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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.*
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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