We all have a list of words and phrases that we wish, for the love of all that’s good and pure, would mercifully go away. Paradoxically, it’s often the fact that these words and phrases are essentially right that, with time, makes them so deadly wrong—and deadly dull.

As we enter the waning days of the calendar year, I thought I’d review some of the words and phrases that entered cringe territory in 2014. To source this list, I consulted my Gartner colleagues—who, needless to say, generally have a fairly deft ear for hyperbole.

By unscientific quorum, here are the words that reached the heights of hackney in 2014.

In no particular order, they are:

  1. Big data—oh, how we love our big data. The promise of precision insight delivered and action dispensed in the moment stirs our imaginations. But more enlightened marketers know they have their share of small data challenges to contend with before they can harvest such big data dreams. With marketing data, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
  2. Omnichannel—the prefix “omni” means all things, ways or places. That, in and of itself, is perhaps the first issue with this term. It suggests bringing the seven seas to something of a rolling boil. The second issue is the frequency with which it’s strutted out these days.
  3. Customer experience—as much as it pains me to include this term, here it is—and deservedly so. In an age of exceptionally high consumer expectations, customer experience has emerged as the next competitive battlefield. I stand by its importance, but also concede the hearty bluster it has inspired in the digital echo chamber.
  4. Customer journey—I’ll admit that this, too, feels like a minor injustice, but I wholly agree that it’s precariously close to jumping the shark (which, according to my colleague Jennifer Polk, is a phrase that, itself, has jumped the shark).
  5. Mobile first—if you ever want to raise the hackles of my otherwise unflappable colleague Mike McGuire, tell him you’ve adopted a mobile first strategy. He’ll tell you that this phrase only serves to perpetuate mobile as a discrete channel rather than an integrated part of your strategy. Stop the madness. Mike thanks you.
  6. Digital business—OK, this one may get me in some trouble with more than a few folks, but you can’t deny the heat and light surrounding digital business these days. It hasn’t yet jumped the shark, but keep an eye out for Fonzie circling on waterskis.*
  7. Real time—a close cousin of big data is real time, the practice of capturing lightning in a bottle at scale by engaging customers—or even buying media—in the moment. But the moments that count don’t always materialize this way. Think right time before real time.
  8. Leverage—this cockroach of the business lexicon simply refuses to go away. Put a quarter in a jar every time you use it. Go ahead and deposit two if you use it as a verb.
  9. Lean in—sure, the book was a big deal, but every time I hear this phrase used in conversation I feel like someone owes Sheryl Sandberg a nickel. It’s so conspicuously hers that it doesn’t belong to us, particularly outside of its original context. Please stop.
  10. Pivot—while I surely agree with the premise of continuous experimentation, the pervasive practice of the pivot may be making us a bit careless with our initial plans. Doesn’t work? Pivot. Don’t treat strategy like a blind squirrel looking for a nut.

(*) If this was a perplexingly obscure reference, perhaps you missed the infamous episode of Happy Days where Henry Winkler’s character “the Fonz” jumped over a shark on waterskis. That moment, it’s widely thought, was the show’s nadir—from which it never quite recovered.

13 Comments
  1. 3 December 2014 at 2:18 pm
    Julie Hopkins says:

    Love these, and am guilty of using them as charged. The shark jumping reference was too much for me to handle without revisiting it, so here it is for any who wish to go back to this dramatic tv moment from their youth. We all remember, and then recall where the series went form there….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4ZGKI8vpcg

    • 5 December 2014 at 9:31 pm
      Holt says:

      Too funny, because I myself use this comment on occasion, but it couldn’t be more incorrect. The shark jump was in 1977 – the third season of Happy Days of a 10 year run. Of course, the last three years were a sloppy denouement no doubt, but the shows highest ratings, as well as a majority of the the series’ life was after this episode. The argument can be made that the writing was as tight, but that’s kind of wrong too, since Happy Days never earned an Emmy during its run. And, yep, I grew up on it and enjoyed it.
      Little trivia: it also got its start as a short piece on the TV show Love American Style.

  2. 3 December 2014 at 6:12 pm
    John Barnhart says:

    The Buyers Journey is REAL thr Customer Journey is a subjective phrase.. the distinction should be made.

  3. 4 December 2014 at 3:20 pm
    Bill McLaughlin says:

    Great list Jake. Here’s one for the social media world. “Snackable Content”

  4. 4 December 2014 at 4:03 pm
    Jake Sorofman says:

    @Julie, wow! There it is, in all its glory–the fall from grace. @Bill, great add to the list. Agree!

  5. 4 December 2014 at 7:04 pm
    jay says:

    “Big Data” doesn’t mean volume of data, big data is volume, velocity and variety of knowledge points. Data that is small and both internal and external. Like any phrase if you actually know what it means you would use it in the appropriate context. It is not a promise as much as it is the next phase of tech beyond the 1950’s databases we all currently use.

    • 4 December 2014 at 7:07 pm
      Jake Sorofman says:

      Don’t forget the fourth V: Veracity.

      • 16 December 2014 at 6:07 pm
        Jeff Nicholson, Kitewheel says:

        And of course the infamous 5th V: Value. i.e. In the end, will your discoveries simply end up in a pretty pie chart OR would your business actually have the technical capability — and appetite — to act and do things differently?

  6. 5 December 2014 at 8:49 pm
    Ian Bruce says:

    Nice list Jake. Of course, there’s a Buzzword Hype Cycle, and I suspect this list is a lexicon for the current Trough of Disillusionment. Give it a few years, they’ll come back into favor.

    Come to think of it, maybe Hype Cycle should be in your list 😉

  7. 7 December 2014 at 10:50 pm
    Susan Moore says:

    Great list, Jake. My personal hit list for 2014 would include a few of those, plus:
    – Reach out
    – Engagement
    – Around
    – Piece
    I recently heard someone say all of those in one sentence: “We need to reach out more around the customer engagement piece.” What does that even mean? What are you actually going to DO? Call your customers more? Email them? Blog, advertise, create great content, train your service staff? Let’s get more specific in 2015.

  8. 9 December 2014 at 10:17 pm
    Maria says:

    Good list! I just blogged along the same lines http://bit.ly/1Abmazy And last night I saw an ad in a magazine that says: “…Cloud provides marketing leaders with data-driven solutions to empower Modern Marketing teams with integrated cross-channel marketing, content marketing, social marketing and data management.” Holy moly, did you catch all those buzzwords thrown into one sentence?? yikes

  9. 10 December 2014 at 6:06 am
    ALB says:

    You misspelled “lightning”

    • 10 December 2014 at 2:58 pm
      Jake Sorofman says:

      Thanks for catching the typo. Fixed.

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