making sense of social

Marketing should be about making brands more accessible. Not using fancy words.

There is this feeling that in order to convince people you know what you are talking about, you need to make common sense sound complicated, by wrapping up seemingly simple concepts in obscure jargon. It’s got to the point where any randomly selected impressive sounding words put together in a sentence are being passed off as “strategy.”

There is an aspect of Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome about the whole thing. We go to these events where impressive sounding phrases are banded around and everyone nods in agreement. Hollow meaningless sentences are met with responses such as “Yes that’s exactly right” and no one points out that the phrases don’t really mean anything because they are scared that they’ll be branded as someone who “doesn’t get it.” And so we are all drawn into this pseudo intellectual speak, forced to speak this fake language where we all feel clever by saying a lot without ever saying anything.

This fancy language also enables people to hide their lack of knowledge and expertise in the area. A person can add a few buzzwords to a sentence and give the veneer of experience and intelligence to the lay man, but in reality have no real idea what it actually means. It’s bad enough that people do this intentionally, but the really alarming thing is when people have convinced themselves that they actually know what they are talking about simply because they can string these impressive sounding sentences together.

There is the argument that we have to add a certain amount of lingo to our language to ensure that clients know what we are talking about. But in reality all we are doing is talking to clients in a language they will not understand, demonstrating that we speak the language, and since they don’t we had better do the talking for them.

It’s a shrewd business model; after all, as Andrew Davis said, “Where there is confusion, there is money to be made.” It’s this fear that clients will see what we do as simple that is driving this desire to make the problems that we solve for clients sound more complex than they actually are.

At the end of the day, the problem we try to solve, the real aim of marketing, be it digital, social or otherwise, is to talk to people, and hopefully, on occasion, get them to talk back. That’s it. It’s not a complex problem. But this doesn’t mean that the solutions are easy, of course they aren’t. The solutions are the brand planning, the communications approach, the strategy, and of course, great tactical executions. Looking at advertising in particular as an example, the specific problem they are trying to solve is to get awareness of a message, be it about a product, a service, or a brand. That is a simple, easily understandable problem. The difficulty comes in getting the right ad to deliver that message. It’s a complex and difficult thing to get right, which is why truly great brands and campaigns are rare. We shouldn’t be spending time trying to make the problem sound more complex, we should be demonstrating that finding the perfect, tailored solution to the problem is where we add value.

As an industry we are so focussed on intellectualising what marketing is trying to do, rather than actually doing it. If we spent as much time developing strategies as we do trying to come up with new definitions for things, and clever ways of saying simple things just imagine how the world of marketing would progress.

Note: @alasdairgray came up with the much better name for this post – The terrible tale of Jason and the Jargonaughts. Go and congratulate him.


About the author

This post was written by Mike Phillips

Plannery type person with silly side projects. Not to be trusted.

Follow them on twitter: @imjustmike

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  1. Andrew Stiffler |

    Excellent post. I’ve been on the outside looking in on the industry since graduating college a year ago and have felt many of the same feelings, but had trouble explaing it as well as you have.

    The case reminds me of a book assigned during college “Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language.”

    Using complicated speech only serves the ego of the self while alienating others. Fake expertise is no expertise at all.

  2. AJR |

    I found your blog after a friend forwarded me your Social Media “Strategy” site (brills), and I just have to say thank you. Thank you for speaking honestly about a seemingly inescapable trend in PR and many other business arenas. I work for a top international agency, and I’m often appalled by the lack of substance that I see passed off as “work”–and so-called quality work at that. I’ve read new-business proposals that make me want to weep, and they beg the question: who is reading these proposals and how are we winning contracts? The only thing I can surmise is that a) because it’s a pervasive practice we are on par with our peers b) the people reading the contract simply assume we know more than they do so they don’t pay attention c) no one is actually reading them.

  3. huhcorp |

    Clients pay us more money when we sound smarter and say big words at them. And more money is more awesome than less money.

  4. Richard |

    “At the end of the day, the problem we try to solve, the real aim of marketing, be it digital, social or otherwise, is to talk to people, and hopefully, on occasion, get them to talk back.”

    Actually, the real aim of marketing is to drive sales and increase revenue.

    “Where there is confusion, there is money to be made.”

    This statement rings true especially when you are the one selling clarity.

    “As an industry we are so focussed on intellectualising what marketing is trying to do, rather than actually doing it. ”

    1. two spelling mistakes in one sentence does not sell a marketing professional and 2) your whole post can be characterized in exactly the same terms you are deriding.

    I love the post modern irony thing going on here. A comment on a comment on a comment. Perhaps I too am full of shit, but at least I’m not pretending I’m not.

  5. Mike Phillips |

    “Actually, the real aim of marketing is to drive sales and increase revenue.”
    This is actually a great point, and one that is so often forgotten on blogs such as this. The key problem is how to sell more stuff, the talking to people is just the way of solving that problem.

