Buzzwords to Avoid at Work

Did you come up with an “outside of the box” idea that will reflect the “voice of the customer” and encourage “organic growth?” Unfortunately, your “big idea” may not resonate if you use a bunch of buzzwords such as these to describe it.

Creative professionals are known—and hired—for original thinking. That’s why it’s surprising how frequently tired and cliched words and phrases are employed by those in the industry. In fact, terms such as “outside the box” and “big idea” were among those listed by advertising and marketing executives as the most annoying buzzwords in a recent survey by The Creative Group. Here’s some other vexing verbiage cited by respondents:
• “Synergy”
• “ROI”
• “Paradigm shift”
• “Integrated solution”
• “Customer-centric”
• “Voice of the customer”
• “Critical mass”
• “Make it pop”
• “Break through the clutter”
• “Take it to the next level”

Because buzzwords are so prevalent, it’s easy for people to incorporate them into their vocabularies. But when terms become overused, they lose their impact. Following are some suggestions to help you avoid the cliches and convey your thoughts more effectively.

Don’t sugarcoat your critique. People tend to uses cliches to camouflage criticism. It’s easier, for example, to tell your team they need to “take it to the next level” when what you mean is the work is stale. While you don’t want to berate people, you do want to give useful feedback, and terms like “take it to the next level” leave people guessing. Uncovering a few more details—including why, specifically, the piece misses the mark—will help your staff move the piece in the right direction.

Know your audience. Frequently, people use buzzwords to save time. Why explain “ROI” when everyone knows what it means? But buzzwords are often exclusionary because at least some people are likely unfamiliar with even the most seemingly ubiquitous terms. Imagine you’re giving a presentation to a group of recent college graduates interested in pursing careers in graphic design. They aren’t likely to understand why “ROI” is so important to creative firms and their clients—or even what “ROI” is. Instead, tailor your message to the knowledge level of the audience, and avoid buzzwords or acronyms unless everyone understands them.

Show instead of tell. Another reason cliches are so prevalent is because sometimes it really can be difficult to phrase your thoughts using different terms. In cases like this, consider ditching words all together. For example, instead of saying to your team that the new website they’ve created doesn’t “break through the clutter,” show them where the hang-ups lie. Also, provide example of “clutter-free” websites that are successful in reaching their intended audiences. Visual examples such as these can often convey more information than words.

Keep it simple. One of the best ways to avoid buzzwords is by speaking plainly. Rather than advising your staff to go after “low-hanging fruit,” tell them to target business goals that are easily obtained and do not require a lot of effort. While it may take a few more words, you can be confident your message gets across and is understood by all.

Know when there’s no alternative. The simple truth is that you sometimes have to use buzzwords. For example, many people cited “branding” as an annoying word in our company’s survey, but often there’s no way around it—especially if you’re talking to clients who embrace the term.

Remember that direct, concrete statements typically are the most powerful and persuasive. If you find your communications laden with buzzwords, consider how you can convey their thoughts more clearly.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms. For more information, visit