Piling on to whatever new buzzword has the attention of the public is as old as marketing. But marketers that engage in these tactics are doing themselves and their companies a disservice. This is especially for major purchases that require deliberation and invite comparisons. Over time, the truth will come out and real buyers won’t be fooled.
Usage is Fluid
Too often, when I’ve pointed out that a marketer was using an industry term inappropriately, the response has been dismissive:
- “Who’s to say what that word really means?”
- “This is how the rest of the industry is using that term.”
- “Are you the word police?”
- “It doesn’t really matter what we call it.”
None of these responses is truly satisfying, but all get to a deeper truth: Words generally are defined by how they are used, not by the intentions of the originator. You may not like it if people say “premise” when they mean “premises” but that’s how English usage evolves. We can fight it, but eventually we might just have to accept that usage has changed.
The same is true of English usage overall: Spelling, pronunciation, and grammar is much more flexible than many would like to admit, and it is often wiser to accept “creative” usage than try to correct the speaker.
Words Have Meaning
This is all well and good for words in general, but the situation is different for marketers. Their job is to influence behavior, and specifically to drive purchasing. Non-standard usage or inappropriate identification of a product can have serious, often negative, consequences!
Let’s consider “cloud”, the lovely fluffy buzzword of the last decade. When “cloud mania” started, it seemed that every company wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Most simply applied “the c-word” to whatever they were selling and hoped it would convince buyers to keep buying. But that didn’t work. Most buyers weren’t actually interested in building a cloud, and they certainly weren’t fooled into trying to build one using the same old products they had been buying previously. “Cloudwashing” was a failure of epic proportions.
Now we are in the “software-defined” world, and the same thing is happening all over again. Marketers are eager to make their old products appear relevant and everything powered by software is being called “software-defined-whatever”. But buyers won’t be fooled into buying something they don’t want, especially in the IT space. They’ll see through the ruse and be left with a bad feeling about companies who do this.
Yes, some people will wonder if some old product is “cloud” or “software-defined”, but these aren’t credible customers! Unlike supermarket shoppers (who may prefer a “free-range” or “non-GMO” product without much thought), datacenter architects are going to investigate the product and determine if it lives up to the marketing claims being made. The only ones falling for this wouldn’t buy in the first place!
Even innocent malapropisms and flubbed usage can hurt marketers. Many audiences won’t audibly groan when they hear “on-premise”, but the speaker is still losing credibility. And credibility ought to be the prime goal of marketers!
Too many marketers and salespeople play fast and loose with words, but they’re only hurting themselves. Improper usage is embarrassing and causes a loss of credibility with the people they most want to reach. It would be wise to spend a lot more time being correct and a little less time jumping on bandwagons and buzzwords!
Richard Hintz says
I thought that the “on premise” flu wasn’t actually that widespread. Then I did a search on the term.
Also recently seen in an Intel presentation, “CSP,” usually meaning cloud service provider such as AWS, Azure, and GCE, applied to Twitter and Facebook. Nope.
John Martin says
It’s not just marketers .. or as some would write “marketeers” .. but engineers also do their fair share of language mangling … my current pet hate is “performant” as in “My widget is more performant than your widget”. Also “software defined” lost credibility for me when it moved from describing an alternative architecture for network switches ( mostly about having externally programmable TCAMs) and started meaning “fungible low margin intel hardware and sticky high margin proprietary software” .. suddenly everyone started applying “control plane and data plane” to stuff that had nothing to do with 20 years of switch design and didn’t really fit the way programmable infrastructure worked in other kinds of IT components (like say storage). The “Software Defined Datacenter” was a true piece of great marketing for VMware as a software company, but it was about as useful and descriptive for an engineer as the stuff which followed it. It was a horrible term that deserved the perversion it got, including the rediculousness of “software defined batteries”.