9 Buzzwords Your Start-up Shouldn't Use
BY Jeff Haden
You might think a little B-school blather will impress investors and customers. Don't kid yourself.
Let’s try an experiment. First, read this:
“Acme Industries today announced a groundbreaking strategic partnership with a leading solutions provider to create an exclusive, dynamic, state of the art application that will revolutionize the social media user experience.”
Now look away, close your eyes for about ten seconds, and try to repeat what you just read.
Then read this:
“Acme Industries launches the first tool that allows users to automatically remove all embarrassing photos from their social media accounts.”
I’m exaggerating to make a point, but most corporate communications do read more like the first example than the second. Where press releases are concerned that’s especially true; it’s almost as if there’s a press release language virus that infects otherwise extremely to-the-point communicators.
As a result most corporate communications don’t really say anything. Clichés, hyperbole, and buzzwords may sound impressive but over time—since everyone uses them—they begin to mean nothing.
If you read the word “extensive” you don’t immediately think, “Great, a comprehensive suite of services covering a broad range of applications!” Instead you skim over the word because you’ve read it thousands of times in the same context. In a business setting, “extensive” has become filler.
To stand out from the competition, think about removing these over-used words and phrases from your press releases, product announcements, and general company communications:
“Revolutionary.” A revolution causes change, so “revolutionary” is only apparent in hindsight. Plus, it’s presumptuous to say “revolutionary new product” when you haven’t rolled it out. If you think your product or service really will be revolutionary, describe how: cheaper, faster, stronger, more versatile… explain what it does. Your customers will figure out if it will be revolutionary.
“Award winning.” Awesome—which awards? If you’re a Web design firm and you won a Webby, that’s impressive; if you received the Fulks Run Ladies Auxiliary Community Service Award, maybe not so much. When an award will establish your bona fides with your target audience, name the award.
“Innovative.” Unless you developed a new product, created a new process, or are the first to do something, you’re not innovative. And that’s OK. Thousands of companies flourish by doing the same things other companies do, only better. If you truly are innovative, use “first.” Then people will keep reading.
“Dynamic.” Shouldn’t every company or service be characterized by effective action?
“Leading.” It’s pretty tough to be the leader at anything, and besides, who defines “leading”? Oh, that’s right—you do. So if you are the best, describe how. If you are the largest, prove it. Show instead of tell and let your customers decide if you’re the leader—or its cousins “premier,” “unique,” “exclusive,” and “top.”
“Solutions.” We all love solutions, so maybe that’s why everyone seems to provide them; I know a plumber who calls himself a “water systems solutions provider.” Be who you really are and describe what you do. Name the problem and explain how you’ll solve it.
“Next generation.” (See also 2.0, Web.) Next generation has about the same impact on readers as new and improved does on consumers—in other words, zero. Just say “improved,” and describe how your improvements will improve people’s lives.
“Collaborative partnership.” When customers pay you, they’re not your partner. And unless you’re telling them what to buy, you have to be collaborative. So if you have a process that allows you to act on input or feedback better than your competition, explain how that works. Describe specifically how working together will benefit us. If what you do is in your customers’ best interest they’ll be happy to read the details.
“Focus on results.” Seriously: Is there really something else you should focus on?
To really gain attention, try using plain language and accurate descriptions. Then you’ll really stand out.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden