7 deadly phrases that kill brands

The job of PR people like us is to manage the reputation of the clients that we represent. But we have to admit, there have been times when clients have used certain phrases that quite frankly have wound us so much that we’ve had to bite our tongues before we got ourselves fired. There is, however, a more serious side to this annoyance and that is the damage it does to both the organisation’s brand and that of its leaders.

For those of you born and raised in the seventies or before (which our MD was, although he does try to deny it at times), business-speak was very different to what it is now. Back then, you needed one or all of three things: a dictionary, an interpreter or a degree in ancient languages. That was until the Plain English Campaign (PEC) came into being and set about persuading organisations, industries and governments to ditch the baffling rhetoric in favour of plain language that pretty much everyone could understand.

In the 1936 film ‘Modern Times’, Chalie Chaplin satirised the ‘the cult of scientific management’.

It was 1979 – the year Mrs Thatcher entered Number 10. While a fantastic initiative, there are some who quite simply haven’t been content with adopting a lexicon with universal appeal as advocated by the PEC. Rather, they have taken it upon themselves to create a whole new way of speaking that can only be described as utter bollocks.

Proponents of such parlance invariably assume they sound business-savvy. Yet what they are actually doing is over-complicating things for the sake of being pompous arses and leaving their audience needing to reach for their smartphones to enter these phrases into search engines in a bid to gain an understanding of what has just been said.

Far from being intellectual business-speak or power-play words, they simply leave people uttering the words ‘what an eejit’ under their breaths. They’re not good for the reputation of those who use them within the organisation and when such language is used in communications with customers and publics, the perception not just of that individual but the very brand itself is called into question. After all, most business transactions depend on the strength of the relationship between the key people involved. So, parlance that is annoying can prove costly to the organisation’s reputation and could negatively impact the bottom line.

So, what are these annoying and potentially brand destroying phrases? Here’s seven of them:

  1. Reaching out: Now, this is absolutely fine if you are American and are in the US, but not in the UK. Say what you mean – ‘I just wanted to get in touch.’
  2. Bandwidth: Unless you’re working at a radio station, talk in a way that people will understand – ‘What is your workload like right now?’
  3. Leverage: Archimedes said, ‘Give me a place to stand and I will move the world’. He didn’t say he’d ‘leverage’ the collective intelligence he had garnered to produce a high impact deliverable – ‘We need to use our…’
  4. Touch base: We know, we can’t quite believe that this 1980s ‘classic’ (in the loosest sense of the word) is still uttered in offices across the country today – ‘Let’s get together and go through things’ or ‘Where are we up to with…?’
  5. Thought shower: Now we heard this last week and had to Google it to work out the hell it actually meant. It means ‘to brainstorm’ – OK we accept that ‘brainstorm’ may be a tad antiquated, but surely a better, more creative alternative could have been thought up.
  6. Game-changer: This is the very definition of a failed company in waiting. It is on a par with the champion of all clichés – the ‘revolutionary’ product or service ,which in 99.9% of instances is anything but. Don’t be pompous – sell the true benefits and value that you offer and ditch the superfluous hyperbole – ‘We’ve got something great that could have a huge impact on…’
  7. Uber-…cool, trendy, innovative, stylish – the list goes on: The word ‘uber’ is the German word that is used before nouns to mean ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ good or successful which, given the scandal surrounding the cab company of the same name of late, is rather ironic. From a PR perspective, best to steer clear of this we think – ‘That’s great’…keep it simple.