Personal blog of Alicia Fowler, aka @aliciaef, senior strategist at FutureBrand. Topics covered include brands, branding, technology, and space, and more!

Choice business words, or cat-nip for marketers.

Let me preface this post, and subsequent in this series, by saying I'm neither copywriter nor scholar of English. But, I love language and I want to be choosey about my words. Further, as a marketing professional, I believe agencies must become stewards of words. In business-speak: stewords.  

Imagine all the seals, credentials and designations you know. MBA, CPA, PhD, BPA-free, Organic, Good Housekeeping, etc. Each indicates an "in" crowd and an "out" crowd, and that's just what we want–an indication of truth and quality. Sometimes the credentials fail us, but their selectivity is our starting point as choosers in the worlds of business, accounting, academia, consumerism, etc.

So, now imagine the adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs we marketers use. Drive. Growth. Innovate. Engaging. Value. These words, especially when strung together, are cat-nip for marketers. I think I've even witnessed pupils dilate upon seeing these words. 

A lot of these words when strung together bother me because the results feel dull and sadly hackneyed at this point. However, one verb and its noun and adjective form, really gets my blood boiling and my mind turning:


I'll keep the reasons short and limited to two. 

  1. I'm agnostic as to the existence of "innovate" as a verb. We tinker, we adjust, we imagine, but do we "innovate"? Can I sit down at a table, armed with a hammer, some metal, a sharpie and say to myself, "Today, I innovate"? Or is what we do a series of actions that in their sum amount to an innovation? I'm leaning toward the latter, which is raising an existential dilemma for another time.
  2. Few companies and people are "innovative", and even fewer have really achieved "innovation". What we have done as a marketing society, is subvert a wonderful word whose usage now stands in direct contradiction to its definition. What was once novel is now quite commonplace, and every Joe, Jane and Job creates that subversion, everyday, with the misuse and abuse of "innovate", "innovation" and "innovative". 

Applying the word inappropriately impairs our ability to choose to some extent, but worse, it deters our desire to listen. If the boy who cried wolf wasn't heard in an emergency, who will care to listen when we speak of a true innovation?