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Abused Word of the Day - Asset

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.

Abused Word of the Day - Unique

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.

Abused Word of the Day - Transparency

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.  

Abused Word of the Day - Ecosystem

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.

Abused Word of the Day - Actionable

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.

Business People Talk Funny

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.

Don’t Forget the Content (Content Marketing, Part 4)

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.

The Language of Evasion, Hypocrisy, Prudery and Deceit

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.

Follow My Lead (or Lede)

August 7, 2013

Use your three seconds wisely.

That’s about as much time as you have to capture a reader’s attention, so don’t waste it with meaningless fluff, clichés or meandering prose.  Make every word count.

The lead paragraph (or lede, as the old-school journalists would call it) of whatever you’re writing needs to convince readers immediately that it is worth their time to press on and continue reading.  A boring beginning will result in a quick end.

We’re Writing for Your Customers

May 29, 2013

The most difficult task we have as marketing professionals should be the simplest – convincing clients to think like their customers.

It’s difficult, because clients are wired to think in the language of their industry.  When we translate it into English, it sounds foreign to them.