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Buzzwords and our Digital Discourse

    Last Updated on May 22, 2023

    The four roadbocks to an effective digital strategy

    If you are like me, and started work in the pre-digital years, you are probably wondering how we managed to work without all the buzzwords. It was a simpler time.  We had bandwidth to work through our task cycles with our IBM compatible PC, tackling those low hanging fruit to improve the bottom line – but it was mostly an 80-20 life. Every generation has it’s buzzwords but over the last few years it is almost as if we require a daily sync-up to know what anyone is talking about.

    I gave you a taste of some of the buzzwords that are a part of my own day in last month’s post on Content Marketing.  Digital Transformation, Native Advertising, Internet of Things, Big Data, Gender MarketingMachine Learning, Algorithm, Customer Journey, E-Health, Micro-Moments, Geo-Fencing, Up-cycling … oops, that last one is Foodie-speak for preparing kitchen discards in order to reduce waste.

    “Our upgraded model now offers homogenised incremental innovation.” “We need a more contemporary reimagining of our synchronised asset concepts.” “It’s time that we became uber-efficient with our interactive management matrix approaches.” Indeed, yes, but what does this mean?

    From Finance to Academia, Politics to Art, Youth Culture to Religion, we are very adept at creating special words and expressions to make it more  difficult for others, outside our subculture or profession, to understand us. Buzzwords are unique in that they rise above the jargon to become fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context. What we would now say is that these words “are trending“.

    What’s in a name?

    It has been said, by people much wiser than myself, that there is no such thing as Content Marketing, or Digital Marketing, or Digital Advertising. There is only Good Marketing or Advertising, which includes or (if bad) excludes these practises. I think the same can be said about Digital Strategy – either your strategy is good (and includes digital) or it is not so good and does not. Are we simply adding words here and there to make something new out of something old?

    The four roadbocks to an effective digital strategy, outlined in a recent McKinsey&Company article, reinforced my thinking. Ignorance, fear, guesswork, and diffusion are important not only for an effective digital strategy, but are first steps for a company (or person) to tackle prior to the implementation of any strategy.

    “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

    Seth Godins excellent 1999 book Permission Marketing was a wakeup call for most of us in the business. However while Godin gave this marketing technique a new name for our new millennium, direct marketers have been asking permission since the first door-to-door salesman arrived on the frontier in a covered wagon. While not always something new, a renaming can often be helpful to re-ignite our passion. How many parents spell their children’s name counter to convention? Or their pets? Even companies sometimes need to fan the flames in order to wake up the marketplace. Google was originally called “Back Rub”. Pepsi was originally “Brad’s Drink”. Nike was originally named “Blue Ribbon Sports”. The “Brad’s Drink Challenge” might actually well be a winner in today’s marketplace of disruption though.

    Our Digital Discourse

    The digital age has in many respects transformed our language by triggering a plethora of new vocabularies, genres and styles as well as by reshaping the way in which we communicate.  A good example of this would be how emojis and emoticons have entered our written texts and gone as far as to become verbal expressions popular with the young.  If you were a student of language and communication at university, you will remember your Weedon, and know that language goes a long way to shaping your identity – that language is ‘the place where our sense of ourselves, our subjectivity is constructed’.  This is why it is so important if you are hoping to understand the people of the country in which you live to first learn their language.

    If you have been following the news you will be aware that, over the past 12 months, three scholars—James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian—wrote 20 fake papers using fashionable jargon to argue for ridiculous conclusions, and tried to get them placed in high-profile journals. Their success rate was remarkable: Only six were rejected.

    “People use a sort of nonlanguage, which is neither beautiful nor especially efficient: a mash-up of business-speak with athletic and wartime metaphors, inflated with self-importance. Calls to action; front lines and trenches; blitzscaling. Companies didn’t fail, they died.” She describes a man who wheels around her office on a scooter barking into a wireless headset about growth hacking, proactive technology, parallelization, and the first-mover advantage. “It’s garbage language,” Wiener writes, “but customers love him.”

    The “Sokal Squared” experiment has its roots in the late 1990s with Alan Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University.  He believed “that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in “eternal” physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the “objective” procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.”

    He went on to “disprove” his credo in fashionable jargon, and sent it off to Social Text, an academic journal that was, at the time, a leading intellectual forum for famous scholars. It was published. In what came to be known as the Sokal Hoax, many of us saw proof of the charges that critics of postmodernism had long leveled against it. Postmodern discourse is so meaningless, that not even “experts” can distinguish between people who make sincere claims and those who compose deliberate gibberish.

    Language effects our credibility, language is a means of control, it can bring us together and it can push us apart.

    Which brings us to our current predicament.  Not only are we in the cusp of yet another language trend with it’s unique jargon and buzzwords – we are on the threshold of a technological change the speed and transformational potential of which our human brain will be unable to match or really completely understand.

    I hope November’s post gives you some food for thought and helps you intrinsically reinvent team building collaboration and idea-sharing, while progressively enhancing bricks-and-clicks services wherever you happen to be this month lol :O).

    Further Reading / Sources