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 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.

April 22, 2014

Content marketing is a form of self-publishing.

Instead of publicizing company news, publishing articles in media or arranging interviews on newsworthy topics, content marketers typically write and post content on a blog, then “amplify” their message by tweeting it, and posting on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere.

Blogs are the media and social media are the channels for distributing your news.  An e-blast can serve both purposes.  In either case, you get to control your news, develop your messaging and target your audience as narrowly or as broadly as you’d like.  However, you also have to develop your own audience.

April 21, 2014

It would be nice if we could use technology without worrying about being hacked, losing our life’s savings or having someone steal our identity.

Unfortunately, we can’t.  Identity theft is a big crime and it’s becoming bigger.  The 2013 Identity Fraud Report from Javelin Strategy & Research found that identity thieves stole more than $21 billion from 12.6 million U.S. victims of identity fraud in 2012.

As Steve Viuker wrote in his article, “TalkING about DATA SECURITY,” in Banking New York, Target’s reputation took a big hit when its security was breached over the 2013 holiday season.

The cost for Target to restore its tarnished reputation will be much greater than what it would have cost to protect customer security and prevent the breach.  Other companies should learn from Target’s mistake and do their best to secure customer information before a breach takes place.

And, just in case, they should be properly ensured and should have a crisis communications plan in place.  Even companies that do the right thing are at risk.

April 21, 2014

Today, content marketing rules.  We create content, manage content, share content and even try to amplify content.  Content is being promoted, optimized, aggregated, repurposed and even curated.

So what is this thing called “content marketing” and how can it help your business?

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The CMI provides plenty of free information, but it could use some help with its content, which is loaded with marketing clichés, so allow me to translate that definition for you.

February 17, 2014

Why don’t we just say and write what we mean?

Instead, we often communicate in code.  Apparently, we’ve concluded that the people we talk to or write to can’t handle the truth, because we increasingly substitute euphemisms for real communication.

A euphemism puts a yellow smiley face on what we really mean.  It is a verbal cosmetic, a word or phrase applied like makeup to a wrinkled, sagging reality.  It seeks to be comforting, but is often annoying.  It is, as R.W. Holder put it, “the language of evasion, hypocrisy, prudery and deceit.”

Uncomfortable realities, such as death or job loss, bring out the worst verbal obstructions.  Today, no one dies.  People “pass on” and even pets are “put to sleep.”  If you’ve “lost” a “loved one,” unlike losing a set of reading glasses, you’re never going to find him.  A lost loved one is not misplaced – he’s dead – but it would be bad form to say so.