Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Buzzwords vs. Benefits
beware of bogus BS web sites
Explain what you do, and what you offer, in customer-benefit oriented language, not cloaked in loosely or dimly understood "buzzwords."
Too many web sites are caught in the Wheel of Webological Unreality: they spew forth froth, not substance. It's corporate speak in its most diseased form.
They suffer from "bipolar buzzwordomania": moving from clear descriptions to obscure fuzziness, back and forth, one moment logical, the next moment undecipherable.
Buzzwords are newly coined (invented) words that can be used to make it sound like you're doing something very complex, leading edge, or technical.
But if you're questioned closely, it can suddenly be discovered that you don't know what you're talking about, or you're using a fancy word to glamorize something that is really very ordinary, old, or simple.
Ever used the phrase "we had trust issues in our relationship" when the full truth was that one of you was unfaithful, no longer interested, even disrespectful and insensitive to the other?
"Trust issues" is a good example of a buzzword phrase. Most people will assume they know what that means, in spite of it being rather ambiguous.
Even just "issues" can be a euphemism (nice way to say something bad) for "anger." Little Johhny is violent and the counselor says Johnny has "issues" with which he must learn to "cope" (control or re-direct in a socially acceptable manner).
Perhaps just saying, "Johnny's a spoiled brat who likes to bully smaller children" is a lot more direct and truthful than glossing over the reality by saying Johnny "has issues."
Buzzwords often enter our vocabulary prematurely, with no clear definition or acceptable range of application.
A nebulous buzzword, since it's not very specific, can be misinterpreted. It can be understood in a negative way that is too cynical.
Maybe the "trust issues" was not refering to infidelity, but to how one person was simply paranoid. Or to how one person wasn't very punctual, would say "10 pm," then arrive at 10:30 pm.
Certain buzzwords were invented to describe a new process, concept, or other "emergent" (new) phenomenon.
These "neologisms" (new words) eventually become the commonly accepted terminology. To not use them might indicate you were not as up to date as you should be in a certain field.
But to overuse them is another story. There is buzzword abuse.
Sometimes ambiguous, fuzzy phrases are used to imply substantiality when there really is nothing there.
Here are some current buzzwords pulled from actual web sites. Please do not conclude that I am indicting or condemning specific organizations for using these terms.
These buzzwords may contain specific meanings in the minds of those who write them, but could seem empty, overused ("played out"), or even maliciously deceptive to some readers:
"business processes" (what in business is not a process? a paper clip?)
"mission critical" (stuff that is "on the same page" as the rest of your stuff? stuff that is compliant with and conducive to your goals?)
"think outside the box" (think independently of television's influence?)
"end-to-end solutions" (are these total, all-encompassing, complete answers to expansive, sprawling problems? or merely solutions that can be lined up next to each other, "interoperatively"?)
"Web-enabled business model" (stuff you could not do, or could not do quite as easily and quickly, without the Internet existing? is the business going to be totally dependent on the web? will there be manual or paper document back-up?)
"customer relationship management" (why not call it client appeasement? or end user coddling? can you have a customer, but not have a relationship with him? are the customer relationships being managed for the benefit of the customer or to save money?)
"data warehousing" (is this the same as stats storage, facts refrigeration, information farming, insight silos, idea iglooing, probe preservation, details domiciling, or concept communes?)
"leverage" (a synonym of use, utilize, realize, potentiate, maximize, or take advantage of?)
"optimization" (how is this different from leveraging, enhancing, bettering, or improving?)
"outsourcing" (how is this different from off-premisesing, freelancing, agent contracting, farming out, or downsizing?)
"procurement" (why not just say purchasing, borrowing, obtaining, or leasing?)
"flexibility" (a euphemism for uncertainty, flip-flopability, mutability, and a modicum of instability?)
"initiatives" (ideas, work assignments, commitments, or plans?)
"actionable" (an idea you can actually do something with or about? Amazing!)
"resource-centric paradigm" (supply and installation dependent orientation?)
"develop, deploy, and integrate" (make, use, and use with?)
"legacy" (past systems and procedures? or the stuff you've heavily invested in and don't want to get rid of until it's completely worn out?)
"enterprise" (company? organization? group that is doing something as a team?)
"robust functionality" (it works? does what it's supposed to do?)
"collaborative environment" (vendors cooperate pleasantly with clients?)
"project portfolio" (all your stuff is in a labeled folder or e-file?)
"consulting" (telling you what you should know, but don't, and don't have time to research and figure out on your own?)
Corporate buzzwords are often not benefits or actions that are easy to understand.
Obfuscations have no place in modern business ruminations.
Describe your core competencies in language that is on a 5th grade reading level, and customers will admire your plain speaking.
They'll understand your products and services. And they'll be able to explain to their bosses what's going on, and why they chose you to be their vendor.
IBM, for example, uses a minimum of buzzwords on its consultancy web site.
The text is simple, direct, hard-hitting. Maybe we could all learn something from their example.
[Thanks to "the head lemur" at
for the inspiration for this post.]
UPDATE EDIT: This just in...
EXAMPLE of a company apologizing with buzzwords!
[Buzzwords are identified for you in bold type--my editorial comments in brackets]
"...We at [company] are doing our best to model our deep conviction that the core of privacy is allowing users full control over their data in discovering and leveraging their personal and business networks....
...Unlike other networking sites and services, we don't require you to bombard your friends with multiple invitations (which has led to blogosphere commentary on "social networking spam: or "snam" to have the system work for you.
We didn't want there to be any ambiguity, however, about the fact that proper use of the system would result in some email, including referral requests from people you know, and training mails and service update information from [company name].
We also didn't want the fear of spam to lead people to turn this off before they learned a bit about what is a sophisticated system and thereby have a bad [company name] user experience, which was the prime reason that the box allowed for changes only after the initial registration.
After reflection prompted by your commentary, we see there is another reasonable interpretation of what we have done, and because of that, we are removing entirely the requirement that you leave the box checked to register [the old sleazy "pre-selection" ploy, to trick people into getting something they don't want].
Please note that we separated out and did not pre-permission [once again with the "pre-selection" funny business, depriving users of control] marketing material from [company name] (the second checkbox).
Our goal is to enforce a meaningful distinction between basic service operation and education messages on the one hand and marketing messages on the other.
This line won't ever be perfect, as different individuals will see messages in different ways, but we're dedicated to drawing it the best that we can, and to leadership in personal privacy protection."
Posted by steven edward streight at 10/05/2004 11:32:00 PM