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How to avoid "marketing-speak"

Acme Software provides best-in-breed solutions that enable seamless integration with enterprise Web 2.0 platforms…

Do your white papers say something like that?

How about your website?

If so, wake up! You’re subjecting prospects to deathly dull “marketing-speak.”

Marketing-speak is that flabby layer of nice, polite, meaningless fog that obscures the truth in so much content today.

Marketing-speak encompasses all the tired clichés and empty superlatives found in press releases, brochures, and sales letters.

But a white paper isn’t a press release, a brochure, or a sales letter.

Some people work hard to sound like everyone else. So using jargon and buzzwords is the safe choice, right?

Wrong. Using marketing-speak is a huge risk, in three different ways.

Risk #1: Marketing-speak won’t help you stand out from the crowd

The biggest marketing challenge for most companies is getting noticed. But how can you get noticed if you do everything the same way as everyone else?

Using the same tired phrases makes you sound, well, tired. Using the same buzzwords as everyone else makes you sound, well, just like everyone else.

Is that any way to get noticed?

Risk #2: Marketing-speak irritates prospects and wastes their time

An effective white paper helps a business person understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

Marketing-speak doesn’t help with any of those aims. Instead, it slows readers down and wastes their time.

When every customer is a “stakeholder” and every problem is a “concern” and every bug is an “issue,” readers have to work to decode that extra layer of verbiage.

Any white paper that wastes a prospect’s time is gambling on their patience. That’s risky.

Many busy business people likely chuck that content, and turn to something that’s less of a brain-teaser. If that “something else” comes from a competitor, your company just fumbled away an opportunity to make a good impression.


photo of man with fingers in ears

Risk #3: Marketing-speak does not position your company well

You want to position your company as a trusted advisor. You want to help prospects to know, like, and trust you.

Instead, marketing-speak positions your company as a master of double-speak. It encourages prospects to ignore, dislike, and mistrust your company.

Is that really what you want? Or is that a risk too big to ignore?

The 3 R’s to end marketing-speak

What if you’re under pressure to stick marketing-speak into your white paper?

Reviewers—especially salespeople—may push to include the same tired buzzwords you’ve heard a thousand times before. That’s happened to me.

If so, try using the three R’s: Resist, Review, and Reword.

Resist: Push back by explaining the three risks. Remind your colleagues or client what you’re trying to achieve with your content.

Review: Get to the bottom of what the people pressuring you want to say.

Usually that’s some variation of, “We’re better than the other guys…” But when someone doesn’t know how to state that clearly and persuasively, they often fall back on jargon and cliches.

Reword: Restate the message in direct terms. Give examples to make abstractions more concrete. Cut through the fog to show what’s really there.

Practice the three R’s, and your colleagues or client will likely thank you when your next white paper actually gets noticed.

Empty marketing-speak terms to avoid

Here’s a list of some choice phrases in marketing-speak, and what I suspect these mean in plain English.

Remember: Your prospects are using their valuable time to decode your marketing-speak… and they might come up with the translations shown in this table. Then where would you be?


