Buzzwords Ain’t So Bad

Really, I am okay with buzzwords. I know that people are likely sick of them, but I find them appropriate from time to time, even effective in building culture. Here’s proof: Who do you associate with "Six Sigma" or do you know what we’re talking about when we reference "Five-Nines Reliability?" Are you proud of being a "black belt," yet have never broken a board with your forehead?

Put it another way – one person’s buzzword could very well be an organization’s rallying cry. There are several reasons why I think such neologisms are of value to businesses:

  • They are easy to recall and remember
  • They have an "insider" feel
  • They can signify something new and valuable
  • They inherently invite others – employees and customers alike — to get onboard

There is a litany of examples where buzzwords have succeeded to being part of the American culture. Anyone CEO who ever said "there’s no ‘I’ in team" can relate. Which brings me to the main point of why I love buzzwords; they can help companies stay internally focused while helping to clearly articulate their benefit to customers. That’s not to say that one catch phrase will overcome any operational, product or management issues. However, they can certainly drive grass roots, word-of-mouth marketing at little costs.

There are, of course, some things I’ve learned when trying to use or even create a buzzword. Here are a few that I try to keep in mind:

  • Don’t overuse the catch phrase: It has to be something that’s natural and meaningful when spoken. Too much of a good thing is just that.
  • Don’t overly market the buzzword: Truth is, for the idiom to truly catch on, others have to do it and without prompting. There’s really very little magic or science to it. It either does or doesn’t. What’s more, an expensive ad or employee relations campaign will often kill it.
  • Let others do the buzzing: The best catch phrases are ones where customers, employees, and partners create. A top-down approach rarely succeeds.

Here at Red Door, there is special meaning to the word, "jerk" which relates to our core values (get to know us and you’ll know that there are no jerks here) or "Ritz experience" which describes our attention to detail and expectation of always going above and beyond. We have a lexicon unique to us, but one that bonds the team together.

Herein lies the real power being buzzwords – they are an inherent part of an organization’s culture, leadership and values. If a company and, more importantly, its employees, possess passion and zeal for both itself and its customers, such idioms will have greater potential for widespread adoption. What’s more, it’s those types of catch phrases I find most endearing, because they are a true reflection of the organization’s management style and esprit de corps. 


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  • Loraine Antrim

    Buzzwords DO have their place in corporate culture. I very much agree that they can be a rallying cry for teams and help create much needed esprit de corps.

    But...(there's always a but, isn't there?)the danger of these catch phrases is that:
    1)sometimes the wrong ones get circulated. At one company where I consult, executives started using "locked and loaded." UGH! and
    2)the memetic quality of some phrases ensures that they lose their meaning after awhile. We get inured and desensitized to their meaning and impact.

    As long as the phrase is creative and unique and has some substance behind it, you are spot-on in your urging companies to adopt one. And your 'Ritz Experience" is a classic example of a great buzz phrase! Bravo. Loraine Antrim

    Loraine Antrim, Co-founding Partner
    Core Ideas Communication
    "We Create Smartmouths®"