Buzz Off: Why buzzwords are killing your business

By Kia Jarmon of MEPR Agency for 12th & Broad     

It’s safe to say that as a society we have gotten very buzzy in our general speaking; everything from talking in hashtags to using the terms marketing and branding to cover everything within the ‘connect with an audience’ realm. What I have found in speaking to the layperson is that they have their own definition for buzzwords. The problem with using industry or hipster jargon is that it is either 1) being oversold and oft not computing to actual outcomes or 2) a person doesn’t even get to the purchasing stage because they can’t understand the tangible end result.

The question really boils down to, are you selling a shiny object no one knows how to use?

And about three years ago it was killing my business to have people only call me for what they perceived as public relations versus what I truly offered. I would get endless calls like, “I have an event coming up, can you get XYZ media outlet to write about us?” Or “can you create my Facebook page, manage it and get us 1,000 likes within the month?” Or “can you get me in the top of the search engine in the next two months?” I realized that small and large companies alike were having a difficult time seeing beyond buzzwords like branding, marketing, SEO, social media, blogging, and so on.  

I didn’t get into business to set businesses up to fail. It felt like they were asking me to fix their finger but their arm was about to fall off. I knew I needed to be managing the comprehensive communications for a company, not just the tasks—they were taught by television personas—was to be relegated to a PR firm.

So I had to do something different.

I began speaking a different language. Businesses were coming to me like people go to the ER, to get a band-aid or at least to feel better until they could get better care. I didn’t enjoy being a quick fix for someone. Instead, I wanted to be like my cousin who is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine—the combination of modern medicine and the holistic approach to caring for the whole person. I needed to teach them that social media wouldn’t work until they dedicated a person to it internal to their organization, created a strategy, and were prepared to have their staff engaged just as much as their outside audience.

What I know is that businesses have a pain and they want help fixing it. But they don’t always know the questions to ask or the answers they should be receiving. So when they say “can you create me a brochure?” it is our job to dig deeper and ask the use of this document, who will see it, how it will be distributed, and what is the desired result after its distributed. Otherwise, you are a robot. Churning out widgets. I like to say that I will talk you out of just as much business as I will get you to sign on for. That’s how I educate you.

I learned to start asking questions but I also began calling things as they were. How do you go beyond being a graphic designer selling logos and business cards to the creative genius behind every designed piece that an organization has?

Here are a couple of processes that I have installed in my company culture and it works.

Initiate a discovery phase. When you first sign a client, no matter the service you provide you should get an overall sense of their business. Don’t just take their word for what they say is wrong, you have to dig in. Listen for what they are not saying just as much as what they are saying. Do you notice that there is some tension among staff in the discovery meeting? Ask if they have staff meetings. Usually the answer is no. In my business I would share with them how the staff is their first audience and we can facilitate a healthy dialogue to get the internal communication where it needs to be. Gauging the good and the bad in the discovery process will help you get a sense for the company culture, if they are a fit for your business, and the list of skills you offer that will help them.

Create case studies. Start by writing out of the all the actual tasks your business implements. For instance, we have gotten into more annual reports, brand audits, community engagement programs, culture shifting, internal communication tools like employee manuals and policies and procedures, and storytelling strategies (traditional and digital). But this didn’t happen overnight so I had to begin creating the story of how we offer these services; what was the outcome, who was on the team, and a testimonial from the client. I must admit, we are still working on these. It is a task but it is so worth it and helps me express what we provide beyond the list of services on the website.

Think of the simplest way you can explain what you do and share that. Leave the buzzwords for your colleagues and industry event.

Cheers to losing the words but getting the buzz.