A fly, representing buzzwords in communication.

How Marketing is Like Wine (+ Say ‘Buzz Off’ to Buzzwords!)

I love marketing. I perceive it as an opportunity for connection, communication, and creativity. (And also, apparently, alliteration.) Many people don’t like marketing — or think they don’t. They find it to be cheesy, manipulative, and off-putting. I get that.

But I also recognize that marketing is like all things. Whether it stinks or not depends on how you use it.

Click the “play” arrow if you’d like me to read this essay to you.

Marketing + Wine — Buyer Beware

For example, I love red wine. I lived in France for a spell, and had beautiful and satisfying encounters with red wine on a regular basis. But if I am to function in the world the way I want to — that is to say with a healthy liver, and my wits about me as a generality — then it is incumbent upon me to love red wine without being a disaster. Thus, I figured out how to love some of the red wine some of the time. I do not love all of the red wine all of the time.

In other words, I do not unconditionally love red wine. Likewise, I do not unconditionally love marketing. There are lots of unpleasant versions of both.

The two main categories of unpleasant marketing I encounter are:

  1. Unethical marketing
  2. Unintentionally bad marketing

Unethical marketing is full of claims and promises that appeal to people’s deepest desires and fears, while forcefully putting them in a pressure-laden position that’s not good for their financial, emotional, or mental health. It preys upon the vulnerable, and it is done intentionally because it’s evidence-based. It’s effective; it makes a lot of people a lot richer.

Unintentionally bad marketing is good ole fashioned cringe-worthy marketing, and it receives this distinction for a number of reasons. Top on the list today is the phenomenon of buzzwords.

Go Buzz Yourself, Buzzword

Few things disturb me like buzzwords. Here’s why: I find that when people start using buzzwords, they truncate their thoughts into indeterminate, undeveloped attempts at communication.

I’m not talking about slang, per se, though slang can fall into this category. In general, I’m a fan of slang; it can be useful, or at the least colorful and hilarious. There is so much slang to choose from that it can be an art form — and it can be connective.

But buzzwords are as annoying as they sound. Bzzzzing about the ears, nose, and eyeballs, creating little hovering clouds of obfuscated meaning between people.

Buzzwords are non-words. They have been so overused that they are limp and lack vitality. They fail to connect with the reader or listener’s heart or mind… but they do connect with that person’s assumptions or opinions.

Buzzwords are non-words. They fail to connect with the reader or listener’s heart or mind — but they DO connect with that person’s assumptions or unexamined opinions.

MB Huwe

Sometimes we use buzzwords so we can hide behind those clouds of confusion and not fully reveal our thoughts. Sometimes we use them because we think we’re supposed to. Sometimes we use them because we don’t know any better, bless our hearts.

Using buzzwords is a choice, and we can surround that choice with lots of excuses, charts, and justifications. But when we remove the fluff, we know that we can do better. Unless we’re very conscious about what we’re doing, buzzwords keep us in what I call “thought jail.”

Inmates in thought jail

Thought jail is self-imposed mental imprisonment. There are various degrees of thought jail – sometimes it’s a maximum security facility with solitary confinement and regular beatings. Other times Barney Fife might peek his head around the corner to play a game of cards. But it is confinement any way you slice it.

For many of us, thought jail feels secure. We may have varying levels of subconscious desires to leave, but very little ability to actually do so. The borders, fences, and structure are familiar. They’re reassuring. Everything within the boundaries of these mental cells reaffirms our experience, so we can remain unchallenged and safe. And (here’s the weirdest part) this holds true even if it’s terrible in there.

The interesting thing about entrepreneurship is that it provides an arena for people — customers and service providers alike — who are weary (and wary) of the “big box” experience. True connection makes the sale, and so it’s very important for your words to reflect who you are. Unlike a gigantic conglomerate, you don’t have the luxury of posturing or posing, nor can you hide in your messaging.

The Bottom Buzzword Line

It’s far better to have a meaningful message in your marketing — one with a voice and a stance — than to hide behind popular buzzwords and become a faceless, non-entity in the eyes of potential customers.

It’s far better to have a meaningful message in your marketing — one with a voice and a stance — than to hide behind popular buzzwords and become a faceless, non-entity in the eyes of potential customers.

MB Huwe

Claiming your voice and avoiding buzzwords can be downright scary, and working through that, friends, is the price (and the perk!) of liberation from thought jail.

Mary Beth Huwe is a writer, an editor, and a strategist. She helps companies identify, articulate, and translate their most essential messages into connective content that is both communicative and practical.

These essays are forays into the art and essence of communication. They have not been subjected to the full scrutiny of said editor’s eye, and may contain typos. (But you’ll probably never find apostrophe abuse, because that’s just cruel.)