Why B2B tech marketers use buzzwords

Why do B2B technology and software marketers use buzzwords when they are of questionable value and contribute to “me too” messaging? I am conducting a survey about how companies do positioning, and the answers to this question shed light on why the use of buzzwords is so prevalent:

“Are you using buzzwords in your positioning or messaging including single version of the truth, transformation, insights, leverage, inspire, thought leadership, unified software platform, or innovate?”

While 44% shied away from answering the question – perhaps because they don’t want to admit using buzzwords – 23% came clean and admitted they are using them. Many stated valid reasons, and sales pressure may be one of the driving forces behind use of buzzwords like “empower.”

One respondent said he finds sales people lapsing into “rubbish talk.” Another said product groups use buzzwords because of sales pressure. Other reasons respondents identified for using buzzwords include:

  • It’s hard to find unique verbiage;
  • Lack of confidence that simple terms will convey a powerful story;
  • They haven’t figured out better descriptive words;
  • They use buzzwords that certain customers are attracted to;
  • They use “transform” because it is aspirational; i.e., what companies wants to do.

Is “unified” a buzzword?

One respondent wondered whether “unified” a buzzword. I think it is because a buzzword is a word or phrase (often an item of jargon) that becomes very popular for a period of time, according to Wikipedia. I have recently been documenting overuse of “unified” in several markets, and especially Corporate Performance Management (CPM; i.e., budgeting, planning, forecasting, etc.).

“Unified” is joining buzzwords like “transform” and “insight” which were once fresh, creative ways of expressing a popular thought or common idea. The notion of “transformation” was introduced by Microsoft in the mid-80s with the positioning statement: “Windows 3.0 will transform the way you use a PC.” Back then, transform was fresh, interesting idea. Today, everyone is transforming everything.

In the mid-90s, I have to admit I used “insight” in the tagline for TM1, a multi-dimensional database that calculated large amounts of financial and operational data instantly. “Insight on demand” was our tagline. “Instant insight” was another phrase we used. Since then this wonderfully descriptive word has been used so much that I counsel clients not to use it even though it is tempting to do so.

Overused words lose their impact

“When these words are overused, they can lose their impact altogether,” says chairman Max Messmer, whose firm, Accountemps, conducted a poll of executives at 150 large companies, who were asked: “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?”

Part of the motivation to use buzzwords can be attributed to a desire to demonstrate your expertise or sophistication but use them at your own peril.

“Even though the terms you use may be clear to you, other people must understand them if you hope to communicate your point effectively,” Messmer says.

According to management professor Robert Kreitner, “Buzzwords are the literary equivalent of Gresham’s Law. They will drive out good ideas.” Their meaning has been negated by long, excessive use, says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.

Need more convincing to avoid buzzwords at all costs? First read my blog about why you shouldn’t use “transformation,” and then read another blog about 20 of the most common buzzwords in B2B software marketing and why you shouldn’t use them.

You can still participate in my survey about how you do positioning and become eligible to win a drawing for a free two-hour positioning workshop I conduct on-line. It’s a $300 value and what you’ll learn is worth many times more than that. Here is the survey link: https://survey.zohopublic.com/zs/Dxy3aI