LCB_BrandBriefFall2015_headerIt’s been 26 years since the comic strip Dilbert introduced us to the Pointy-Haired Boss. And 16 summers have passed since the movie “Office Space” asked us if we got that memo. (Yes, and we’ll read it right after stapling that cover sheet to our TPS report when we come in on Saturday.) Yet, if my social media feeds are to be trusted, people who work in corporate America have yet to tire of mocking corporate America. I can almost hear their mighty, collective chuckle as I write. And, with good reason, one of the most enduring targets of the nation’s cubicle jesters is jargon.

But not just any jargon. Whereas the New Oxford American Dictionary defines jargon as “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand,” the jargon of which I speak consists of words or expressions used by many within a company or industry yet is truly understood by exactly no one. This is a very specific, yet all-too-common kind of jargon most often labeled as corporate speak. And when corporate speak leaks out into the real world, it becomes something that empowers consumers with outside-the-box thinking guaranteed to leverage their core competencies through transparencies maximized to deliver robust scalability. Kidding. It becomes something obviously even more insidious – marketing speak.

Whenever marketing speak creeps into your brand communications, your communiqués stop communicating with much efficacy. They fail in the mission to persuade or endear. They are more than the opposite of inviting – they are repulsive. If you need a more concrete example than that in the preceding paragraph, crack open any industry-specific publication and pick a random ad. Chances are, the headline is some form of “We offer customized solutions for growth because our business is your business!”

Now, it may very well be true that this company can customize a growth plan for my business and invests itself in its success almost as much as I do. But I’ll probably never find out because I’m completely numb to that style of pitch. Not only has it been done a million times before, it sounds like it came from the director of sales’ PowerPoint presentation that he pilfered off of It’s just lazy. Do I want a customized-yet-lazy solution? Insert your own brother-in-law joke here.

Even starting with a great idea is no sure defense against marketing speak, which sneaks in most often through the copy’s tone of voice and word choice. These co-conspirators go hand-in-hand, too often bent on making your brand sound less like a human being and more like a cross between an MBA student and Siri. It’s a combination of clichés, a desire to “be direct,” and, quite often, a lack of having given the brand a unique voice of any kind to begin with.

Honestly, I believe the brands or people behind these ads are rarely purposefully lazy. Instead, they’re afraid. They don’t want to be seen as “too clever.” Which is valid. You should be clever when it’s called for, but smart even when it’s not. And some brands worry that having any kind of personality will somehow offend people. But they confuse “personality” with “off-putting.” If you don’t think your brand should be brash, don’t be brash. But if you don’t think your brand should be bold, you’re wrong.

Because boldness means standing for something, which is what attracts people to your brand. And boldness begins with language. With words that are clear without being trite. Words that flow with a rhythm that keeps the reader or listener bouncing along in an almost hypnotic sway. Words that create a tone of voice that matches the playfulness or slyness or seriousness (but not somberness) of your brand. Words that evoke a feeling and a desire to, if not act, at least remember. Words that don’t smack of being copied from an internal field marketing guide.

Because nobody wants to invest any time in a print ad that unironically mimics what they hear around the office all day. Or give five seconds to a radio spot that makes a concerned soccer mom sound like the paid shill she really is. They want to be sucked in. They want a story. They want entertainment. They even want reasons to like you. And the first reason should be because you respect them enough to not speak to them like Chuck from the midweek status meeting. No, it isn’t easy. But is it worth it? Take a look at your favorite brands and you tell me.

This column originally appeared in the fall 2015 edition of Omaha B2B Magazine.