Marketing Madness Bracket: Buzzword Beaters

March 18, 2019

LinkedIn Marketing March Madness Bracket

Editor's Note: As 2020 approaches, we're looking back at some of 2019's most popular posts on the LinkedIn Marketing Blog. This one ranked No. 15.

When the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament rolls around each year, people go crazy. They fill out numerous brackets, skip work, and crowd into their favorite sports bars at 10 in the morning to catch the action. The games playing out in this tourney are often emotional roller coasters, which can leave us screaming from exhilaration or cursing from despair.

Needless to say, the name “March Madness” is a fitting one.

We wanted to put our own twist on the bracket sensation this year, so we thought about what drives us mad as marketers. And as we discussed this, it didn’t take long for an answer to emerge: buzzwords.

Those grating, hackneyed, woefully overused catch phrases that have grown devoid of substance and impact. Bothersome buzzwords are entering the mainstream lexicon across all industries (illustrated by the fact that no red squiggly line forms under “bracketology” when I type it). But in marketing they can be especially irritating, in large part because marketers are so often fueled by creativity and uniqueness.

And so, for our inaugural Marketing Madness bracket, we’ve compiled a list of the 32 most overused buzzwords in the biz. You and your colleagues are welcome to use the blank bracket below to choose a “winner” of your own, but here are the results from our own internal, unscientific polling.

Marketing Madness: Which Buzzword Bugs You Most?

We couldn’t quite conjure up 64 buzzwords to match the actual NCAA Tournament format but our half-sized field of 32 features plenty of recognizable culprits. To mirror the typical bracket structure we’ve (arbitrarily) divided the contenders into “regions” (Jargon, Balderdash, Banality and Cliché) while pre-ranking them based on our perception of which terms are most common.

Here are the picks we made, and the rationales.

Round 1

Jargon Region

Disruption (1) over Cloud-based (8). We hear about how almost everything technology-related is “in the cloud” these days, but it’s at least more descriptive than “disruption” which has come to mean almost nothing.

Utilize (7) over Leverage (2). Our first upset comes early! Both of these are needlessly formal ways of saying “use,” and while leverage seems more overdone, utilize seems more unnecessary.

Silos (3) over Omnichannel (6). Omnichannel is a fancy way of saying your brand needs to be present everywhere your customers are, but it’s not as tired out as talking about departmental silos and how we need to break them down.

Paradigm (4) over Agile (5). Both are more general business buzzwords than specific to marketing, but we certainly hear them each a lot. Paradigm wins this round for much the same reasons as disruption did.

Balderdash Region

Best Practice (1) over Experiential (8). Ahh, best practices — those over-prescribed suggestions that usually lack the specificity to help us much at all. They beat out the similarly vague notion of “experiential content.”

Actionable (2) over Martech (7). Sure, you might be getting tired of hearing martech but it’s at least an accurate and useful shorthand for marketing technology (which isn’t going anywhere). As for “actionable” analytics or insights… that descriptor should almost be assumed. Why are we bothering with information that’s not actionable in any way?

Big Data (6) over Turnkey (3). Referring to a product, solution, or program that someone can activate immediately, turnkey is a slick phrase that’s gone out of style simply due to repetition. Meanwhile, “Big Data” is a scary-sounding term that’s utterly ambiguous.

Value-add (5) over Scalable (4). Scalable is a meaningful adjective, but one that’s been applied too often. (Are those cans of soda in the breakroom fridge scalable for the entire team?) But value-add takes the cake when it comes to nice-sounding yet empty lingo.

Banality Region

Synergy (1) over Holistic (8). Elegant words to describe simple concepts around collaboration and interconnection. Synergy is an all-timer among business buzzwords.

Low-hanging Fruit (2) over Snackable (7). I’m just about done hearing concise, scannable content referred to as “snackable.” But I’m even more bored with hearing about the ever-appealing fruit (or opportunity) that is so easily within our grasp. Also, I’m hungry now.

Smarketing (3) over Customer-centric (6). Everyone should be customer-centric, rendering this term redundant when it comes to modern digital marketing. But smarketing, a mish-mash of “sales and marketing” that’s meant to represent a unified front, grinds on me whenever I hear it.  

