In Defense of Buzzwords

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Adrian Savage track-backed to my last post on Processes to People. He remarks in his commentary…

Great stuff. But one thing is still missing. We need a return to plain, honest, human language; to be rid forever of management-speak and buzzcrud.

Take these terms Jennifer uses in her article: customer focus and customer-centricity. See? It’s there even in an article asking for real customer connections, not a personalized direct mail piece. Cockroaches have nothing on management-speak when it comes to fouling anything they touch.

it’s a mistake to call the people who use your product or your service “customers.” Still worse to describe a business as “customer-centered,” and think you’re saying anything useful about it.

Customer, as a word, is meaningless to a business. It merely designates people as those who buy from you, never mind what or why.

Ok… I’m all for plain, honest language… but can someone give me a better option than ‘customer’? Adrian says that we should call people who buy cooking products “chefs”… but I’m no chef. Yes, buyers of books are usually ‘readers’ but often they’re just buying gifts for someone else. Yes, people who buy fishing equipment are usually fishermen (or fisherwomen).

But if you’re writing about all people who buy stuff in general, what are you going to call them? Buyers? That’s cold. And am I supposed to say: “companies should focus their attention on the desires of the people who buy products and services from them.”? Or just say “customer-centric?”

Buzzwords exist for a reason. They are phrases that communicate meaning. Buzzwords are short-hand for an idea.

My favorite of Adrian’s comments is when he busts me for saying “societal depersonalization.”

No warm-blooded, caring, thinking human being uses words like these. They’re only fit for cold, alien creatures like PR hacks, shifty lawyers and management consultants.

Wow. Thanks, Adrian. You’re right, I’m a cold-hearted, uncaring, thoughtless woman. Oh, and let’s not forget shifty, cold and alien. Thanks so much for bringing that to my attention. Since I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about, perhaps Adrian can enlighten us all with a good substitute for the word ‘customer.’ I can’t wait for this new unused word to filter its way into business schools, business books, business magazines, executive team meetings and all business blogs everywhere.

I suppose I”m being a bit catty. But just as I clearly hit one of Adrian’s hot buttons, he hit one of mine: don’t criticize unless you’ve got something better to offer. And a laundry list of “chefs, readers, fishermen” etc. is not an option.

Now, in Adrian’s defense, I believe he’s onto something. But the problem is not the buzzwords themselves… it is the intent behind the words. If a business person is using “customer” as a substitute for “the great unwashed masses who pay our salaries”… then yes, Adrian has a point. But words are simply words. If we substitute “customer” for “Our Great Patrons” but the intent behind the phrase is still the same, then we haven’t solved anything. The issue is not the words we use; it’s the top-down, centralized management mentality that presumes that the business knows everything and the ‘customer’ knows nothing. And this is why many businesses are having a tough time adapting to the social technology & grassroots revolution.

So what’s the verdict, dear reader? I think perhaps some lively discussion can be had on this topic.

Reader Comments

Jennifer Rice is the founder of Mantra Brand Communication. She has extensive experience in brand/marketing strategy, market/customer research, integrated marketing communications and channel support.

Jennifer also writes theWhat’s Your Brand Mantra? blog which offers musings on branding, marketing and the ecology of business.

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