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

Nov 22, 2021

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.

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