In fact, digital marketing and the rest of the company are separated into those who not only recognize words and phrases, but can correctly explain what they mean, and use them properly.  Heaven only knows how deep the creative bent of marketers is – leading them to invent new words and use old words differently.  While this may be desirable when applied to products or customers; it has also created significant problems.  [With apologies to George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill – this quote has been attributed to both – “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.”] 

New Words

Marketing, especially digital marketing, is a discipline where new words are popping up all the time.  Think back to the first time you heard someone use the word, “creative,” as a noun instead of as an adjective. Or the time when you were privy to a discussion about viewability or deep linking.  Like every industry, digital marketing has its own vocabulary that includes words such as these.  

Vocabulary changes the fastest – the science of  onomasiology.  For example, the word buzzworthy was recently added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online – “adj. (informal) likely to arouse the interest and attention of the public, either by media coverage or word of mouth.”  Marketers use the term all the time, but how often do we stop to think that maybe our audience doesn’t exactly know what the word means or how to apply it?

New Meanings   

One example is used above – Google is used as a verb. Semantic changes are shifts in meaning of  existing words, including the pairing of two words to create one with a very different meaning.

My colleague swears this is a true story that happened at Gartner’s Barcelona Symposium.  She was conducting a panel of CMOs and CIOs.  The phrase “viral marketing” came up and a CIO made a negative comment.  Everyone stopped talking and looked at him, until another panelist asked “do you know what viral marketing means?” 

He replied that he didn’t, but the word must be related to virus, as in computer virus, which is a bad thing.  Someone went on to explain what viral marketing is and why it’s a good thing.  Talk about a vivid illustration of the need for two related functions who work together to understand each other’s language.

Share Your Terminology

The days of hardcover dictionaries are waning. Now we all do it online – Google word definitions and synonyms without a second thought.   We let applications do our spell check and grammar check.  However as far as I know, there’s no magical thought transference machine or application – yet – that will let us download the knowledge of language from one person’s brain to another.   Therefore, as marketers, step up to the responsibility to educate your colleagues – and to learn their language as well.

Gartner has developed a glossary of digital marketing terms to give you a reference point for your internal and external discussions.  View a copy of  the most recent “Gartner Glossary of Digital Marketing Terms”  here (some documents may not be available as part of your current Gartner subscription). 

We’d love to hear from you about what other terms you want included in the next update.

Note:  If you’re interested, look up diachronic linguistics  – the discipline concerned with changes in a language over time.

1 Comment
  1. 26 April 2014 at 3:10 pm
    Matt Ballantine says:

    Whilst I’d agree that there is language in (digital) marketing that’s being created to make sense of new concepts (or to make old things look like new ones!), the CIO role if done well shouldn’t have issue with this. Good IT for years has been contending with the multiple meanings of language in use across organisations. Working in a business function with a view across the entire enterprise, you quite quickly come to realise that words and their definitions fluctuate dramatically across different business units and sometimes even within.

    Even seemingly really obvious terms like “Customer” or “Product” will have myriad meaning across the organisation. Good CIOs and their teams will know the danger of assuming meaning without asking – it should be at the core of good systems design.

    In the realm of marketing, I’d actually counter that CMOs and their teams need to avoid the pitfalls of bad IT where buzzwords and BS are used to obfuscate and make the simple appear much harder than it actually is to gain short-term professional advantage…

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