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Gobbledygook: sadly, it’s still alive and well

Several years ago marketing guru David Meerman Scott conceived of a ranking he called the “Gobbledygook Index.” It was a collection of the most-used but least meaningful buzzwords that populated press releases and collateral put out by marketing organizations.

It’s been a while since David updated his list, so I checked through my email archive to see if things have changed very much. It took me just four press releases to come up with the following list of qualifying terms:

Innovative Dedicated Meet the needs of
Leading Customer-focused Game-changing
Committed Strategic Unprecedented
Cost-effective Successful Comprehensive
Next-generation Exceptional Award-winning
Flexible Fascinating Enterprise-ready
Robust Remarkable Trusted
High-performance Impactful Enhanced
Scalable Careful Significant
User-friendly Attentive Best
Easy-to-use World-class Most
Optimized Fast-growing Reliable
Best-in-class Extensive Tremendous

 

It would appear the gobbledygook is alive and well, despite the fact that Scott’s original manifesto was published more than eight years ago. In that time the volume of online content has increased by orders of magnitude, yet we still fall back to the same tired words that no one ever believed.

Think of it; as an informed consumer, would descriptors like these have any impact on your own buying decisions? Without specifics, these words are nothing more than space-fillers that get in the way of a good story.

So why do we use them? Laziness is one reason. Lacking the details of why a product can be called game-changing, it’s easier simply to declare it so. Pleasing the boss is another driving force. Executives love to heap praise on their own products, and using superlatives improves the chances of whisking the release through to approval. But I guess that’s another form of laziness.

Gobbledygook does nothing to help us reach buyers who today have less time and patience than ever but are dealing with a deluge of content marketing information that one researcher recently forecast to triple over the next few years. Meaningless claims are potholes on their road to enlightenment.

Here’s how to get rid of the gobbledygook:

  • Think like a reader. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask if your words make their jobs easier.
  • Justify your claims. If someone asked you to prove that your product is best-in-class or user-friendly, what facts could you use to prove your claim? Use those specifics, or at least footnote them in your press release.
  • Impose length limits on yourself. The fact that you can write as much as you want online doesn’t mean you should. Challenge yourself to fit the message into 300-500 words and force yourself to take out the words that don’t matter.
  • Test. Call up a customer, journalist, or industry analyst and ask him or her to read your message and rate its value and believability.

More than a decade ago, Seth Godin challenged marketers to be remarkable. Tired, empty language is hardly a path toward that goal. Let’s get rid of it.

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