September 2, 2013
Know How

7 Business Cliches To Avoid

In our jargon-laden business landscape, the art of explaining ideas in plain English remains underappreciated.

In other words, simplicity sells.

Throwing the latest buzzwords into casual conversation and, worse yet —throughout your marketing materials — generates confusion, not clarity. A confused person is far less likely to convert to a customer. How can they buy a product or service they don't understand? And who wants to admit ignorance?

While some phrases rise and fall in popularity, several stalwarts remain stubbornly in use. The next time you sit down to draft an email, a sales letter or an online posting, ask yourself, "Is there a simpler way to say this? Am I communicating as clearly as I can?"

Pity the poor reader who comes across some of these tired, overused phrases. Imagine instead the alternatives that could communicate your message concisely and clearly. Fresh expressions just might move your audience to action.

If you're up for the challenge, banish from your vocabulary these longstanding members of the Jargon Hall of Shame:

IMPACTFUL. Of course you want your sales pitch to leave a positive impression. Make it forceful, make it memorable, but not impactful — this is not a word.

STATE-OF-THE-ART. This phrase has been used since the dawn of office technology. Which art does it refer to? If this adjective can apply to the novelty of movable type as well as it does to your company's latest product, find another superlative more relevant to your industry and back it up with data.

PROACTIVE.While many people believe this is the opposite of reactive, it isn't. If you're not reacting to something, you're either insensitive or unconscious. Why not simply say you are prepared?

BEST OF BREED. Here is a phrase that takes the concept of sales as a dog-and-pony show to a new extreme. Unless your product involves animals, use industry-appropriate language to explain how it exceeds customer expectations.

BANDWIDTH. Once a description of a distortion-free frequency range for signal transmission, its usage has grown from the speed of data transfer to a (typically negative) assessment of someone's mental capacity or decision-making ability. Technical terms should refer to technology, period.

TURNKEY. Far from the vague adjective implying that a business can do all that's required, this word actually refers to a person who keeps the keys in a prison, or a hinged dental instrument with a claw used to extract teeth. Ouch. Not the image you want your prospect to associate with your work (unless you're a dentist).

SOLUTION. No matter how exciting your service is, it's probably not the answer to everyone's problems. It may be one of many. Describing a product as a solution misses the point. Instead, consider which features of your product or service resolve the pain your prospects are feeling.

Everyday life is complicated enough for your co-workers and customers. Don't baffle them with your buzzwords. Escape from the jungle of jargon to clear benefits and plain English. Your audience will thank you.

Allison Chisolm is founder of Choice Words/Chisolm & Company, a marketing communications firm serving business, health care and education. Contact her at


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