The way we do marketing is changing fast, but is the language we use keeping up? It might seem like an afterthought, but language can be one of the best indicators of our understanding of a subject.
When a person, or even an entire agency, uses words that don't apply to how things are really being done, it can stunt growth. Worse, when the language we use marginalizes another's line of work, it can also create resentment. It's important to evolve our vocabulary as fast as we do our business, not only to sound more current, but to ensure that we actually are current. After all, our language defines us.
Comedian George Carlin was well known for the seven dirty words he discussed in a 1972 monologue titled "Seven words you can never say on television." His words were (and largely still are) considered highly inappropriate for broadcast on the public airwaves in the U.S. Well, the online marketing industry has its own list of dirty words -- words that, although they won't draw a fine from the FCC, can still cause trouble all the same.
So, in that spirit, here are the words that we in online marketing would be all too happy to see go into the archives.
It's the easiest number to look at and understand. But it is also the most misleading. Nothing is less valuable to a company's bottom line than someone who has viewed its site, banner, or video without any intention at all of purchasing anything. And yet we give them value when the metric we look at includes them.
Also, views can be manipulated too easily, and traffic can be gained through many ways that bring the wrong person in, bring them in for the wrong reason -- or even in ways that are detrimental to your brand. Couple this with other confusing issues surrounding page views -- like the fact that total visitors is not a sum of new and unique visitors -- and the whole notion becomes like a reflection on the top of the ocean that keeps us from ever looking underneath.
We must stop using "viral" as a noun. Viral is a result. It is what happens when a great video or campaign gets recognized, discussed, and passed around. You don't make a viral video, you just make a video. And hope it goes viral.
We put our ads up on YouTube all the time. Some of them get hundreds of thousands of views -- but that doesn't make them viral. Pretty much every music video from every pop artist today gets around a million views. That doesn't make them viral, either. Something is viral if it has that special something that makes you want to share it. But we often allow it to be interchangeable with the notion of popular. And we often discount the virability of something because it wasn't massively viral. A video or website can end up being viral among smaller groups too.
I have the same problem with "user" that I have with "utilize." There exists a word in the human language that means exactly the same thing, is more direct and more human sounding, but we choose not to use it in order to sound smarter. User is the worst of all, as far as I'm concerned, because it strips the person of all humanity. Also, the act of using something is such a superficial part of whatever endeavor someone is partaking in. If I'm buying a book on Amazon, think of all the things that might define me that would be more interesting, more accurate, and more descriptive than "user" -- customer, reader, humor-lover, etc. It might seem like an issue of semantics, but it is exactly the kind of language that causes us to forget the one-to-one nature of our business.
Maybe this is a little bit of a cheat, but it deserves a mention just the same. It derives from "flesh it out," a phrase that gets thrown around in meetings after a TV script has been written to describe the act of coming up with all those "other" ideas.
Often, ideas do start with TV. It is a storytelling medium that can establish characters and deep human emotions in a way that no other medium can. But that doesn't mean that digital marketing exists to support it. It is not flesh; it is part of the bone mass and nervous system too. At this point, most people really know this, but the language we use needs to reflect it.
The bane of our existence. A middle-of-the-road metric that neither represents the quality of the creative nor is an indicator of conversion. And yet it gets used to do both. It's a descendant of direct-response TV, in which success is determined by phone calls. It's a metric that leads to circular conversations about the heinousness of banners and keeps us from discussing the value of cross-media brand awareness.
We can't quit you, click-through. But we would if we could.
In the halls of marketing, online is still sometimes described as BTL (below the line), referring to the line between awareness and interest. It's as though the internet is solely where we address those further down the shopping funnel. Which is to say, you can't brand online. Meanwhile, nearly all statistics show that the best awareness campaigns span all media. You can draw a line between the places people shop and the places they don't shop, but not between media. There should be no line there.
It just doesn't make any sense anymore to refer to the sites we build as "microsites." It either minimizes the importance of a site or makes it feel like an outsider to another web presence. By and large, our clients prefer to have people interact with them at their corporate sites anyway, but there are no set rules there. People don't talk about brands with language like, "I can't wait to see what microsite they come up with next." It's all part of the same thing. A Twitter feed, a Facebook page, small site, big site, online media campaign, videos, promotions, offers -- all part of the same brand. When it's all working great together, we don't need to call out the channels, just the ideas.
So are words that important? Of course they are. It is the very means by which we define the world. It is especially important for the leaders in our business to use the right words, or to let go of old notions, as they are the ones setting the tone -- in the press, in the halls, and in the work.
Perhaps Steve Martin described it best when he said, "Some people have a way with words, and other people... "