Month: November 2021

TPW’s 2021 B2B banned word list – and what to use instead…

Disclaimer: that’s a whole lot of acronyms in one heading, when we normally advocate avoiding them altogether. Our bad…

Back to the article topic and much as we may try to escape the deluge of look back-ery, the end of the year always lends itself to a bit of reflection. 

At The Power of Words, we have plenty to mull over (over our mulled wine) – having gone from one man band, to three-strong consultancy, to six-strong and counting writer collective – in the space of just a year. Many hurdles have been hurtled over, lessons have been learnt (some of them painful) and some major wins are now under our belt. It’s starting to sound a bit cliché.

On that note, as wordsmiths by trade, the year end seems a timely moment to ponder the jargon we’ve worked hard to eliminate from our client work over the past 12 months. We are on a perpetual mission to banish alienating lingo from business language – in favour of your message being heard more clearly by your clients and customers. There’s no point telling your stories if no one understands them, ‘tis our point.

So, shock news: we are not fans of industry-specific buzzwords or frankly odd phrases that are overused and under-understood. Without further ado, here are some that stand out for the wrong reasons, in our books – that will (hopefully) be relegated to this year come January for all eternity. This may sound moany, but we have offered up some alternatives as a seasonal gesture of good will.

TPW’s banned word list 2021

Move the needle

On the face of it, this should be a clever visual image. The needle inching its way round a dial or even up the dial, indicating progress and momentum. And we do like a clever metaphor, that makes readers’ ears prick up. But, this one has been used by too many businesses too many times – thus, reducing its power. Once it would have sounded cool and niche. Now it’s ubiquitous and weak.

Why not give statements like ‘smashing changes, smashing results, smashing profits – to the tune of XXX’ a spin instead? If that sounds too colloquial for your business’ tone of voice, then just ‘We made a huge difference’ plus, the all important how.

Streamline

In our opinion, you can streamline a swimming technique, car design or an Olympic cycling helmet. Anything that experiences aerodynamic forces that is slowing a person or object down.

But we’d rather you didn’t streamline a workforce, process or organisation. Don’t misunderstand: we do appreciate the similarities. Trimming the fat a little here and there, getting rid of excess weight, removing that funny function that nobody really understood anyway. The comparison does make sense.

It’s just that the simplest way to summarise streamlining in a business context is ‘making necessary cuts here and there for the greater good of the company, its people and its customers’. Or, ‘fewer, but more focused people on the project’, for example.

And if streamlining means my job may be on the line, I’d rather hear ‘It’s a painful decision, but some jobs will have to go’ rather than that I am about to be ‘streamlined’.

End-to-end

Being involved in an ‘end-to-end’ process (or ‘value chain’ – teaser alert!) sounds pretty painful, so we try to steer clear of this at all times. In business terms, the phrase is loaded with implied understanding, so you won’t find it in our writing. Although, we appreciate it has a legit meaning when it comes to the design framework in computer networking.

Instead of “our company provides an end-to-end process,” we prefer “our company takes your product from creation to completion.” This lets everyone know what you do, without anyone straining a muscle getting the dictionary down from a shelf.

Value chain

This is one of our newest bugbears and a tricky phrase to replace. The imagery of a chain, with different departments and processes throughout a business all linking together to get from A to B, is nice enough.. It’s just that it doesn’t really tell you anything.

“I work across the whole value chain.” While that’s lovely to know, we’re still none the wiser about what you actually do. Instead, we prefer phrases like “I have experience in all the stages of creation, production and distribution” and, above all – what that experience looks like. What difference does this valued experience make? 

Stakeholder

This word was the reason TPW started a banned words’ list in the first place. I’ve written a whole blog about it here, if you care to indulge my diatribe.

The worst part about the term ‘stakeholder’ is that it doesn’t give the reader any new information. You still don’t know who the organisation is trying to talk to.

Is it investors? Great, say so. Perhaps it’s staff – call them ‘our team’ or ‘employees’ – or, even better, ‘our people’’. Customers can just be ‘customers’. Suppliers…well, you’re getting the picture now.

“But what about when I’m addressing all the people my business speaks to?” Our advice is still to call a spade a spade. How about ‘everyone with strategic interests in our business’ or simply ‘all the people involved’?

This might be the only time we recommend swapping one word for many. But the benefits of saying what you actually mean far outweigh our usual concerns about verbosity. I mean wordiness.

May your festive season be jolly – and jargon-free!

We may sound a bit like scrooges now. But, we do wish all TPW’s stakeholders, and everyone in our end-to-end value chain a Merry Christmas – one that truly moves the needle of joy following last year’s streamlined festivities.