    “Where there is confusion, there is money to be made.”
    I’m not trying to sell anything here ;-)

    “two spelling mistakes in one sentence does not sell a marketing professional”
    Whilst I can’t spot the mistakes myself, I’m more than happy to correct them. Spelling never was my strong point! Though it may do to point out that I’m in England so will use S over Z where ever possible, and whilst single s in focussed is generally the norm, a double s is acceptable, and I prefer how it looks so chose to spell it this way. I’d also like to point out I’m not really trying to “sell” myself. Just sharing my thoughts.

    ““As an industry we are so focussed on intellectualising what marketing is trying to do, rather than actually doing it. ” your whole post can be characterized in exactly the same terms you are deriding.”
    I do of course suffer from the complaint of often being excessively verbose, but a distinction should be made between using concrete words such as intellectulise, which have clearly defined meanings in any given context, and the pseudo-intellectual language of marketing buzz words, which do not really mean anything in any context.

    I never state that I am not full of shit, and quite often openly acknowledge this. Such as with my constant use of “we” when describing the problem.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I honestly do appreciate it, even if you are effectively saying I am full of shit. Can’t please everyone I guess.

  6. Tracy |

    I’m not sure what Richard is talking about, but I truly appreciated this article. Maybe Richard is a marketing guru and finds meaning in the often empty words used to describe marketing tactics? Who knows.

    Personally, my approach to marketing may differ compared to for-profit companies because I work for a non-profit. Our aim “is to talk to people, and hopefully, on occasion, get them to talk back” because we are trying to re-brand ourselves for the general public. We need dialogue, discourse, and new relationships to grow.

    When I took on the role of managing my organizations social media platforms I didn’t know much about marketing and utilizing social media to do it. I scoured the internet for articles, blogs, and webinar’s to help me understand how to use social media for my organizations benefit. The language was often flowery, empty, and confusing. So while Richard may be focused solely on sell, sell, sell, I think marketing is about relationships too.

  7. Richard |

    Thanks for the honest response Mike. I would say that it’s mildly disingenuous to say that the blog about social media written by a social media marketing professional is not intended to market oneself.

    I will accept your British-isms sir (Some of my favourite digital marketing professionals are British actually) and must confess I’m a terrible speller, which is one of the reasons I am not a marketing professional NE guru as Tracey suggests. I rely on Microsoft for all my spelling needs, but being Canadian I share your pain in their frequent disregard for colloquial spellings.

    I never have a problem with verbose (I’m accuse of that often) but I do think you’re full of shit, though I believe that as digital media professionals, we are largely all full of shit, self importance and suffer from mild messianic complexes which often result in rants like these (again, guilty as charged.)

    And an additional note to Tracey, you may be working in the not for profit sector, but you are mistaken if you feel that your marketing activities are not bottom line driven. You need the donor community to believe you are doing good works so that they will choose to direct their charitable budgets to supporting your cause over someone else’s. Similarly, you need marketing to drive usage of your services so that you can achieve your organization’s stated goals. If you aren’t thinking about how to measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts in delivering on the organization’s bottom line, then someone is paying you to hang out on facebook, which is ok, but it’s not marketing.

    I’m really not as much of a troll as these posts sound, but happy to have stimulated some discussion. Isn’t that what rants are for?

  8. Tracy |

    @Richard I hear you loud and clear. While I agree that marketing is about the bottom line, I feel the bottom line tends to blur the importance of relationship building. While you may need and use marketing for that purpose ultimately if you do not build that relationship with your consumers (or potential donors in my case) then they will not come back. So I would suggest marketing is two-fold.

    Personally, I am mostly coming from a social media perspective because that is my responsibility. I am volunteering my time, an intern if you will, so what I can accomplish as an individual in the time I give I am sure you can imagine goes only so far. Social media, from an organizational perspective, requires a team. Regardless of that I simply came in without much understanding of marketing, branding, and social media. The blog resonates with me because in trying to educate myself the words were confusing, often times felt meaningless, and seemed as though they were thrown around to make the person disseminating the information sound like a know-it-all (for lack of a better word lol).

    I came to realize that all those big words didn’t mean much, what I really needed to do, before I could ever reach out for donations and funding needs online, was to build relationships and increase brand awareness. For a non-profit that is central. Once that has been established and you have a large social network then you proceed with fund development. Again, this is all from a social media perspective so maybe it belongs in a different blog. Either way I appreciate both your opinions and took a lot away from what you both had to say. As a sociology major I am swimming in uncharted territories for sure :)

  9. Gerald Ho |

    well written article…just so sick and tired of those social media “experts” out there who like to use high level buzz words that makes no common sense at all


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