Marketing-speakTranslation into plain English
Best-of-breedI'm telling you, we're the best!
BreakthroughNot everyone has this yet
ConcernBug, complaint, disaster, emergency, fail, problem
Cutting-edgeNot everyone has this yet
DisruptiveThis will put tons of companies out of business
Enterprise-classIt's B2B: we want to sell it to other companies
EvolutionaryThis will put a few companies out of business
GlobalOur website lists 4 offices (so what if 3 are sales peoples’ homes?)
GroundbreakingNot everyone has this yet
IntuitiveOnly takes a few hours to figure out
IssueBug, complaint, disaster, emergency, fail, problem
Knock-on effectSoon you have to buy add-ons and upgrades
LeadingJust one of the pack
Leading-edgeNot everyone has this yet
NearshoringSending jobs to somewhere in the same time zone or on the same continent
Next-generation Not everyone has this yet
Next step in evolutionThis will put a few companies out of business
OffshoringSending jobs to somewhere where people work for less
OnshoringBringing jobs back home after offshoring failed miserably
Outside the boxNo one else thinks this will work
ParadigmThe same old business-as-usual
Paradigm shiftNot quite the same old business-as-usual
PremierEven more impressive than “leading”
ProactiveProfessional + active = proactive! Neat, huh?
RevolutionaryThis will put tons of companies out of business
Right-sizingLayoffs, staff cuts, could involve offshoring
RobustComes with a 90-day warranty; in software, you get the next minor version that fixes a few bugs free
Seamless integrationOnly takes three weeks to get working
Secret sauceThe one thing we do differently from everyone else
SecureAt least it was the last time we checked...
StakeholdersAnyone who ever heard of us: analysts, bloggers, business partners, customers, employees, friends, journalists, managers or shareholders
State-of-the-artEverybody has this
Strategic allianceAcquisition, buyout, merger, squeeze-play, takeover
Synergy, synergistic1+1=3, right? Get it? Huh, get it?
Take it to the next levelWe're not sure where we're going, but we definitely want to sell more
Thought leadershipA fancy way to say what everyone else says
TransformativeThis will put a few companies out of business
UniqueNot everyone has this yet
User-friendlyOnly takes three days to figure out
Very uniqueEven more rare than one-of-a-kind
World-classAnybody who is anybody has this


Jargon can be useful, within limits

Every profession and every trade uses certain terms to mean something precise. This is called “jargon.”

Used properly, jargon saves trained professionals time and makes sure their messages are exact.

The problem is when jargon spills over to the outside population, those who lack training or insight to use it properly.

Or, there’s a problem when people like journalists or copywriters use language in a slap-dash fashion, coining new phrases without any precise definition.

When the latest buzzword gets picked up by salespeople and thrown around by executives, it starts to become empty, meaningless, and flabby.

So now that you understand the risks of using marketing-speak, and some of the worst examples out there, you’re going to avoid it, right?


Does this list miss any choice words that you’ve banished? Do you disagree with any of these choices? Please leave a comment below.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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  1. Steve Maurer on November 19, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Great list, Gordon! Looks like a lot of them say the same thing, don’ they.

  2. Karen Luttrell on November 19, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    Love your translations! Thank for the smile Gordon.

  3. Danica on November 19, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    And please, somebody volunteer to kill “go to the next level”. What that means to me as a buyer is, “You have no idea where I am now or where I’m trying to go and neither do we, but it sounds good.”

    Thanks for this Graham, and when you get time…take care of that “next level” where ever it is:)

    • Pauline Clark on November 20, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      Hey Danica: Thanks for your input. We’ve added your word to the table.

  4. Damon on November 19, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    Here’s one to add …

    Synergy/Synergistic = improves efficiency and collaboration amongst workers

    • Pauline Clark on November 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      Damon: Thanks! We’ve amended the table to include your word.

  5. Phil on November 20, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Thanx for the tips…..but how about adding words (or phrases) such as:

    “…create more buzz and cement more sales.”

    create more buzz – build up the noise to drown out the facts
    cement more sales – envelop what you really want in dead weight

    I fear we are our own worst enemies.


    • Gordon Graham on November 20, 2014 at 11:42 am

      Ouch! Thanks for the reality-check, Phil. I’ll reconsider those phrases in my nameplate on this site. I agree that “cementing sales” is a somewhat strange phrase. Can you think of an alternative?

  6. George Butters on November 21, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Nice one, Gordon. A few more for the bit bucket:

    Secure – At least it was the last time we looked.

    We’ll help you go viral – But don’t mention that Internet trolls and viruses are generally ok if they kill their hosts.

    Very Unique – Even more rare than one of a kind.

    • Pauline Clark on November 24, 2014 at 10:03 am

      Hey George:

      Good ones. I’ve added a couple to the list.

  7. Ashwini Jaisim on September 15, 2020 at 1:04 am

    Here’s one: knock-on… what?

    • Gordon Graham on September 16, 2020 at 6:13 pm

      Thanks Ashwini, I added that to the list!

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