“What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate!”

A Disturbing Trend in Business Communication

Over the past couple of decades, the global economy has become more knowledge and service-based. It’s led to a proliferation in the number of professional service firms, specifically, consultancies, and more specifically, marketing firms, including but not limited to branding, design, advertising, digital, interactive, web, social media, and countless hybrids. There are no standards or formal oversight in this field that restricts or controls communication or activity. In an effort to continually create innovative and unique thought-leadership to distinguish and differentiate themselves, thought-leaders representing themselves and their firms have adapted, adopted, adjusted, customized, twisted, bent, and flat out changed the meaning and use of many commonly used nomenclature, words, phrases and terms. It’s created a mind-numbing amount of titles, labels, jargon, and slang that make effective communication and establishment of common understanding and expectations impossible.

 “What, exactly is the purpose of a “definition” if its meaning can be determined individually? How do you transfer knowledge about a thing, if the meaning of the thing can be arbitrarily open to interpretation? We MUST stop treating such bedrock professional concepts as a blank page for waxing philosophical about meaning… Apparently we marketers don’t know how build equity for our brand.” – Christopher Kenton is senior vice president of the CMO Council and its corporate parent, GlobalFluency.

“There are 37 (37?!) definitions for brand and branding, some of which I’ve never heard of. Brand personality. Brand promise. Brand fingerprint. Brand sense. Brand signature. Brand voltage. Brand commitment. Etc. etc. etc. And we wonder why there’s confusion about the concept of branding?” – Jennifer Rice, Brand Consultant

“Perhaps that’s why many senior executives think branding is a bunch of consultant babble.” – Tom Asacker, Business & Brand Thought Leader

To further clarify by example, the word “brand” is:

  • A noun
  • A verb
  • There are corporate brands
  • There are product brands
  • There are service brands
  • There are personal brands

The list could go one. No two of the above are the same in meaning or practice. And there are countless definitions of the word by market leading business leaders, thought leaders, and countless consultants, each different, and each “right.” This makes using “brand” or “branding” as a title or label very risky, as it cannot effectively convey common meaning or set common expectations.

It seems that the same fundamental business concepts are given their own language based on the perspective of the expert. Brand experts see everything as brand-centric. Marketers as market-centric. Business consultants as business strategy or management-centric. You get the idea. So many ways to express the same ideas, but none useful because there’s no certainty about what is meant and what is understood.

The word “strategy” and “strategic” are seemingly used anywhere and everywhere by anyone and everyone. Seems everybody and every service company wants to associate with the higher perceived value of being “strategic.” To be strategic, you need to be smarter, more expert, more experienced, more proven to work with a client’s most senior, accomplished leadership and management to make the most important decisions and execute the most critical initiatives. And it’s more valuable – justifying higher prices and generating higher more revenue and profits. But practically speaking, everything labeled a “strategy” or “strategic” can’t be and isn’t. The truth is, if a company has a true articulated strategy at all, it is likely the only legitimate strategy. Everything else, plans, schedules, budgets, models, forecasts, tasks, and activities, are done the service of achieving that strategy. With so much overuse, and varied meaning, the word “strategy” and “strategic” mean everything, and so they mean nothing, because there cannot be common understanding and expectation.

The words “marketing”, “value”, “creative”, “design”, and “innovative,” among many others, have also been victimized and now suffer from the same symptoms. To use them effectively, specific context and purpose must be provided, or they need to be avoided and replaced with genuine, specific language that describes what was “creative” or “innovative” or “what was designed”.

This scenario creates quite a challenge to effective business communication, especially in marketing. But there is a way to address and overcome this challenge. It requires departing from use or dependence of jargon, clichés, titles, labels, arbitrary use and meaning, and generating thoughtful, genuine, specific, explicit language. “Creativity”, “personality”, “individuality”, uniqueness”, and “style” are positive and productive qualities of verbal expression, as long as they do not detract or distract from what must be commonly communicated and understood. It takes more time, and effort. But the extra work is worth it. Your verbal communication will distinguish itself, your content, you, and your firm, by being easy to understand, analyze, evaluate, and act on.

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