I’m not a big fan of buzzwords. I guess it’s because it seems whoever is using them is often out to impress…that really, they’re not even sure of the meaning of the words they are using. In fact, I just checked, and apparently that’s what someone who edited the buzzword definition on Wikipedia thinks, too.

“Buzzwords are typically intended to impress one’s audience with the pretense of knowledge.”

I think in that light, some words are perfectly “valid” when used by some people–people who genuinely understand the intent or meaning–but become an abused “buzzword” in the hands of someone who doesn’t “get it.” I have nothing against marketers–they are essential in getting good products and services to the right people–but I feel that often they are guilty of plastering company information with words that they think people want to hear, but may not necessarily have anything to do with their products or services. I recently read a website for a software product that included the following phrases in one, four-sentence paragraph.

  • suite of integrated and browser-based applications
  • monitoring and analyzing…in both real-time and historically
  • non-intrusively collect data from disparate sources
  • advanced real-time analytics
  • data is sorted, filtered, operated upon…into valuable business intelligence
  • real-time collaborative knowledge management portal
  • personalized BI
  • key performance indicators

That was a power-packed FOUR sentences. There were four more sentences following that included even more real-time, resource multiplying, supply chain enhancing phrases. There is a good chance the company actually makes an outstanding product. However, it is so lathered up in popular phrases it’s difficult to understand the real value. In fact, I would suppose all those words are used to imply value, and that the more that can be packed in, the more value there must be.

An entertaining application of buzzwords is the Dilbert Mission Statement generator. Here, similar to a Mad Lib, you can generate your own company mission statement. The first one that popped up for me was this:

“We exist to competently integrate diverse deliverables to allow us to dramatically leverage other’s world-class content to meet our customer’s needs.”

So how do you communicate value without grabbing onto the latest cool phrase? I think it goes back to how we tell kids to make friends. Be yourself. Talk about what you do with words you know and would normally use. This goes for whether we’re communicating a new idea to our own internal employees or we’re talking with our customers or potential customers. I also think it helps to talk about the value in terms of how people benefit or how it makes them feel. Talking to internal employees: “Implementing ‘Program X’ will make our workplace safer, reduce our lead times, improve quality, and result in more satisfied customers and higher profitability.” Or talking to customers, “You’re going to like this widget because you’ll have so much more time to spend with your family.”

Maybe it even means using fewer words, not more. Guy Kawasaki, in The Art of the Start, does an excellent job communicating this idea when he talks about having a mantra instead of a mission statement. A three word mantra, like “We fight cancer”, can often carry more meaning and passion than a complex mission statement like Dilbert’s above.

Now, I need to go review my own company web site. I don’t want to spend time taking the speck out of someone else’s eye, when there’s a plank in mine.