Wednesday, May 13, 2009

In an Era of "Authentic," We're Still Talking Bullspeak

To my ear, people who lace their conversations with “marketing bullshit” sound about as impressive as Cliff Clavin, the bar know-it-all on the TV show, Cheers.  If you doubt for a second how pervasive this is (Perhaps because you’ve adsorbed it into your own business vocabulary?  Just askin’), do a Google search for that phrase. It will return almost a quarter of a million hits. 

While many of those pages will contain dismissive references to any number of advertising claims, some of the highest ranking results will include links to the popular Marketing Bullshit Generator, a diverting little tool that will likely create more than a few squirms due to the fact that the phrases it creates sound altogether plausible, if not actually familiar to you.

Search again, this time for “marketing bingo” and you’ll find many examples of this popular conferennce room game. Heck, there’s even a bingo version for social media (a field where there are, quite possibly, more gurus than users).

Now, certainly, marketers are not alone in exhibiting this condition.  We’ve all seen classic examples of obfuscation and “fuzzy language” coming from the federal government – hunger veiled as “food insecurity” and suicides by those held captive glossed over as “self-injurious behavior incidents.”

Indeed, much of the dialogue of corporate America is built around buzzwords.  There is such a rapid churn to this lingo that it almost calls for a “use by” date on them, lest we all sound hopelessly out of touch.  For instance, how very 1995 do “paradigm,” “benchmark,” “the 30,000-foot view” and the beyond-tiresome “think outside the box” sound to us today?

But those in marketing and the digital media seem embrace this kind of verbal embellishment with particular zeal.  We just love our long tails, our consumer touch points, and our immersive experiences.

If you’d like to see how a journalist and PR consultant reacts to this language in a press release, check out Scott Baradell’s “Eight Telltale Signs That Your Press Release Is Bullshit.”

And why do we do this? 

Can we be honest enough to admit that one possible reason is to compensate for the fact that we secretly realize that what we do remains, even today, more art than science and we’re tying to validate it with lofty language? We still work with high doses of emotion, instinct, hunch and “gut,” yet we seem to fall all over ourselves trying to make it all sound so rational and predictive.

We’re trying to elevate our efforts with terms that sound important, even if they often have no real meaning.  Because if we can continue to dazzle those who aren’t “in the know,” then we can sustain our hold on the role of wizard. 

But even the Great and Powerful Oz couldn’t keep the charade going forever. “Pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain!”

Here’s my take: If you build your presentations around Marketing Bullshit, keep in mind there are only three kinds of potential clients and three likely scenarios:

At one end of the spectrum are those business people who are, for whatever reasons, new to the game or still learning.  What they actually need is a trusted guide. Those buzzwords will only intimidate.  You’ll probably lose them.

At the other end of the spectrum (in the largest group of all) are those potential clients who have the minimum level of marketing knowledge needed to see right through the smokescreen.  Your credibility will be tarnished and you’ll be seen as the furthest thing from the “thought leader” you're trying to be.  You’ll probably lose them.

In the middle there somewhere will be a small percentage of prospects who have just come from a conference where they learned those same buzz words and phrases, and felt so delightfully “inside.” They will be so thrilled to discover that you’re both members of that exclusive club that truly “gets it.”

You probably deserve each other.


No comments: