk for real retailers.

Lets start with a few buzzwords:

  • Disruptive technology: This begs the question of how disruptive your disruptive technology has to be for you to claim that it’s truly disruptive vs. just moderately irritating.
  • Ecosystem: This buzzword got big in mid-2014, 2015 as Luma Partners really promoted its Lumascape. Next thing you know every vendor is using it and every internal IT team began following suit to describe their “data lake strategies” and “technology road map.” I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to referring to my business interdependencies using the same terminology we use to talk about global warming and our attempt to save the planet.
  • Millennials: Are millennials really a buzzword? They might be. They’ve become more than just another generational grouping. As more millennials enter the workforce, replacing the retiring baby boomers, we will continue to spend a lot of time talking about the impact they’re having on the intersection between business, technology and our interpersonal lives. Maybe more importantly, we will continue to try to figure out why they break up with each other via text.
  • Thought leadership: This buzzword was prevalent for many years, and I still don’t really know what it means — or maybe I thought I did and really didn’t. I was awarded Thought Leader of the Year in 2016, and had trouble describing the award outside of … unfortunately, it seems to be entrenched and positioned to bother us for another year. I’ve been trying desperately to think of a new term that could supplant it, but question if I’m enough of a thought leader to make that happen.
  • Storytellling: I have to confess that I’ve coached and advised leaders to use stories to convey important things about their businesses because a good story resonates better than death by Powerpoint presentation. Now we’ve got storytelling classes, storytelling departments, and even storytelling gurus. Once gurus come into the picture, we’ve officially hit buzz status
  • Artificial intelligence/machine learning: These are likely the most overused, misunderstood and confusing buzzwords. How many times have you heard, “We have AI.” While this area of discipline and technology advances will reshape much of what we know today, any buzzword that conjures up impending doom of the human race isn’t helping in a dynamic business world.
  • Big data: I have trouble with anything that starts with “big” as a modifier of an industry trend. What’s big, and is there bigger? Much like the term disruptive, big data is an overused phrase that doesn’t serve many outside of its sellers. Google, Facebook, Amazon.com, Microsoft, Apple have big data. If you really want to understand big data in our society, there’s a great book: “The Human Face of Big Data.” Warning, this book is big, literally. In the end, the term does little to help you contextualize marketing problems or your own internal data challenges.

We’re in a world of endless information. Buzzwords in my opinion distort real talk and make complex concepts harder for the masses to address in situational marketing. Have fun with it by infusing a NO Buzzword culture or, better yet, force the offender to fully explain the term in the context of your business. And remember the goal of words is not to show how smart you are versus; they are a way to level set on complex ideas.

Make the complex simple!

Disrupting Entrenched Marketing Ideas

Disruptive technologies can fundamentally shift a business’s trajectory. But what about disruptive marketing ideas? Continuity-marketer Dollar Shave Club didn’t disrupt the technology of razors, but they disrupted the distribution channel with monthly shipping of razor blades direct to the consumer. DSC chipped away at the dominance of retail competitors even if DSC sales were only …

Disruptive technologies can fundamentally shift a business’s trajectory. But what about disruptive marketing ideas? Continuity-marketer Dollar Shave Club (DSC) didn’t disrupt the technology of razors, but they disrupted the distribution channel with monthly shipping of razor blades direct to the consumer. DSC chipped away at the dominance of retail competitors even if DSC sales were only 5 percent of the U.S. market with 3.2 million members.

https://youtu.be/JbsJPO-ZreM

So now we learn that Unilever is purchasing the unprofitable (as of yet) Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion.

Procter and Gamble sees the writing on the wall of disruptive marketing and is testing a continuity program named Tide Wash Club, where P&G will ship Tide Pod capsules via an online subscription service. The question is: Is P&G perceived by consumers as too entrenched in retail distribution? Or will Amazon beat them to the punch with something better, like Amazon Dash?

Disruptive Marketing Ideas: Amazon Dash ButtonsAmazon Dash buttons enable the user to replenish a growing list of consumables in the home, bypassing the phone or computer. Just press the button you stick on most any surface in your home and Amazon will ship your order. Here’s a pretty good summary article on the Dash Button.

As direct marketers, we might say to one another that these are more examples of a shift in distribution channels, going direct-to-consumer.

But I think there’s a bigger message for marketers of all kinds:

Someday, you and your business could be blindsided with a disruptive technology or disruptive marketing ideas from a competitor.

What does it take to get in front of the kind of change that can put you out of business? You must vanquish entrenched establishment thinking and determine how to get in front of either disruptive technology or marketing approaches.

The thought process I suggest you begin with is to lock yourselves in a room, offsite if you can, taking zero interruptions and have a deep discussion covering at least these six topics:

  1. What new big idea — technology or marketing — could disrupt your business? Think big and let your imagination roll.
  1. Will the big idea you identify change behavior? An idea is only as good as your strategy to change behavior from “the way it’s always been done” to a new approach. Dollar Shave Club created a marketing video that went viral and launched their direct-to-consumer business. Consider that once someone had the Amazon experience of purchasing a book or other merchandise online, it changed behavior. Same with Uber: the first time riding in a stranger’s private vehicle may have been a bit uncomfortable, but once you had a good experience, why would you go back to riding with surly cab drivers and unpredictable fares?
  1. What are your competitors thinking? Unless you have sources inside a competitor or other public information, project their past actions into the future for possible insights.
  1. Think broadly between qualitative and quantitative. That is, what is the intangible emotion you might produce from a new idea, and at what point do you monetize and quantify the change?
  1. What do you anticipate as the core emotional response from your prospects and customers from a disruptive technology or marketing?
  1. Go on offense. How can an emerging, disruptive technology help you leapfrog your competitors before they get wind of it, or have committed to testing it?

If you’re serious about getting in front of disruptive technology and marketing, start now before you find yourself losing market share and sales. Find a meeting moderator who can challenge your entrenched thinking and bring out the best and brightest ideas from your staff or consultants. And don’t stop there: customers are often your best resource for ideas of how you can serve them better.

My new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” is available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore. Or download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with how the primitive mind thinks. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.”