20 Bits of Marketing Jargon, And What They Mean
Ian Lurie Jan 17 2017
I love marketing jargon as much as the next guy. It’s great fun when I’m at a family event. My family used to think I went into marketing because I couldn’t find anything else to do. But when I say “psychographics” my parents know all that college was worth it.
If you’re plunking down tons of cash to hire an agency, though, some jargon is terrifying. It creates the sense that there’s a mysterious Marketing Black Box. In this post, I’ll list a few particularly opaque phrases, what marketers mean when we say them, and what they actually mean:
What marketers mean: I want you to throw up in your mouth.
True meaning: The term “authenticity” has been beaten to death, cooked, eaten, pooped out, beaten again, turned into a vaguely rubbery substance, used to fill metaphorical potholes, then pulled out to repeat the cycle.
I believe it means, “Don’t be a lying, classless butthead.”
What marketers mean: Please just let me do this work without having to justify it to fifteen other consultants.
True meaning: The opposite of “worst practices.” Good. Not awful.
What marketers mean: I want this job, and I know all my competitors told you about content marketing, so I’ll throw it out there.
True meaning: Creating helpful content to answer customer questions. AKA: Communicate about what you do and what you provide.
I’ve never liked this term, but I’ve adopted it. Otherwise, we’d never get any work.
I’m not sure how you do marketing without content. Nor am I sure how the application of content as a marketing tactic is new.
I will say there are some very smart people out there who’ve upped state of the art.
But… contentless marketing? How would that work?
What marketers mean: I don’t want to get fired, but this is a terrible idea.
True meaning: Your excitement about your product doesn’t matter. Your customers’ does. Talk about their problem, and how your product or service will solve it. Help them, not yourself.
What marketers mean: I am a Content Strategist.
True meaning: A list of things you might want to write, and when you might write them.
Really. That’s it. It’s not easy. Developing good ideas takes time, and you need good ideas to fill the calendar. But it’s not mystical, either. There is no single editorial calendar format or development technique.
What marketers mean: I can’t measure return on investment, so I’ll use this word instead.
True meaning: Engagement is an audience’s level of response to your content, brand or some other “thing” you put in front of them. There are times when you just can’t measure marketing return on investment. Deal with it. When that happens, a good indirect measure is engagement. You can measure engagement based on time-on-page, scroll depth, likes, follows, shares or anything else that indicates a person truly responded to your message.
Engagement is legit when it’s a metric, not an excuse.
What marketers mean: I am a designer.
True meaning: It has nothing to do with how presidential candidates behave in Moscow hotels. The “golden ratio” is 1:1.6. It occurs in nature, and, if you’re short on design skills, it’s a handy way to scoot elements around in a design to make it look fancy.
In truth, if we say “golden ratio,” we’re saying, “I’m not a designer, but I’ll do my best.”
What marketers mean: I don’t just want you to throw up in your mouth. I want you to take a pencil and ram it into your left temple.
True meaning: Way back in, say, 1995, it meant “Unusual marketing tactics,” like leaving a suitcase with your logo on it on a baggage claim conveyor. That would get you arrested now, but it was considered serious OG stuff in the old days.
(“OG” means “Original Gangsta” – or so my kids tell me)
What marketers mean: I read the newspaper.
True meaning: IOT is “Internet of Things.” To date, that includes useless smartwatches (I own one), pet cams, computer-controlled thermostats, and anything else Russian teenagers can use to shut down half the Internet.
What marketers mean: I didn’t have to go to business school because I’m already smart (it’s a lie).
True meaning: A KPI is a Key Performance Indicator. It’s a metric that directly tracks progress towards a business goal. You use KPIs to measure progress.
KPIs are important. I stuck the acronym in here because we misuse it. All KPIs are metrics. Not all metrics are KPIs.
What marketers mean: I’m going to write a list blog post with a title like “NN things that…” because I can’t think of anything else.
What marketers mean: I met with the ad reps at Google/Facebook/Twitter.
True meaning: Lookalike audiences are built using an existing, defined audience you already have, like an e-mail list or a remarketing pool. The advertising platform (Adwords, Facebook, et al.) uses the existing audience to create a profile, then delivers your ads to people who match the profile. Those people look like the original audience. The term could easily be “similar audiences,” but it doesn’t sound quite as cool.
What marketers mean: Because I know this, I am a hacker.
True meaning: Honestly, I don’t know. I’m just a marketer, and I need a degree in neural networks or computers science or something. High level, though, “machine learning” techniques teach computers to do something, then let them run with it. For example, you might use machine learning to figure out if a phrase is happy, sad or neutral. You can also use it to examine a photo and decide whether it’s a hippo or an elephant. Or, more relevant to marketing, you can use machine learning to loosely predict what changes to an ad will yield the best results.
But really, I’m not smart enough to explain it well.
What marketers mean: We can do SEO, too!
True meaning: I won’t quote the Google Answer Box. It made me dizzy. Omnichannel means “consistently communicate with a customer across all media.” I’ve never seen an agency that actually does it. I’ve seen lots of old, slow agencies that can’t do things like SEO use “Omnichannel” to imply they can do all that newfangled digital stuff.
What marketers mean: This will cost a lot of money.
True meaning: Pyschographics is the flip side of demographics. It reflects a person’s likes and dislikes, interests, and buying habits. We often use them for ad targeting, persona development, or party tricks.
In all fairness, psychographics is cool. But I do love to poke fun at myself, and my use of this word is a great opportunity. Maybe that’s part of my psychographic profile.
What marketers mean: I threw this in here to prove I am up on all the latest marketing techniques so that you’ll read my RFP and pick me for the next round.
True meaning: Programmatic advertising is the buying of small chunks of ad inventory using software, instead of reaching out to ad buyers and sellers. You don’t have to make small buys. But programmatic is great if you want to try little buys here and there.
Retargeting & Retargeting Pools
What marketers mean: This is some serious marketing tech s–t.
True meaning: Web users do stuff. Sometimes, the stuff they do tells you they’re interested, even if they don’t buy right this moment. When they do that, you can place a cookie on their computer and add their information to a special “pool” of people, called a retargeting pool. You can then deliver follow-up advertising to them. Which they love.
Retargeting sounds creepy. But great googley-moogley, does it ever perform. Ask your marketer about it. If they say “wassat?” you might question your choice of marketer.
Retargeting is sometimes called “remarketing,” too.
You tell me. Seriously, this part of my brain is just missing. I don’t understand the difference between brand storytelling and connecting your brand or product to people’s lives.
Wait. That might be the definition right there. Or is it literally “using stories to talk about yourself?”
I’m not being a smartass. For once. I have a hard time grasping the concept.
I can’t write about this one. It gives me a headache. And the sniffles.
What marketers mean: I go to conferences.
True meaning: Word vectors measure the relationship between two words. They also measure how the words relate in certain contexts. For example, “car,” and “auto” are related. Right now, the search engine optimization world is all aflutter about word vectors, because Google told us they’re using them. They’re really cool.
What This All Means
Jargon can have a legitimate purpose. It turns a paragraph of explanation into a single word. That doesn’t mean us marketers should use it to show off.
More important, many of these phrases are legitimate terms from other industries that we’ve turned into marketing jargon. That’s how you get beat up at nerd school. Beware.
CEO & Founder
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More