Coming to terms

There are designers who rely on hackneyed marketing speak to make their work sound enticing. Enough is enough, says Jim Davies

Steeped in centuries-old tradition, the parlance in legal circles is virtually a foreign language. The same goes for the rather saltier maritime lingo spoken by sea dogs in and about the coastal towns of Britain. Every industry has its jargon. And in most cases there’s a legitimate practical or historical reason for the use of a specialist word or phrase. It demonstrates knowledge and authority. It cements your standing in the club. Many arcane words have developed out of necessity – asking for that ‘hammery thing’ on a building site would simply lead to confusion, ridicule and, in all probability, a badly bruised thumb.

But there’s one particular area where the English language has become a strange, mutant creature. It’s been systematically abused, strangled and vandalised for so long that it no longer bears any relation to how people actually talk to each other. What is it? Why, value-added, customer-driven, re-engineered, needs-based, actionable, facilitative marketing speak, of course. Almost every day there’s another frightening addition to the lexicon. This form of language is now so convoluted and cliché-ridden that it has become a parody of itself. And there’s no excuse for it. It’s simply a smokescreen for verbal ineptitude. It’s lazy, dull and repetitive. There’s a distinct irony that it comes from an industry that sells communication, when all it’s actually doing is getting in the way of the truth.

It’s slowly, invasively creeping into design too. So, to clear up any confusion and to officially declare these over-played words out of bounds, please find Design Week’s official guide to marketing jargon.

Best of breed

A blatant steal from Crufts. The cream of a particular type of product or service. Though how so many products/services can claim to be best of breed is mystifying.

Best practice

The way things should be done if only we had the time and resources.

Blue-sky thinking

Strictly for the birds. It just means coming up with original ideas. Also ‘thinking outside the box’, ‘thinking outside the nine dots’.


Sitting around in an air-conditioned meeting room drinking coffee and agreeing with the boss. See also the more graphic ‘braindump’ and the poetic ‘ideas fountain’. Close relatives include ‘ideation’ and ‘insight generation’.


Not so much the word itself, although this too is gradually falling into disrepute. It resonates much more when it’s used in combination, for instance: ‘brand essence’, ‘brand equity’, ‘brand vision’, ‘brand value’, ‘brand champion’, ‘brand promise’, and so on.

B2B, B2C

Business-to-business, business-to-customer. Spell it out, otherwise you start sounding like a dyslexic TV channel.


As in ‘it’s been a challenging year’. We haven’t been doing all that well really.


Formerly the domain of milkmaids and contented cows, this now refers to the rate at which customers leave a particular service.


Fancy name for marketing literature. A brochure’s a brochure.

Committed to

Used with reckless abandon in Corporate Social Responsibility reports. ‘We’re committed to the welfare of our staff… the environment… the local community’. It actually means we realise we should be pulling our fingers out.

Core competencies

The things we’re mainly good at.


A word that should be reserved for parcels, but is now used in relation to intangibles, such as delivering promises, innovation, value and so on. See also ‘deliverables’, ‘delivering on’.


Your car, or so you’d think. But in this context it also applies to customers, profits, consumer-awareness, market share, change and growth. See also ‘drivers’, as in ‘needs-based drivers’, ‘key drivers’.


As in ‘dynamic solutions, ideas, policies, workforce’. We do everything with added gusto.

End to end

We make/do the whole thing. Also ‘full service’, ‘completing the circle’, ‘total solution’.


Looking ahead (with a degree of self-importance).

Fast track

We’ll get it done a little more quickly than usual.


It does a lot.

Future proof

It won’t go rotten too quickly.

Game plan

One of many onerous phrases taken from the macho world of American sport. See also ‘covering all your bases’, ‘the whole nine yards’. It’s amazing how many companies are ‘lean and fit’ these days.


International will do just fine. How many companies are truly global and have a presence in every single country? And as for glocal – that’s just painful.

Hero colour

Will that be Superman blue, or Batman grey? Refers to the main colour used in corporate or product branding.


We have a God-like overview of the industry and like to do everything ourselves.

Hygiene testing

Double checking there are no mucky bits and everything’s as it should be.


We’ve been busy tweaking away and made a couple of minor improvements.

Knock-on effect

One thing leads to another.


A noun that’s had its arm twisted and reluctantly agreed to become a verb. As in ‘leveraging solutions’ and ‘levering expertise’. Means making these things happen.

Look and feel

You forgot about smell.

Mission critical

Beam me up. Just another way of saying ‘very important to what we’re doing at the moment’.

Next generation

Thirty-somethings wearing chinos and smart jumpers.


Don’t ask us how, somehow it just happens. Naturally.


Desperately overused and devalued. ‘We have a real passion for wing-nuts/accountancy/repairing televisions’. Of course you do. And they say us British are reserved.


The stuff we’ve got.




We sometimes talk to each other.

Taking ownership

After an extensive search, we’ve finally found someone who’s prepared to do it.

Thought leader

We think. We lead. Now that’s what I call a winning combination.

Ticks in boxes

We’re pretty sure we’ve done everything we were supposed to do.

Track record

Another rather tired sporting analogy.


This usually happens when you take your dog for a walk or when an S&M party draws to a close. But now it can be applied to everything, from ideas to creativity to value.


There’s no-one quite like us.

Visual glue

I’m sure there’s something holding this campaign together.

Win-win situation

You can’t lose.


I’m an insomniac.

Many thanks to the 26 message board for excellent pointers and suggestions

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