Editorial: Paradigm This

Right up front, let's be clear on one thing: I respect marketers. I once worked in a marketing department. My best friends are marketers. Heck, even my girlfriend is a marketer.

Though after running the subject of this column by her on the train this morning, my status in that regard was clearly being rethought as the subway car doors closed and separated us at my stop.

No one works harder than marketers do. They are underappreciated and take blame for things over which they have no control. We'll conveniently ignore for a moment that they often take credit for things over which they have no control, as well.

But if marketers are ever going to be taken as seriously as they'd like to be taken by other departments, they must purge their vocabulary of some words and phrases that trivialize the profession.

Let's start with a big one: Return on Investment, or ROI. What's wrong with ROI? Nothing is wrong with the concept. It's as old as commerce itself.

Queen Isabella was eyeing Christopher Columbus for his ROI potential in the 15th century.

Too many marketers, however, use the term as if it's something their profession recently invented.

For many of us, just hearing ROI conjures scenes like the following:

“Susan! Susan! Ohmygod! I have this great idea! You have to hear it!”

“What is it, Bob?”

“OK, look. I've been thinking about this recession thing, and what we can do to survive it. For days I've been racking my brain, and then last night at 2 a.m., I sat bolt upright in bed. Whammo!!! It hit me, just like that.”

“Well, don't keep me in suspense. Tell me!”

“Susan, you're never going to believe this. But if we figure out which ad buys and creative approaches are driving sales and which aren't, we can spend more on the effective ones, and less on the ones that aren't working. … Well? … You like it?”

“Shhhhh … I just got a chill. Wow, Bob. I've seen flashes of brilliance before, but this … this is your coup de grace. I think it's time we started talking about that director-level position.”

Never mind that for a bunch of (former) Internet companies, that scenario is probably a heck of a lot closer to the truth than many of us would like to admit.

Another word that must be excised from marketers' brains is paradigm. Granted, it's mercifully been popping up less and less these days, but it still surfaces enough to be a detriment to the profession's reputation.

Folks, paradigm is a big word for model, and everyone who hears it knows it.

Using the word paradigm is like getting a tattoo on your forehead that says: “I lack original thought. Please nod appreciatively and pretend I'm smart.”

Think of all the pretentious, blowhard books we could have avoided reading had the word “paradigm” simply been replaced with “model” in their titles. “Hmmm, 'Business Model for the 21st Century.' Nope. 'The New, New Model.' Nope. I think I'll pass on that one, too.”

Next up is “share.” Toss anything that ends with the suffix share, but doesn't begin with market. That includes wallet share, customer share and my personal favorite, mind share.

Folks, even your most well-heeled, loyal customers have some combination of bills to pay, screaming kids, a boss breathing down their necks, an unhappy spouse and a house that needs repair. In general, you have no mind share. And when you do, it's because you've made them angry. Best to avoid mind share at all costs.

Then there are those pesky touchpoints. Am I the only one who gets just a little embarrassed when that word is spoken? It's too intimate. Touchpoints sound like something a massage therapist gropes for when working to relieve the week's tension out of a client's neck.

Think of what it would be like for an operations employee to stray into a typical marketing conference:

“Touchpoint? Touchpoint? What the hell is a touchpoint? Sir, I think I've figured out where we can begin cutting our budget.”

Hint: except for a select few professions, your customers don't want you touching them.

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