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Survey: “Best in class” marketing jargon “disrupts” real message

Marketing buzzwords turn people off. To almost no one’s surprise, this is what my firm Bospar learned from a recent survey conducted with our research partner Propeller Insights.

In order to understand more about the fine – and occasionally blurry – line between marketing lingo, business-speak and pure gibberish, we asked more than 1,000 B2B decision-makers what makes them tune in or tune out to marketing messages.

Egregious language aplenty

As PR pros, we frequently encourage our clients to use fewer clichés and speak in less grandiose language when describing their own products and services.

Proving that point, we asked our survey respondents about the effectiveness of marketing buzzwords like “disruptive” and “best-in-class” and learned that our instincts to tone down the hype are correct.

Simply put, a large majority of B2B decision-makers (88 percent!) feel that marketing clichés actually diminish a company’s credibility.

Among the cringe-worthy terms that fly around the tech marketing world, “disruptive” is by far the cliché that irks people the most, with 32 percent of the vote.

Next come “bleeding-edge” and “world-class” at 30 percent each, with “best-in-class” and “cutting-edge” both at 29 percent.

Ironically, “industry-leading” trails at 26 percent.

The takeaway here is that “fluff” language is not taken more seriously than plain English and that outbound communications and marketing should explain clearly and specifically how a product or service solves customer problems, without a heavy frosting of hype.

Real marketing pros know that less is more

But the temptation to use frivolous language can be strong and something of an easy crutch, according to Elena Davidson, CEO of Liberty Communications, Inc.

“Jargon phrases like ‘touching base’ and ‘thinking outside the box’ are pervasive and creep into marketing meetings and boardrooms around the world, despite the fact that research shows we don’t respond well to these expressions and that we feel strongly negative about many specific words.”

She added, “Clichés and jargon undermine trust and put positioning at risk. Clarity is critical, and we believe strongly in the rules set forth in the Economist Style Guide that originate from my favorite author George Orwell, who said that one of the most important rules is to be clear. Simple language is good language, and less is more.”

Lead brand strategist Roxanne Ivory of WHM Creative concurs. She notes that “B2B companies always try to lead with ‘digital transformation’ in marketing statements, yet offer no specifics around how they plan to solve what is the key business challenge of our time. Tech firms really need to focus on the goals of transformation, which include becoming more agile, customer-focused, and ultimately more competitive – and telling customers in plain language just what and how they will deliver.”

Intrinsic value of earned media over ads

Our survey also revealed that B2B decision-makers know they need public relations. Some 98 percent agreed that PR is important, and a smaller majority (66 percent) understand that it is “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

They are clear on PR’s importance in shaping people’s opinions (36 percent), increasing visibility (20 percent) and increasing sales (17 percent) and that earned media has intrinsic value, because people don’t believe advertising (12 percent).

Execs can’t define PR but believe that the future looks social

More entertaining are the fuzzy definitions and common misconceptions around public relations as expressed by the remaining one-third of respondents who couldn’t define the practice of PR itself.

Responses ranged from equating PR to “events planning” at 10 percent and “throwing parties” at 4 percent to “what Samantha Jones does on ‘Sex and the City’” at 4 percent.

Show business aside, the current toxic environment of “fake news” seems to be impacting views of PR, inasmuch as 4 percent of respondents think PR is “lying,” while 20 percent think that it is “what Sarah Huckabee Sanders does for Donald Trump.” However, one area of consensus is around the future of PR, as four in ten (39 percent) say that social media will be the biggest PR focus five years from now.

Banishing buzzwords and positioning to win

Our survey data confirms what we’ve known all along in our collective gut: that marketing clichés repel – not attract – constituents and customers and that simple, straightforward communication is the most effective way to build trust and meaningful dialog between parties.

As part of an overall approach that eliminates jargon and helps companies differentiate, agencies and PR/marketing pros are well advised to carefully research their markets and to develop a “listening practice” that captures the voice of the customer and plays it back to them.

This deeper understanding of messages and approaches that resonate with key audiences will lead to natural conclusions about which buzzwords to avoid and how to position competitively in the marketplace of ideas. Understanding customer pain points is critical, and testing messages that specifically address those pain points should be part of any comprehensive go-to-market plan, including PR.

Testing will likely reveal that the most simple and straightforward messages capture customer attention without fanfare and hype and that the process of listening itself creates a positive feedback loop between companies and markets. Clear messaging begets effective communication, and our task as marketers is to go tell our clients’ stories regularly and consistently – with a true passion that is rooted in real solutions, not buzzwords.

Curtis Sparrer is Principal at Bospar.

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