devil's marketing dictionary
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The Devil's marketing dictionary, new and improved

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Speed Reading Mode

Here at Articulate, we take our work seriously. Ourselves - not so much. In this spirit, we have prepared a cynical reappraisal of some of the common words we use about our work. This was originally published as a series of articles a long time ago and we've updated it with new definitions and combined it into a single article.

It's inspired by by Ambrose Bierce’s wicked Devil’s Dictionary, which is full of cynical gems, such as the definition of duty as 'that which sternly impels us in the direction of profit, along the line of desire.'

So, if anyone asks you, 'what is marketing?', send them this quick-fire, slightly salty definition list. Enjoy!                

  • Analytics. Numbers with a PhD.
  • Best of breed. A mongrel, one part Dachshund, one part Alsatian.
  • Best practice. What everyone else pretends to do. Or, alternatively, don’t do as I do, do as I say.
  • Blog. A website written by people with nothing to say for people with nothing to do. (Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for this)
  • Call to action. The mating cry of a salesman in written form.
  • Case study. A work of fiction punctuated by frankenquotes. Evidence that you have at least one customer with a pulse. Actually, pulse optional.
  • Click-through rate. The number of people you are renting from Google to ignore your website.
  • Clipart. Pictures of shiny office people shaking hands.
  • Consultation. “What I want is for people to do what I tell them after reasonable discussion” (Winston Churchill)
  • Content calendar. What we’ll do if everything works perfectly, you pay on time and nobody has a day off.
  • Content. Lorem ipsum polyfilla to anyone except the harmless drudge who has to write it.
  • Curation. Retweeting stuff people have already read.
  • Earned media. Somebody mentioned you on their blog.
  • End-to-end. A solution that does everything from A to Z, except B, C, D, E, F etc.
  • Enterprise. Any company big enough that your CEO has to take their CEO out for lunch.
  • Focus group. A tool for cowardly managers. Also, feedback disguised as strategy.  For example, a Volvo is an Aston Martin designed by focus group. Here’s what they said: “I like the looks but it’s really expensive,” “It would be better if had a bigger boot and four seats.” “Wouldn’t it be dangerous to drive that fast?”
  • Gamification. The accurate theory that people can be persuaded to do almost anything in return for digital badges and sound effects.
  • Hard bounce. Did you really think I was going to give you my real email address?
  • Inbound. Where the customer does your marketing for you.
  • Influencer. You don’t know where they work or what they do but your PR firm says they’re important.
  • Infographic. Meaningless statistics turned into incomprehensible diagrams.
  • Key Performance Indicators. Targets that can only be achieved in an ideal world where everything works perfectly, customers pay on time (and never complain), and everyone knows what they’re doing. (Garry)
  • Long tail. Pinocchio's other guilty little secret.
  • Managing Expectations. It’s going to be delayed. (Andrew Terry)
  • Metrics. What agencies use to convince you that their plan is working.
  • Mid-market. All the businesses in-between.
  • Net 30. Don’t hold your breath (hat tip Tom Chandler)
  • News conference. a cruel hoax played on journalists by the PR industry.
  • One word equity. Why estate agents in the UK produce magazines with stupid names like “The Square” or “The Green” or “Prestige.”  I was recently pitched a magazine idea with the name “Fuss.” 
  • Open rate. The number of angels that can dance on a pin head.
  • Outbound. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
  • Paid media. Didn’t we used to call this advertising?
  • Paradigm shift. When everybody agrees with an idea that is about to be disproved.
  • Passion. A word that has no place in business even if you have switched on your sincerity simulator. Also used by PRs and copywriters when they have their sincerity simulator dialled all the way up to 11. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” (WB Yeats, a famous copywriter.)
  • Press release. PRs pretend to be excited. Journalist pretend to be interested. Quotes are made up.
  • Return on investment. Your marketing agency owner’s new sports car. Also, an imaginary number that is equal to or greater than the cost of purchasing a solution.
  • SEO. There are three secrets that are guaranteed to put your site at the top of Google’s search results but nobody knows what they are.
  • SME. Any company too small to have a dedicated account manager.
  • Social media. Where your expensive content goes to be ignored.
  • Soft bounce. I went on holiday and all you got was this lousy out of office message.
  • Solution. A product plus an unlimited expense account.
  • Stakeholder. “What I want is more money and power and less shit from you people.” (Badge from 1997 Computer Game Developers’ Conference)
  • Survey. A series of carefully crafted questions that generate the answers the PR company had in mind when they pitched the idea to their client.
  • Synergy. The mystery factor that will balance the books, make the solution work and get the project done on time. See Kryptonite, Philosopher’s Stone, Unobtainium and XYZZY. Alternative meaning: After the merger, we can get rid of some people. The whole is *less* than the some of its parts. (Pitarou)
  • Tipping point. The moment when all your colleagues have heard the title but haven’t read the book.
  • Traffic. The number of bots, site scrapers, internet trolls and hackers that visited your website plus your mum.
  • Vice president. The minimum qualification required to be quoted in a press release.
  • Visual oxygen. We don’t have enough copy or photos to fill the pages.
  • Web 2.0. A website where readers do most of the work for you and you don’t have to pay them a penny.
  • White paper. A vendor’s objective opinions. Like an article but with added truthiness.
  • Your call is important to us. But not enough to employ sufficient call handlers and anyway you might just go away and leave us alone, especially if you really want something. (Heather Yaxley)

