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The Necessity of Business Language — And the Need to Keep It Under Control

We marketing pros love our hyperbole — I mean, we are insanely passionate about delivering superlative amorous results that will transform your emotional paradigm.


Buzzword overstatement abounds in biz-speak. It’s easy to mock; we’ve all secretly played CEO bingo during an endless afternoon meeting. But we also know that those expressions have communicative value. Going forward, we all know that to think outside the box and stay on a pro-active glide path so that we’re all singing from the same page, correct?

Exclusive environments generate their own language. From the patois of a jazz trio to the playcalling in an NFL huddle, whole conversations can occur where an outsider would be absolutely oblivious to intent. The boardroom is no different.

There’s one huge qualifier in business banter, however, especially among marketing pros: we have a responsibility to ensure client understanding at every turn. A big part of this responsibility is setting and achieving realistic expectations of how any initiative will perform.

A ubiquitous — and dangerous — phrase that permeates marketing pitch-speak is the promise to “exceed customer expectations.”

Hold on a second, how can we exceed your expectations unti we’ve agreed upon what those expectations should realistically be? And once that’s locked down, shouldn’t we concentrate on hitting them precisely? If you order a cheeseburger and I come back with a bacon-wrapped fillet Mignon, you might be happy, but you might think: “Hey, that ain’t what I ordered.”

Like so many client-oriented expressions, “exceed your expectations” is so pervasive that it has become meaningless. And in many ways, it’s just downright dishonest. It presumes that we already understand your expectations before we’ve even begun the fact-finding necessary to shape the most effective strategy. Good communications begins with knowing what your expectations are in the first place, and even (if you’ll permit us) helping you determine what those expectations should be.

So, at the risk of causing paralysis by analysis, we’re going to encourage everyone to right-size “exceed your expectations” right out of your vocabulary. Let’s start by listening to what clients want, identifying and prioritizing the right objectives, and then concentrating on doing the job well.