AI-copywriter-pic

Why AI copywriting can’t beat the real deal

It’s irritating being so frequently asked by robots to prove we’re not robots. But we obediently click our palm tree boxes anyway. It’s even more irritating to find out robots are now muscling in on our work territory.  Artificial intelligence (AI) copywriting is on the increase, so in the interests of market research, TPW’s Jess Watson decided to check out the algorithmic competition.

Beware the robot lover – AI’s stab at mastering the language of love

AI copywriters may be cheaper than those of us with beating hearts, but they can’t write a love letter if their battery life depended on it.

I signed up for a seven-day trial of copy.ai, a site that claims to write the following:

  • Product descriptions
  • Digital ad copy
  • Website copy
  • Blogs
  • Email/letters
  • Social media posts
  • Sales copy
  • Love letters

I put the latter to the test.

‘Who is the message for?’ it asked.

‘My boyfriend,’ I wrote.

‘What is the occasion?’

‘To remind him how special he is.’

I hit the ‘create copy’ button and several ‘love letter’ extracts were delivered, including this:

I love you, Brad! I am so lucky to have you in my life. You are everything I could ever wish for in a boyfriend. I don’t think there has ever been anyone more special than you!

Tone-of-voice isn’t AI’s strong suit

The tone-of-voice wasn’t quite that of a middle-aged woman and I don’t know any Brads, so I changed the input data to ‘my husband’ and ‘celebrating 25 years together’.

Copy.ai created:

I have been blessed beyond measure to have been with you for so long my love. We have been through so much together, and all I can say is that I am lucky to have a wife that loves me as much as you do. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and I promise to cherish you all of my life!

Other than giving my husband the wrong gender, it wasn’t half bad for a machine. But the next one was plain weird.

I had the most incredible night last night. Even though I am not generally a dreamer, I did have quite an enjoyable dream. I was with you, my new love, in some sort of Elven place. It was like World of Warcraft, but it wasn’t videogame graphics that appeared around us. It was all real…because you were there!

AI’s failed love life: when unconditional devotion is also beyond the bots

Perhaps copy.ai might produce a better result if I targeted the real loves of my life – my three daughters. But no.

I love you Luke, I love you Zoey. I’m so lucky to be your mom. Each day when I wake up and see my two angels in the bed beside me my heart skips a beat. Each of you have a unique personality that amazes me every day of my life. I cannot wait to see what the world has in store for both of you!!!

And:

I love you sooo so so so so so so much!!!! I’m so lucky to have such beautiful ladies in my life! Love yew girls with all my heart and soul as always.

AI copywriting misses the human touch

It was clear this was no algorithmic Cyrano de Bergerac but I could see the appeal of AI for the more mundane copywriting tasks, like 500 product descriptions or something. But even if you were to save time and manpower by outsourcing to a robot writer, how persuasive would that copy be without the human touch? Even the humble product description needs some TLC in order to sell.

Copy.ai produced some great blog ideas, created punchy social media headings and wrote a decent paragraph from a list of bullets. But as I started getting twitchy, I realised a person was still very much required to stitch the piece together, check for accuracy and flow, and produce the final version.

On that note, there’s also a rather more significant drawback for agencies and marketers hoping to save a few bucks on the copywriting budget – what happens when the computer says ‘No’?

Tessa Thornley

Tessa Thornley

The other Tessa is a professional and qualified copy editor and writer. She lived in Vancouver for fifteen years, where she worked at the University of British Columbia. Since returning to the UK a few years ago, she’s been building up a freelance business as a copywriter and, as an editor, working on fiction and non-fiction.

Miranda Jessop

Miranda Jessop

After a ten year career in food and travel PR, a stint at a national glossy magazine allowed Miranda to find her true vocation: journalism. She’s been writing ever since and easily adapts her style to suit a wide variety of content formats – from interviewing celebrities for magazines to creating blogs for financial organisations. 

Fiona Adams

Fiona Adams

Fiona cut her journalistic teeth in Fleet Street at Robert Maxwell’s European Newspaper. After seven years at the paper she moved to the BBC, sub-editing for a number of its biggest consumer titles, including BBC Music, the Radio Times and Gardens Illustrated. Then, at Surrey’s Sheengate Publishing, she took charge of several of its titles over the course of 11 years, before finishing in 2021 as editor of its flagship publication, The Richmond Magazine

Tania Lewys-Lloyd

Tania Lewys-Lloyd

Tania is a copywriter and content crafter for brands big and small. An experienced marketer with 20 years under her belt, she knows her AIDA from her PAS. She’s worked her wordsmithery magic on powerhouses like the NHS and the British Red Cross, as well as helping start-ups and SMEs catapult out of the blocks.  She’s a natural storyteller and insatiably curious. Getting to know a company inside and out and crafting its story for all, puts real fire in her belly.