Kudos to Bruce Pilgrim for the following:

  • Suitable for framing. You have to get your own frame.
  • Some assembly required. You’ll need a degree in mechanical engineering to put it together.
  • Quantities are limited, so act now. We’ve only got a couple of million still in stock.
  • Operators are standing by. No one has called so far.
  • Unforgettable. Um, what was the question?
  • …and more. That’s all.
  • 3 out of 4 doctors agree. We surveyed four doctors.
  • Not available in stores. They didn’t want it.
  • Your mileage may vary. We just made up these figures because they sounded good.
  • No purchase necessary. Although we wouldn’t mind.
  • All other trademarks or registered trademarks belong to their respective holders. We don’t have the time or the energy to keep track of all that crap.
  • Our people are our most important assets. But, [if our stock price falls] we’ll lay them off so fast it will make your head spin.
  • Don’t try this at home. Go ahead. You know you want to.

Following a request from a friend at Microsoft, I added an appendix about project management. I know what I'm moaning about - I ran Intelligent Games for twelve years!

  • Scoping. You can have any two of fast, cheap or good. Marketing wants all three. Engineering can (on a good day) deliver one.
  • Specification. A tissue of lies written to distract the client.
  • Project manager. A hopeless dupe.
  • Engineer. Someone who believes that the glass is neither half full, nor half empty but twice as big as it needs to be.
  • Producer. (Computer games industry) Someone who knows nothing about game design, programming, art or project management but who decides when you get paid. The biggest risk on any project. Also, likely to leave the client around the time you are ready to go beta (see change control).
  • Deliverable Something that shows the most progress with the least effort.
  • Task. The smallest discrete lie in a project plan.
  • Resource allocation. You work 24 hours a day, but you get to choose which 24.
  • Critical path. One of many ways in which you can be late. If you're looking for the path, you're not on it.
  • Microsoft Project. A piece of software that transforms lies into pretty diagrams. No one knows how it works but everyone insists you use it. And for goodness sake, never ask it to level resources automatically. It has been suggested that Microsoft developed Project in order to make project management an art rather than a science. Personally, I think it is still a religion and Project is its liturgy.
  • Gantt chart. "Bureaucratic grid prison" (Edward Tufte)
  • PERT chart. Extremely useful for designing nuclear missiles. Avoid in all other circumstances.
  • Dependency. The universal excuse for why something started late or finished later. The number of dependencies in a project is always twice as many as the number you have listed in the project plan. Why? "Everything is connected to everything else." (Lenin)
  • Deadline. It all depends on what your definition of 'no later than' is.
  • Alpha. A working prototype.
  • Beta. A working prototype with completely different code.
  • Final candidate. A beta with some of the bugs fixed.
  • Release candidate. A beta with most of the bugs fixed but with marketing's blessing.
  • Final. First public beta.
  • Man-month. A myth. (See Fred Brooks)
  • QA. 4,000 bug reports, all the same, written by illiterate school leavers.
  • Change control. Something that a publisher does to a developer. In no way related to tracking change requests and updating the plan, budget and deadline accordingly.
  • Feature creep. Another word for producer.

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