Our Blog ~ Pros and Cons

Pros and cons will discuss the good and bad in marketing, media and politics. It will also feature marketing tips and whatever else we’re in the mood for posting.

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June 25, 2014

It’s time to disengage from the word "engage."

This overused word is often used with "audience," because speakers want to "engage" their audience, even though they have no intention of marrying it.  

Marketing and sales professionals most often want to "drive engagement," but need to fill it with gas first.  Better still, the cliche-oriented business professional seeks to “drive meaningful engagement.”

What makes an engagement meaningful?  Is it an intangible bond between the engager and the engagee, or is it closing a sale?

June 24, 2014

Human resource professionals are among the greatest abusers of the English language.

The people who brought us right-sizing, downsizing and a dozen other ways to say, “You’re fired,” have now introduced the term “onboarding.”

Onboarding is how new employees acquire the knowledge and skills they need to become effective employees.  In other words, they’re “on board” and assimilated into the workplace.

“Onboarding” is off-putting.  This concoction is more painful than waterboarding.  Stop the torture!

June 23, 2014

The term "asset," of course, plays an important role in business, but the term is often used to describe property that doesn't belong on the balance sheet -- employees, for example, are often described as "human assets."

Used in a sentence, “When human assets are leveraged, employers can increase their human capital valuation.”  Assets are valuable possessions that you own, so don’t refer to your employees as “human assets” unless you practice slavery.

All of your assets should be inhuman.

Here's another example of how the word can be misused.  While helping out a non-profit, someone sent me a media list and referred to it as one of his “PR assets.”  I thought of the person who sent me the list as an asset, with the emphasis on the first syllable.

June 20, 2014

The word "unique" has a unique ability to annoy, perhaps because it is used so frequently and often inappropriately. 

How, for example, do those with “unique expertise,” gain such expertise?  It would have to be self-taught to be unique.  Luke Skywalker's expertise, as one example, was not unique, because he was taught by Yoda.

Even if something is “unique,” it doesn’t necessarily make it special.  Each snowflake is unique.  So what?  Explaining what makes something unique is much more iimportant and more nteresting than calling something unique.  

Of course, doing so would be a unique approach.

June 19, 2014

Today's tired word was initially used more in government than in the private sector, but it's been privatized.  Now companies across America are promising it, and shareholders and regulators are demanding it.

The word, of course, is "transparency."

As with environmental metaphors, "transparency" is more about talk than action.

Somehow “transparency” has come to mean making everything you do more visible and open, but when something is transparent, you can’t see it.  Keep that in mind when your representatives in Congress promise greater transparency and you’ll see right through them.

So what constitutes greater transparency?  Is any company really going to give away its trade secrets to competitors?  Should a private company open its books to the world?  

Meanwhile, in government, the mysteries of what happened in Benghazi have yet to be revealed, and the e-mails of Lois Lerner and six other IRS employees have gone missing, as the IRS attempts to cover its targeting of conservative groups.

"Transparency" is increasingly becoming opaque.  

June 18, 2014

Use of environmental metaphors does not make a company environmentally friendly, green or sustainable.  Yet they’ve been polluting corporate language since at least 1993, when consultant James F. Moore won a McKinsey Award for his 1993 article in Harvard Business Review, “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition.”

Since then, a whole industry has developed around the concept of “sustainable business.”  Sustainable business practices have helped businesses become more efficient, but too often businesses expend more effort on talking than they do on acting.

Remember Enron?  The company was talking green and fuzzy in a big way just before it imploded.

At the least, “sustainable” business practices can be beneficial, although the only way for a business to be truly sustainable is to unplug every machine and prevent employees from breathing.

June 16, 2014

The only action the word "actionable" is worthy of is to strike it from your vocabulary.

In a business context, “actionable” almost always precedes the word “item.”  An “item” is “actionable” if it requires someone to take action, so “actionable items” may include everything from firing your assistant to picking up donuts for your staff. 

Every item is "actionable," so why bother using this word?  have you ever hear anyone refer to an item as being "inactionable?"

My dictionary defines “actionable” as “giving cause for legal action,” which is fine, because lawyers are accustomed to awkward word constructions. 

Whoever started using it to modify “items” should be sued.  Consider joining me in a class-actionable suit.

June 16, 2014

The abuse has to stop.

In the business world, thousands of words are being mangled, tortured, distorted and misinterpreted every day.  The words may not feel the pain, but those of us who read them do.

Consider an example plucked from the Internet: “Human capital valuation is too important to silo it within HR.”  Oh, the torture!  Make it stop!

Or consider this sentence from a press release: “Kate will work closely with our leadership team to enhance our efforts in nurturing home-grown talent and attracting skilled professionals who can infuse their unique expertise in areas of growth.”

If your expertise is in “areas of growth,” perhaps that is unique, but this agency’s “home-grown talent” must have kept its talent at home when this press release was written.  The writer must have been too busy enhancing, nurturing and infusing to write a sentence that makes sense.

In a previous post, I poked fun at fellow marketing professionals who overuse and abuse words like branding, robust, proactive and solution.  But, as the above examples show, there are many more victims of abuse and marketing professionals aren’t the only abusers.  It’s time to call your attention to some of the victims.

I will attempt to publish an example daily, beginning tomorrow.  Doing so could keep this blog active for many years.

April 24, 2014

While companies are increasingly devoting resources to content marketing, they’re spending so much time managing, sharing, amplifying, promoting, optimizing, aggregating, repurposing and curating content that they’re not putting much thought into creating content.

Many companies treat “content” as a commodity, as though it matters little what’s in it, as long as it’s updated regularly.

Not all content is created equal, yet many companies are simply grabbing content from other blogs and websites and presenting it as though it were their own (i.e., they’re using content aggregators to repurpose content).  Others are presenting original content, but it’s often produced by attorneys, accountants, investment managers and other specialists who are not necessarily people whose writing anyone would want to read.

April 23, 2014

For content marketing to succeed, the Content Marketing Institute recommends using seven “building blocks.”

They include plan, audience, story, channels, process, conversations and measurement.

As with the definition of content marketing that CMI provides, this is marketing basics disguised as something new.  Missing from the mix is research, which is necessary when developing a plan and identifying the needs of the “audience” (i.e., potential customers).

Your “story” is your marketing message, told through a variety of “channels,” which distribute the message using a “process” that should change as social and other media evolve.