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in the gray 

Examining the not so black and white nuances of copywriting, branding, and business. 

  • Writer's pictureVictoria Gamlen

The Two Categories of Buzzwords

Updated: Mar 10

Not all buzzwords are created equal.

Guy riding bike in skate park
"Shadows." Santa Barbara, CA (2017)

I’m a big defender of corporate jargon and buzzwords when used in the relevant setting.

However, there are some words that belong nowhere on a website. Not because they’re “corporate,” but because they’re inherently ineffective at communicating something.

There’s two categories of them though, a nuance that no one digs into because most people bashing buzzwords don’t actually write copy for a living.

There’s buzzword buzzwords (BBs) and then there’s buzzword but viables (BBVs).

BBs mean nothing. BBVs, on the other hand, sound buzzword-y but are actually legitimate. I'll explain those below.

Buzzword buzzwords (BBs)

Most BBs are buzzwords because they don’t pass what I call the “as opposed to what test?”.

Others are BBs because they’re things that wouldn’t have to be said if they were actually true.

This is a hallmark quality of copy that feels corporate, which can actually be mutually exclusive from corporate jargon – another crucial nuance B2B marketers don’t understand and a point I'll be breaking down in a future post.

Here are some examples of some common BBs:

  • Customer-centric: who else could your business possibly be centered around?

  • Intentional (more in e-comm than B2B): as opposed to accidental?

  • Intelligent technology: why would you ever sell dumb technology?

  • Innovative: The ultimate couch potato of a word. Unless you’re white labeling stuff from Alibaba or selling vintage typewriters, any “new” product is innovative by default.

  • Best-in-class: Says who, your CEO? The people you paid for an award? (See below.)

  • Award-winning: “We care a lot about the opinions of people who aren’t our customers. So much so, that we paid to have them give it to us," is really what this phrase means.

  • Dynamic: Can we stop pretending like anyone knows what this word means when used without context? Even I couldn't tell you what this word means in isolation.

The following BB’s are the website copy equivalent of a van that says Free Candy:

They fail the “as opposed to what?” test so hard I’m not even going to explain them:

  • Trustworthy

  • Honest

  • Integrity

  • Diversity

Companies: you do not get to tell me these things. You tell me what you do and for whom.

Then, your testimonials, customer retention, results, who you hire, and qualitative data tell me how good you are at these things or how true they are.

If you actually cared about your values (you don’t), you would know that actions speak louder than website copy.

And if you think basic human decency is a genuine value add, that’s both highly concerning and a signal that maybe your company doesn’t have much to offer.

Now, if your product or service is genuinely middle-of-the-road or really not that special, lean into that. Maybe it’s super reliable. Maybe some people like that it’s not flashy and new.

Figure out and get honest about exactly who you’re the best for, and speak directly to them.

Buzzword But Viables (BBVs)

BBVs are sneaky. They sound like buzzwords, but they actually do mean something.

Either that or they’re simply impossible to replace because:

  1. The desired replacement is longer than the original

  2. The replacement doesn’t exist

Here are some common BBVs:

Data-driven: This seems to fail the “as opposed to what?” test (see last post) since all decisions are data-driven – even regrettable, impulsive ones.

Likewise, lack of data isn’t the issue in B2B marketing. There’s more data than ever, it’s no longer special. This is why “data-driven” is buzzword-y. It’s lost its impact. (The issue is a lack of critical thinking with said data.)

But “data-driven” can be salvaged. To make this a BBV and not a BB, context must be added.

Here’s an example of how from Gong’s website:

“Captures and analyzes frontline interactions so you can make data-backed decisions that propel revenue growth.”

That’s rough.

Yet, data-backed is valid because they clarify where the data comes from (frontline interactions). And unless you were to dumb it down like most SaaS companies in 2022 do with their copy, this would be hard to rewrite.

Omnichannel: Listing out all the channels might seem like an alternative. Except aesthetics (web design or ad creative) or char limits in ad caption copy probably won’t allow it.

This is why B2B marketers, or anyone for that matter, who says “copy before design” is showing just how little actual copywriting they do.

Copy is always visual. The medium always dictates the message with the written word whether you realize it or not, because there is always a medium. Words must live on something.

Writing is all fun and games in a Google doc. But pop the text into Figma wireframes or view it on a smartphone, and your brilliant headline looks absolutely ridiculous or your email is attacking the reader’s eyes with an endless wall of text.

Moving on to some more BBVs:

  • Solution: What else do you call something that solves a problem?

  • Platform: All ears for a replacement.

  • All-in-one: Only an issue if it doesn’t explain how or why.

  • Streamline: Overused perhaps, but a valid description of what many SaaS tools do.

As always, the lesson isn’t that B2B marketers on the Internet are bad. (They’re fueling my content right now, I adore them.)

The lesson is to not take copywriting advice from someone who doesn’t write copy for someone other than their own social media posts or their own business.

Words, much like marketing tactics or channels, are tools – harmless, neutral entities. When you ban or discourage them, you limit your toolbox.

The only people who do so are those that don’t know how to use them properly.

Critiquing copy is easy. Posting copywriting tips is easy.

But for those of you who want to make it as a copywriter, understand that once you unlearn academic writing, shopworn “copywriting tips” won’t get you very far.

You need to actually get your hands dirty writing actual copy.

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