Authentic (4) over Bandwidth (5). The adjective “authentic” has been raised into a golden ideal, as if the idea of acting like ourselves is novel. Admittedly, we might only be peeved by bandwidth because colleagues keep telling us they don’t have enough of it for us. :(

Cliché Region

Ecosystem (1) over Influencer (8). Is everyone we call an “influencer” really influential? The word still has validity when used properly at least. Meanwhile, ecosystem is an example of Silicon Valley lingo run wild.

Growth Hacks (2) over Guru (7). I think “expert” will suffice when you want to frame someone as a special authority on a certain subject, since it doesn’t invoke spiritual elements. But growth hacks, much like best practices, are more irksome due to their misleading nature.

Viral (6) over Brandividual (3). Brandividual might have moved on with a better first-round matchup, but there was just no way it was gonna take down “going viral” — the ultimate misguided marketing objective.

Keyword Density (5) over Storytelling (4). Like authenticity, storytelling has become a prevalent content marketing consideration when really it should just be a core assumption. But it can’t overcome the outdated notion of keyword density and stacking phrases to game search engines.

Round 2

Disruption over Paradigm. Both mainstays of the corporate universe, often used in the same sense, but I’d rather shift paradigms than disrupt.

Silos over Utilize. A combination of misuse and overuse gives silos the edge.

Value-add over Best Practice. Nearly everything we do as marketers and companies should add value. Labeling things as such makes it sound like we’re trying way too hard to give the appearance of value. At least best practices sometimes have merit.

Big Data over Actionable. Close call here, but the boogeyman implications of big data pushed it over the top for us.

Synergy over Authentic. The almighty synergy is too powerful a force to be stopped here in the second round.

Smarketing over Low-hanging Fruit. Say it aloud: “smarketing.” Did someone nearby give you a dirty look? I rest my case.

Ecosystem over Keyword Density. At least keyword density still has a place in today’s marketing vernacular, albeit a reduced one. Not sure where ecosystem fits in our kingdom.

Growth Hacks over Viral. One of the toughest decisions yet. But I just can’t move past the almost insulting idea that you can essentially hoodwink your way to success.

Round 3

Disruption over Silos. In a battle of top jargon contenders, disruption comes out on top and reaches the Final Four.

Big Data over Value-add. At least value-add has good intentions. The menacing connotation around Big Data creates a counterproductive mindset among marketers, who should be embracing the power of information.

Smarketing over Synergy. Say “smarketing” again. Did your nearby coworker get up and move to another area this time? Case rested once more.

Growth Hacks over Ecosystem. I’ve gotten more annoyed with the term growth hacks every time I’ve typed it, whereas I’ve become more ambivalent about ecosystem.

Round 4 (Semifinals)

Disruption over Big Data. Big Data may be nebulous, but when used in the workplace I can still hang with the speaker. When someone talks about disrupting, my eyes glaze over.

Growth Hacks over Smarketing. Sure, smarketing is an obnoxious buzzword — one which just cleared out the entire vicinity of your workspace — but at least it refers to something important and valuable.

Round 5 (Championship)

Disruption over Growth Hacks. Ultimately, disruption emerges as the “winner” in our bracket, both because of its excessive volume (in digital marketing and the tech world in general) and also its betrayal of the very concept it represents. When we’re all caught up in this grand notion of disrupting an industry, we lose sight of the important day-to-day measures we can take to set ourselves apart. As a 2014 article in New York Magazine puts it, “when everything is disruptive, nothing is.”

End the Madness: A Case for Reducing Our Buzzword Reliance

We put together this bracket mainly as a way to have a couple laughs and poke fun at ourselves. (We’d be lying if we said we haven’t used all of these phrases a few times too many.) But there is also a very legitimate rationale for being conscious of our inclination to fall back on the same old clichéd jargon. To illustrate the risks, I’ll present this eloquent excerpt from an Adam L. Stanley piece at CIO last year:

The problem with business jargon, which most of us use ad nauseam, is that it’s not merely annoying, it carries the real potential to block progress. Those nifty little words and phrases may make us sound ingenious within our respective tribes (and own minds), but they can also narrow our thinking to the point where we start cramming our strategies and plans into the same universally-defined small boxes. So, just when we believe we’re thinking “outside of the box,” we’re not!

Here, here! So marketers, let us disrupt this cycle of buzzword madness. (Whoops.)