The pretension trap: why buzzwords are hurting your business

Ryan Wallman
October 24, 2013

Business communications

I recently perused the websites of some consulting companies, in an attempt to understand how they differentiate themselves.

Alas, I remain none the wiser.

All of these companies used every one of the following terms to describe themselves and their services:

  • Innovative
  • Value-adding
  • Quality
  • Passionate
  • Committed
  • Empowering
  • Engaged.

In some cases, several of these adjectives (assuming we accept the use of ‘quality’ as an adjective, which I don’t) were used in combination. Take this little mash-up of banalities, for example:

“… innovative and committed to delivering value-adding ideas, products and services”

And the kicker? Each of these companies – demonstrating an admittedly admirable degree of chutzpah – described its offering as ‘unique’.

Never mind that this kind of linguistic guff leaves most people cold (see Parlez-vous B2B? The dangers of using jargon in your marketing). The bigger problem it creates for these companies is that all of their major competitors are saying exactly the same things as they are. If any of them do in fact have a significant point of difference, then they certainly don’t communicate it.

So why do they do it?

Probably because they think it sounds impressive. But that puts them in an awkward place. And since we’re talking about the consulting industry, perhaps the best way to explain this is with a 2 x 2 matrix.

 

Comunications matrix

 

We might call the lower-left cell of this matrix the ‘pretension trap’. It’s a trap, for businesses, because it means they sound just like everyone else – a potentially fatal mistake in a competitive market.

The pretension trap is a marketer’s dream

If you’re in the corporate world, this state of affairs represents a golden opportunity. When all your competitors sound the same, eschewing the ‘accepted’ language of business communications represents a ridiculously easy way to differentiate your brand. Can you say that about any other aspect of your business?

Not only that, but you’ll actually sound more intelligent, as this cognitive study found:

“… write clearly and simply if you can, and you’ll be more likely to be thought of as intelligent”

Time to get smart?

 

This post has been re-published by Drayton Bird on his blog. You can read his comments about it here.

 

For more on marketing missteps, read:

By Ryan Wallman, Head of Copy at Wellmark.

Connect with me on Google+ at +Ryan Wallman

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