The words and phrases undermining your content – and how you can replace them.
In today’s ultra-competitive digital content landscape, marketers must utilise every available methodology in order to maximise engagement and deliver superior, impactful experiences across evolving touchpoints…
No. Stop. Reset.
Congratulations on making it this far – because that steaming pile was no doubt as painful for you to read as it was for me to write.
The point is right, of course: there’s a tonne of content out there competing for attention, so yours needs all the help it can get. But somehow, the idea got dressed up in language that was more complicated than it needed to be. You know, the kind we sort of accept because, hey, it’s B2B.
It’s easy to act like industry buzzwords help your content – “if we want to be taken seriously, these are the words we need to use.” There’s a grain of truth in that; when you’re writing for a niche audience, you do need to speak their language. So, yes, some jargon is good.
But usually, that means technical specifics closely related to someone’s job. When we overshoot into words the reader would never actually use, that’s when we get into trouble. And the fancy language we chose to give our content an edge actually makes it seem
less trustworthy and authoritative
Words and phrases you can stop using right now
OK, enough preamble. You’re here for a list of words you should banish from your B2B copy, and I’m ready to rant.
You’ll find these 11 words and phrases in almost any piece of B2B content – including your own (and some of mine). But they’re all meaningless, misused, or easy to swap out for something that’s simpler to read. And why would you make life more difficult for your audience than it needs to be?
(Note: thanks to everyone who nominated their most hated buzzwords on LinkedIn, or in the
Propolis Executions and Campaigns Hive
. I hope you find this satisfying.)
When our podcast,
, tried to decide which one B2B buzzword should – above all others – be banished forever to Room 101, “utilise” is the one we chose. And with good reason.
“Utilise” is everywhere in B2B copy, and there’s almost no time when “use” wouldn’t have done the same job just as well (or better, if you include readability in the job definition). So whenever you choose “utilise” instead of “use”, it means you’re intentionally making your copy harder to read – and deliberately choosing to waste your reader’s time – for no good reason. They won’t thank you for it.
One exception: if you’re using “utilise” in the technical sense, for example measuring the utilisation of computing resources. That gets a (grudging) pass.
Leverage (as a verb)
Like “utilise” but worse, because it’s trying even harder to show off.
Yes, you might mean that you’re maximising the advantage from an existing asset. But be honest: most of the time it’s just another pretentious way to say “use”. Nobody is impressed.
If you have to say it’s innovative, it probably isn’t.
Innovation is one of those show-don’t-tell qualities. If something is really groundbreaking you can show exactly why it’s different, why it’s exciting, and why it matters. But if you casually pitch “innovative” into a phrase – like “with our innovative new solution…” – it’s just an empty sound that doesn’t mean anything.
At best, nobody cares. At worst, you’ve told your audience the solution is unproven without expressing any material benefit. Nobody wakes up thinking “I want to buy something innovative”.
Sorry, tech marketers, but “on-premise” isn’t a thing. It makes no grammatical sense. The phrase you are looking for is “on-premises”.
A premise is a statement or proposition used to form a conclusion. It’s NOT the singular of “premises”, meaning a building – that’s already singular.
(Truthfully, I suspect this ship has sailed. But I had to say something because every time I see it, I clench. Could we maybe agree to settle on “on-prem” and say no more about it?)
Impact (as a verb)
Using “impact” when you mean “affect” is another marketing cliché that was widely derided by our podcast audience. In fact, Atomic’s head of content, Ray Philpott, quipped that he thinks it’s popular so writers don’t have to remember the difference between “affect” and “effect”.
I’ll add a dishonourable mention for “impactful”; a word that no real person has ever said outside of B2B marketing circles, and which thankfully now seems to be on the wane.
Speaking of words that are only ever used in a marketing context, when was the last time you said the word “ensure” in a real, non-work conversation?
It’s a word that occurs in one place only: B2B product sheets. Specifically, in the list of features, when the copy is trying to be active and benefit led by starting each bullet point with a verb.
(Other normal-sounding verbs that actually only exist in B2B marketing include: enable, empower, and optimise.)
Are you really describing a contextual framework, including theoretical analysis of the body of methods and principles associated with your discipline?
No? Then you probably mean a “method”, an “approach” or, better still, a “way”.
Usually in B2B, “methodology” is just bolting extra syllables onto a perfectly good word, in an effort to sound impressive. And we all know how well that works.
In order to
Seriously, just say “to”.
I don’t know how, but “trusted partner” slowly morphed from a step in a sales manual to an internal marketing positioning statement… and finally ended up being something B2B brands would unironically say about themselves in public, and expect people to keep a straight face.
Ask yourself this: how much would you trust someone who keeps telling you how trustworthy they are? Exactly.
Is it, though?
If you’re intentionally drawing a distinction between strategy and tactics, then in theory this is fine. But more often, marketers throw “strategic” into the mix to make something sound important, or in a vain attempt to slide it up the value chain. And that happens so often that even using “strategic” accurately can begin to undermine your credibility.
Yes, I know: it’s one of the most tiresome Covid-19 cliches (we actually have an entirely different
about that). But there’s a more fundamental problem with “unprecedented”.
Usually, it’s a straight-up lie.
Marketing content is very apt to reach for this kind of absolute without making any effort to find out whether it’s actually true. And because it’s a long and complicated word, it somehow feels safer than using simple concrete terms (“first”, “biggest-selling”, “fastest”, “best”) that legal might ask you to prove.
See also: unique, unparalleled.
Say what you mean. Your customers and salespeople will thank you
You might think this entire blog is a B2B copywriter venting about
collective pet peeves. And, to an extent, you’d be right. But there is a more serious point here.
Most of this sloppy, inflated language is completely normal in the world of B2B – which is why nobody questions it. But that’s also why it’s an opportunity.
If, by swapping out a few words, you can make your content easier to read and understand, you’ll immediately stand out, just a little bit. Your marketing becomes a little easier to engage with, and your brand seems just a bit more trustworthy.
Which, in turn, means slightly more leads, who are slightly better disposed towards your offer.
I won’t claim retiring these 11 words will transform your marketing overnight. But it’s a quick, easy win.
Or, to put it another way, it is an unrealised marginal gain, with latent potential to enhance engagement by making your content more impactful, thereby establishing your brand’s strategic position in the marketplace as an innovative trusted partner. Whichever you prefer.
Why not check out Propolis, our exclusive community for B2B marketers to share insights, learn from industry leading marketers, and access our best content. Propolis includes a Hive (group) specially dedicated to brand and content strategy.