9 Marketing Words That Have Lost Their Meaning

Thought Leadership Marketing ComicThe following 9 terms are so overused or misused in B2B marketing that they have lost nearly all meaning. If you are using these terms today, it is time to stop and explain what you really mean.

Otherwise, we may hear you, but we will think you mean something completely different.

1. Thought Leadership
Almost any type of content has been labeled thought leadership marketing in recent years. Unfortunately much of it reflects zero thought and leads no where.

If you use the term thought leadership, explain what you want to be seen as a leader in. Is it perspectives on where your industry is going, best practices, or technical expertise? Clarity is critical.

2. Integrated
“Sure, we can add a twitter icon to our email. Should it link to somewhere?”

To some people, this is an example of integrating their disparate marketing efforts. To others, integration means something far bigger and more challenging to execute.

3. Strategy
When you say strategy, are you referring to your 50 year strategic plan that considers things like the lack of potable water and the impact of peak oil on your business? Or are you referring to a twitter strategy that includes your autoresponder rules, mass following tool and autoshared content sources?

4. Engagement
“We want to increase engagement with our brand.”

To one marketer, that might mean more time spent on their website. To another, it means increasing customer retention. To yet another, it is a metric from Facebook.

5. Whitepaper
All whitepaper means anymore is a PDF from marketing. A best practice guide, vendor comparison, industry perspective and even a sell sheet have been lumped under the heading of whitepaper by many marketers.

6. Leads and Lead Generation
Leads may refer to anything from a list purchased from Jigsaw to prospects that have full BANT qualification (that is, they have Budget allocated for a solution like yours, they have the Authority to purchase the solution, they have a defined Need for a solution and they have an established Timeframe to purchase a solution).

Depending on the definition, the cost of a lead may be 50 cents or $1,500. If you are talking about leads and lead generation, setting the definition is critical.

6. Demand Generation
At many companies, demand generation has become synonymous with lead generation. At others, it refers to more traditional advertising metrics like increasing intent to purchase or interest in the product.

7. Awareness
Awareness is easy to define, but B2B marketers that are more focused on direct marketing results use the term far to liberally. Are you referring to awareness of your brand or company name? Your product name? Recognition of brand or product attributes? Affinity for your product?

Get specific, the differences impact your marketing program and measurement.

8. Brand
Your name and logo? The values you present to the market? Or the perception your audience has of your company? All of the above?

Like awareness, brand can easily be defined, but without additional context it confuses rather than clarifies the discussion.

9. ROI
Version one: Our $20,000 Facebook campaign drove 1,546 new likes. Awesome ROI!

Version two: Our $20,000 investment drove $100,000 in revenue but only $15,000 in incremental profit. Our ROI was -25%, yikes!

These are not empty terms. They are widely used in planning discussions, in agency briefs and in the media, but they no longer clearly communicate your intent.

If you are using these terms, particularly if there are new people on your team or you work with agencies or consultants, stop and take a minute to clarify what you mean. Your communication, and the programs that result, will by improved.

Your Turn

What other terms are overused by B2B marketers and have lost their meaning. Add to the list in the comments below or share your reaction with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

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  • Hi Eric, This is a good list. These have all become catch-all phrases that require further explanation to make any sense. “Solutions” is another overworked term that I run into all the time. The word is too often used merely as a replacement for “products” or “services,” which has rendered it worthless for marketing content. 

    • Brad, yes, solutions is definitely one of the words we, as marketers, use to describe what we offer too much. Thanks for the addition!

  • Hey Eric, I agree all of these mean different things to different people. But is that really a new thing? Thought leadership to me felt like an empty buzzword from the start. Others like ‘strategy’ are so broad that they always needed explanation. And for ‘whitepapers’, my favorite pick from the 9 for obvious reasons? I’d say you need a good curator to separate the wheat from the chaff and a platform that lets you browse marketing content by rating. What a coincidence 😉

    • Hi Daniel, thanks for the comment!

      Yes, these are broad terms, but with use, I think they have become much broader than they once were. For instance, some people talk about a Twitter Engagement Strategy today. I don’t know many people that would have talked about a specific Channel 5 primetime strategy in the past. These words were broad to begin with, now they are being applied to everything.

      The sad part is, all of these are terms that have the potential to be valuable in discussions of marketing objectives, plans and measurement. They didn’t need to be empty buzzwords, but alas, they are.

      • BTW it seems my Thought Leadership content isn’t driving the Engagement I had thought possible, even though my Strategy for increasing the Awareness for my personal Brand seemed sound. If my Integrated efforts at leveraging both social and search for Demand Generation continue to fail generating Leads I will face a massively negative ROI.

        Phew, glad I was marketer enough to cram all these words into two sentences.

        • Wow, Daniel, that is impressive. I hope I never have to read a brief from you. 🙂

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    • My god, yes! I just love all of the tacky websites up there offering generic content just dripping with all of the words in this list calling themselves “marketing gurus”. Although,ait least it gives us a new title to aspire to that would’ve been considered highly unattainable in the past must be rather easy now!

  • Michele Price

    Having terminology that can help explain and identify – are why we have these words.  Reminds me of tired conversation about the use of the words – authenticity and transparency.  

    Until there are better or more accurate words, just because we are tired of them or folks use them improperly does not change meanings of the words.  It is an educational process.  Do not throw out baby with bath water I say.

    • Hi Michele, 

      Authentic and transparent definitely could have been added, as could humanize now that you have me on that path. 

      I agree, we can’t stop using these words (and these are all words I would call important if they were consistently understood), but I do believe we need to take the extra minute to stop and educate people about what we mean when we use words like this.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, I always appreciate it!


  • Christoph Trappe

    I agree to some extent, but if somebody executes tactics surrounding any of these successfully I don’t mind that it all started with a buzzword. The concepts, when used correctly, are worthwhile.

    • Exactly. These all stood once for something that was really valuable and important. Today, we unfortunately need to define what we mean when we use these terms. I still firmly believe that, traditionally defined, every one of these terms has a place in marketing.

      Appreciate the comment and the opportunity to clarify, thank you!

  • You are oh so missing the word insight. If I hear that one more time, I’ll have a fit. Every company now has an insight manager, an insight team, an insight program. What do they mean by insight? They mean data. Sigh. But insights are in and data is out.

    • Thanks for your excellent Insight into marketing speak! 🙂

  • Gwynneth Hewetson

    You seem to have generated a great discussion. I am not sure if my ‘pet hate’ qualifies but I do hate the term “lack of capacity”. It seems to be the catch all phrase for turning ones back on opportunity. Years ago “opportunity only knocked once” now we merely say that we cannot do something because we lack capacity. I always feel that if there is a will there is no maybe. Therefore does lack of capacity actually mean lack of will?

    • Thanks for adding to the discussion. I definitely get your point. “Lack of Capacity” is not one I have come across frequently, and hopefully that doesn’t change. Thanks for the contribution!

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  • Erin

    The title says 9 words and there are actually 10. The number 6 is used twice.

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