The most misused and abused marketing buzz words

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

On a daily basis, I hear marketing buzz words bantered about and it becomes obvious people say them and don’t really even know what they mean. I think people use sacred marketing words like relevant, equity or insights because they figure no one will challenge them. Of course, everyone puts “strategic thinker” on their Linked In profile. The problem I see is that a generation of Brand Leaders have not been properly trained and it’s starting to show. 

For the past 20 years, companies have said “on the job” training is good enough. But now the lack of training is starting to show up. The misuse of these words can be linked to the lack of understanding of the fundamentals of marketing. Words always matter, but in marketing, the misuse of a word can send your brand on the wrong pathway.

buzz words

The 10 most abused marketing buzz words

1. Relevant

When I ran a marketing team at J&J, I once banned the marketing buzz word “relevant” because it was so abused. I found that when a marketer would say “we need to make sure it’s relevant,” the room would go silent. Then there’s a pause, and someone would add their brilliance, “yeah, we have to be relevant.” The room went quiet again. So then I would usually ask a simple question, “so what do you mean relevant?” and sadly, that question seemed to stump most of my marketers. Relevant has become the marketing equivalent of the word “nice” because people say it so much now, they have no clue what they mean by it. My mom and my new iPhone speakers are both “nice.” Yes, of course, marketing should be relevant. However, what exactly do YOU mean when YOU say the word relevant? When you answer the question, you likely just came up with something better. So use your specific answer of how you will be relevant instead of just blindly saying, “we need to be relevant.”

2. Awareness

Just like the word relevant, you’re just forcing me to ask, “so when we get awareness, what do we get after we get awareness?” Once you spend money, you should be able to get awareness–it’s just a question of how much money you spend. In brand terms, we don’t make any money from awareness–we only begin to make money as we can move our consumer through the consideration-search-purchase stage. So, let’s save the word “awareness” for lazy brains.

3. Brand equity

There is a good chance you are using the term “brand equity” completely wrong. The term was first coined in the 1980s as part of the RJR Nabisco take-over when they couldn’t explain why they were willing to pay a higher price than the actual book value of the assets. They didn’t know how to explain it, so they called it “brand equity” and put a dollar figure to it. The word has strayed since in two different directions: those like Brand Finance and Interbrand who still use it to correctly attribute it to the DOLLAR VALUE of the brand and those who misuse the word when they attribute to the HEALTH or CONNECTIVITY of the brand. 

Where brand equity becomes an abused marketing buzz word is when it has become a catch-all statement for the “unexplainable” feelings about a brand. 

People will say, “the final scene of the TV ad is emotional and should drive brand equity.” You might mean emotions. Just say, “create an emotional bond.” 

Or even worse, “It’s an equity spot.” You might mean tangible brand assets (colors, logo, slogans). Just say, “utilize our brand assets.” Or you might say, “it’s a master brand spot.”

You should look at brand health and brand wealth separately. Brand equity is brand wealth with a dollar figure. There are eight ways to drive brand wealth: premium pricing, trading the consumer up or down, reducing both product costs and marketing costs, stealing other users or getting current users to use more, entering new categories, and creating new uses for your brand. Brand wealth is not unexplainable at all.

4. Target market

I’m in shock at how badly we define the target market in the creative brief. I once read a brief with a target that said “aged 18-65, new customers, current customers, and even employees.” That pretty much covers everyone but prisoners and tourists. A well-defined target should be a combination of demographics (age, income level, male/female) and psychographics (attitude, beliefs, and behaviors). I try to put an age demographic on every brief. Call me old-fashioned or just realistic. The media you buy, the talent you put in the ad, the stores you choose to sell to, or even the claims you make are likely going to have an age component, so you’re just kidding yourself by saying, “we are more about psychographics than demographics.” When it comes to age, I try to push for a maximum of a 5-year gap. This type of target doesn’t mean you won’t sell to people outside of this target, but it does help give focus to you.

5. Alienate

This word drives me bonkers, and it seems to be growing, or at least I keep hearing it. Your advertising, your new products, your customer experience should ALIENATE. You should alienate those who aren’t going to buy your product so it can focus on those who are already motivated to buy what you are selling. 

The best brands have focus; the worst don’t. The best marketing programs also have focus, and the worst don’t. 

If you want to be a great marketer, you must have focus–defined target, positioning, strategies, and execution. Stop being worried and cautious that you alienate older consumers or your current consumers, that you water down your marketing programs to the degree that we have no clue whom you’re talking to or what you’re even saying. As long as you are staying consistent and true to the brand, no one should be alienated by what you have to say and whom you tell.

6. Benefits

There’s an old selling expression: “features tell and benefits sell.” But I’m seeing that Marketers have become so obsessed with shouting their message as loud as they can, most brand communication is wall-to-wall claims about how great you are. Brand Leaders should be organizing their Customer Value Proposition into rational and emotional benefits. What I recommend you do is list out the brand features and put yourself in the shoes of your consumer and ask, “what do I get?” (for rational benefits) and “how does that make me feel?” (for the emotional benefits). Your brand’s communication should be a combination of the two.

7. Brief

Not really a marketing buzz word, but it is certainly an abused process. It is called a brief because it should be…BRIEF. I saw a creative brief last year that was eight pages long. Moreover, even that length, I couldn’t find one benefit or one consumer insight. Every brief should be one-page maximum. I’ve done a 1000 briefs at this point, and it is pretty easy to nail the one-page brief.

8. Brand

Too many companies have separate brand and product marketing teams, especially on the master-brand type companies. The “Brand” department handles PR, brand advertising, websites, and events. The “product” department handles new products, pricing, distribution, and product-oriented or promotion-oriented advertising. Brand and Product should NEVER be separated. It’s crazy. My definition of a brand: “A Brand is a unique idea, perceived in the minds and hearts of the consumer, consistently delivered by the experience, creating a bond, power, and profit, beyond what the product itself could achieve.” To have a successful brand, you need to connect with consumers based on a BRAND IDEA and then line up the five connectors (promise, story, innovation, purchase moment, and experience). With two separate departments, who is making sure everything is aligned? The CMO?  I would hope not. Force your brand and product to work as one. In terms of organizational structure, force them to bump into each other, debate and battle it out, and gain alignment, rather than operate in silos. 


9. Strategic


To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first. Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planning who can see connections. Non Strategic Thinkers see answers before questions. They get to answers quickly and will get frustrated in the delays of thinking. They think doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action overthinking. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They are frustrated by strategic thinkers. However, to be a great marketer, you must be a bit of a chameleon. While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand. They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action.


Moreover, while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff we need to be done. I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and non-strategic, almost equally so. You must be able to talk with both types, at one-minute debating investment choices and then attend a voice recording deciding on option A or B. You need to make tough choices but you also have to inspire all those non-strategic thinkers to be great on your brand instead of being great on someone else’s brand. 

10. New Media

New Media has been around 15-20 years old now. Maybe you don’t use the term “new media” but if you are saying “traditional media” then you are indirectly using the term. I bet you don’t call it “non traditional” do you? I’m not sure I hear the term “new media” on Mad Men when they talk TV ads, but that’s how crazy it sounds at this point. 

In today’s cluttered media world, the brand idea should help organize all four types of media, including paid, earned, shared, and owned.  


It is OK to use these marketing buzz words. Just make sure you use them properly.

This type of thinking can be found in our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

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