From “Open, sesame” to “abracadabra,” the idea of magic words holds powerful appeal. Businesses hope to find their own versions of magic words when they use buzzwords to punch up a progress report or add spice to marketing copy. When they’re new, buzzwords do have a kind of magic to them; they sound fresh and exciting. Too many of them, though, can spoil any content If you’ve ever run across phrases like “leveraging innovative paradigms,” “going viral through client-centered strategies” and “utilizing core competencies to become an influencer,” you’ve seen how too many buzzwords can reduce clarity instead of providing it. Don’t leave your audience wondering what you mean – or worse, wondering if you know what you mean.
Utilize – Business writing loves to substitute “utilize” for “use,” but the two aren’t synonyms. To utilize something is to turn it into something useful. You use a rake to work in the yard, but you might utilize it as a tool to get a Frisbee off the roof.
Empowerment – Any word that contains the word “power” appeals to marketers and speech writers, but too much overuse has left “empowerment” feeling a bit weak. Save this potent word for describing big issues and stick with “encouragement,” “inspiration” and similarly uplifting words instead.
Innovation – Novelty is a major motivator, which is why so many products on store shelves tout their new and improved formulas. Think twice before describing your organization as innovative, though. Too much use has left the word threadbare, and that’s the antithesis of newness. Instead, try “modernization,” “leading-edge” or simply “new.”
Core Competency – This is a pallid expression that could be replaced by any number of more straightforward phrases. Competence carries a connotation of adequacy instead of excellence, and who wants to describe their company as adequate at its heart? The phrase may have felt fresh in 1990, but it’s well past its expiration date today. Instead, go with “core values,” “expertise” or “experience.”
Viral – Every marketer dreams of producing content that goes viral, but the term gets far more use than it merits. Content that gets noticed, makes the rounds and tapers off in a bell curve of traffic isn’t viral even though it might be popular.
Synergy – This is a great word. It evokes energy and synthesis, two concepts that sound active and powerful. Unfortunately, it’s also had almost all the excitement wrung from it by constant use. When you want to communicate the value of having two things work in concert to produce a desired effect, try “cooperation,” “teamwork,” “alliance” or “integration.”
Effective – Unlike most of these other buzzwords, “effective” is still a useful, straightforward way to describe something. The problem isn’t with the word but with its usage. It’s a measure of how well something or someone accomplishes a specific task, and unless that task is defined, the word has little meaning. Use it in specific situations, e.g., “The new email marketing plan has proven effective at boosting response rates,” instead of treating it as a generic intensifier.
Actionable – Some business writers like the sound of this word to describe things that inspire action. It’s supposed to sound exciting, snappy and active – all the things you might want in an email marketing campaign, for example. Unfortunately, it also has a specific legal context and is synonymous with “prosecutable.” Ask your customers to take action, but avoid giving them actionable content.
Leverage – Ever since Archimedes declared he could move the world with a long enough lever and a fulcrum in the right place, “leverage” has sounded pretty exciting. As a noun, it’s still effective at describing a big change for relatively little effort. As a verb, it’s a non-word. Replace it with real words and phrases: “use as a lever,” “optimize,” “maximize” and “authorize” are some possibilities.
Client-focused – Isn’t every business client-focused? Your clients already assume they’re the focus of your efforts, so using this phrase makes them wonder why you feel it’s a salient fact.
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