Suzannah Benjamin | December 15th, 2021

Every year brings its own set of defining words and phrases, ones we see used often enough because they do the job so well and need no further explanation. But as is so often the case, these useful phrases turn into clichés, becoming tiresome and redundant, and making the reader cringe.

In a bid to help you keep your content fresh and compelling, Iast year we highlighted the marketing clichés that defined the pandemic. It was so popular that we’ve decided to make it an annual event.

So, in an effort to shield you from what George Orwell called ‘dying metaphors’, we are back with this year’s batch of overused phrases. Some of which, if we’re being candid, we’ve been guilty of using ourselves.

  • Sustainable: Sustainable growth, sustainable finance, sustainable supply chains, sustainable business models, plans, ideas, solutions – we’ve heard it all. As we predicted last year, it has become a catch-all term.
  • Socialising: It’s as if taking your product to market or product-testing were too straightforward a way to describe what is taking place. Socialising an idea or a product essentially means seeking external input before formally launching it – a worthy effort, no doubt, but not one that needs a catchphrase.
  • Optimising: If your company is improving the functionality or efficiency of a process or product, you may be tempted to say you’re optimising it. But this word doesn’t actually tell the reader much. Did you add new features? Did you improve your margins? Did you make it smaller, bigger, easier to access, or widen its scope of use? Best to be specific.
  • Paradigm shift: Webster’s dictionary defines this as an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way. A phrase that was already used quite liberally when describing run-of-the-mill events has been bandied about exceedingly liberally over the last two years. And with the pandemic bringing about so many changes – many of which admittedly fall under the “paradigm shift” label, it may be a while before we see the back of this particular term.
  • Building synergies: The ultimate corporate catchphrase, it’s used to emphasise the advantages of pooling strengths and capabilities from different quarters for a common cause. Sure, there is value to be realised when a company merges with another or pairs diverse and sometimes unexpected disciplines together for better-than-expected outcomes. But synergy comes across as a vague and vacant word that rings hollow due to overuse.
  • Next normal: This has taken over from last year’s “new normal” to indicate that life is going to be different, not just in the wake of the pandemic, but also afterward. We get that we’re in a transitional phase, but glib alliteration doesn’t on its own deliver any insights about what to do while we wait or how to prepare for what’s to come. The phrase has been appearing in campaigns and reports deployed by consulting firms and organisations like the World Economic Forum.

A couple more that aren’t really specific to 2021, just for good measure:

  • Account-based marketing: This has really taken off among marketers who have realised that they'd be better off nurturing their best clients rather than continually trying to generate new leads. This has long been apparent to savvy B2B marketers who know that their content had better be targeted, relevant and insightful. And for our part, we’ve acknowledged and understand the growth of ABM, particularly among enterprise-level B2B marketers. It's a cliché only where misused: frequently it's bandied about when referring to campaigns that are industry-based, or function-based, rather than key-account focused.
  • Inspired, inspirational: This one is all over LinkedIn, with a related hashtag alone commanding over a million followers. Being "inspired" by something, or describing X as "inspirational" - generally an excuse to boast about one's own achievements or to try to generate an unearned emotional response, a tactic that seemed to gain in popularity through 2021.

While you may find it hard to avoid these terms completely, use them sparingly and only when they truly convey the message you are trying to get across.

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