Green lingo: The world warms up to more emotional language

At The Power of Words, we have quite a few green industry clients. So, naturally, we like to keep up with all the lingo. And, as COP26 (the 26th UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change) begins in Glasgow, it seems timely to put the chameleon-like language of climate science, biodiversity and green tech under the microscope.

There’s a lot of jargon and technical language, as you might expect. But the way scientific viewpoints are reported in mainstream language and the media is changing. What can this collective language tell us about attitudes and popular concerns?

Linguistic subtleties

Since the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report three decades ago, words like ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ haven’t stopped rolling off our tongues.

Until now, that is. Outlets like The Guardian are reflecting (or perhaps leading) a change in public mood with their language. ‘Climate crisis’, ‘climate emergency’, ‘climate science denier’ and ‘global heating’ might not sound radically different, but the impact of these words is. Behind all of these new-ish terms are some big value judgements.

Sceptical use of ‘denier’

It’s no longer a gradual ‘change’; seemingly overnight we are in a ‘crisis’ and an ’emergency’. Naysayers are no longer ‘sceptics’ putting forward another view, they’re now ‘deniers’ rejecting a mainstream body of scientific evidence. Allowing fish to be a ‘population’ rather than ‘stock’ for human consumption also signifies a change in how we talk about our relationship to other organisms we share our world with. The shift may seem subtle, but the intention is anything but.

Climate change or crisis?

Activist language has changed too. Just think about the use of the term ‘climate emergency’. It’s gathered pace and caught the imagination of popular thought, spicing up the narrative to generate more immediate concern – spurring people to action. In fact, the term increased in use by a whopping 10,700% between September 2018 to September 2019. That’s pretty staggering. At the same time, nations and districts the world over have declared their own emergencies and made grand statements about what they’ll do to solve the problems.

Of course, it’s a bit chicken and egg (although let’s not get into the environmental footprint of the egg industry right now). It’s impossible to know whether action is driving the evolution of language, or the other way round. I suspect it’s a little bit of both. But what’s clear is that, as mainstream language evolves to incorporate this sense of urgency and seriousness, our popular beliefs are likely to follow suit – and fast.

IPCC and COP26

A body that has seemed, perhaps surprisingly, behind the curve on the evolving language of climate science is the IPCC itself. Back in 2005, John Houghton, ex-IPCC co-chair, told a Senate committee that “IPCC reports have consistently proved to be too conservative” in their estimates and force of their scientific conclusions. 

Interestingly, the Committee strikes a very different tone in its 2021 assessment. And, if you click on the link, the TIME graphic Time shows a warming (if you’ll pardon the pun) to punchier, compelling language. Scientists too are making increasingly bold statements about our climate’s future.

This has an important knock-on impact on policymaking. National governments need a worst case scenario to plan around. But that is something that the consensus-based scientific process was unwilling to provide until now. The COP26 meeting has, for the first time, been handed an emphatic case for immediate global action. Yet, even the word immediate seems too late.

Storytelling: from tree hugging to green washing

But it’s not just individual words or phrases here that have evolved to evoke greater reactions. Storytelling has taken centre stage in the climate change narrative. Greta Thunberg’s no-nonsense, memorable language and delivery has brought some stark generational fears into the living rooms of millions. Let’s not forget her very confronting words: “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is!” And she’s part of the overall move towards a mood of urgency and human impact. A now or never mindset; do or die. Dangerous apathy or better late than never action for the greater good of humanity.

In the UK, David Attenborough has long been a part of the unfolding story. An establishment figure in many ways, he brings a conservative naturalist’s sensibility to a debate that was long associated with hemp sandals and tree hugging. As COP26 and the alleged point of no return looms, the climate debate has been crying out for a greater diversity of storytelling across voices, young and old, embedded establishment and the international business community alike.

The so what?

The evolution of language vis-à-vis the climate crisis reveals rapidly shifting public views. New words, such as ‘greenwashing’ express scepticism of corporate eco programmes. Whilst the ‘degrowth’ agenda questions the capitalist “fairy tales of eternal economic growth” that Greta famously spoke about at the UN in 2019. 

We’ve certainly changed our lingo to reflect the seriousness, urgency and collective concern of a common threat. Or is that crisis? Or emergency? That’s the power of words for you in action.

Subscribe to our newsletter

© The Power of Words. All rights reserved.  

Website by Essence.