The 10 most abused words in marketing

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.

The 10 most abused words in marketing

1. Relevant

When I ran a marketing team at J&J, I once banned the 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 that 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

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. 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 VALUE of the brand and those who misuse the word when they attribute to the HEALTH of the brand. Where it gets abused is when it has become a catch-all statement for the “unexplainable.” They’ll say “the final scene of the TV ad is emotional and should drive the equity of this brand.” I look at brand health and brand wealth separately and then use the model to predict the future success of the brand. As brand leaders, it’s essential to keep them separate so that the actions you take hit the right spot on keeping your brand healthy and wealthy. Brand equity is about the wealth side, linked to value. 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 how badly we define the target market on 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. 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

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 now separate Brand from Product marketing, 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. Our 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)

9. New Media

New Media has been around 15-20 years old now. 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. A better way to look at today’s media is to manage all types: Paid, Earned, Search, Social, Home media, Experiential and Purchase Moment media. Paid is what we think of the traditional media (TV, Print, OOH, Radio and Digital options). With EARNED media, you need to create and manage the news cycle with mainstream news, expert reviews, and blogs. SEARCH Engine Optimization balances earned keywords and paid search. SOCIAL is about engaging users where they are expressing themselves through sharing and influencing. HOME media is where you host your website where you can use as a source of information, influence or even closing the sale. Experiential media is an excellent chance for consumers to take the brand on a test run. PURCHASE MOMENT Media understands how the consumer shops and provides the right messaging at the right moment of the buying system.

10. 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 over thinking. 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.  

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

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