Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Obfuscation through non-erudite terminology

I've spent a lot of time around both lawyers and engineers. One of the common complaints about either group is a tendency to say things in non-human terms. The assumption is that there an attempt being made to obscure facts through archaic language. Actually, both groups use their own language in an attempt to be more precise, as do scientists, police, and accountants. It is language designed to communicate to each other not to the world at large. The problems occur when they try and explain what they are doing to folks outside their profession using that same special language.

Marketing folks, on the other hand, are supposed to communicate in ways that customers understand. In my own career, I have often been employed as a geek who can speak, translating from technospeak into plain language. That is the heart of technical marketing.

Instead, we consistently find technical marketing people using language that no one understands. It's not that it's too technical. That would make sense if you are selling to techies. No, quite the opposite. A lot of the time, it simply doesn't make much sense. Let's look at the sampling below. In an attempt to not pick on any one company, I won't say who specific quotes came from. The list was a quick sampling from a number of company websites, technology news sites, white paper titles, and press releases.

  • Navigating to Customer Satisfaction

  • Innovations in Managing IT Service Quality

  • ... To Accelerate Innovation Across The Network

  • Improve Business Efficiency and Agility & Enables organizational agility. These came from two different web sites

  • Sustainability can help you unlock the value of green

  • Provides actionable knowledge

  • Reduce costs as you solve IT challenges across your information infrastructure.

Most of these don't make much sense do they? “Navigating to Customer Satisfaction” would kind of make sense if this were a shipping company (it's not). I'm hoping they really didn't mean “actionable”. “Actionable is a legal term that means an action that is grounds for a lawsuit. If the knowledge is actionable, then I don't want it provided.

My favorite is “Sustainability can help you unlock the value of green.” What does “green” mean here? Besides the color, it is often misused as an adjective to mean environmental friendly. That phrase is, I'll grant you, kind of an obtuse way of saying “good for the environment” but at least people get that. When did green become a noun? Can I have two greens to go? Maybe they mean a putting green. Building a golf course around my green will unlock it's value quite nice, thank you. Or salad greens, perhaps? In that case, the value comes from destroying (that is eating) them not from sustaining them. That sounds more like something I would need Ex Lax for.

I'm not against using language in a sophisticated manner. This blog has a plethora of SAT words like obtuse, obfuscation, archaic , erudite, and, of course, plethora. What I don't like is mangling language, especially in marketing. Marketing is supposed to make it obvious and clear why you should buy something. Instead, we are treated to tongue and mind twisting phrases that only confuse. I don't want to hear “optimizes performance envelope capabilities”. Say “It's much faster” or even “ higher performing” instead. I know what that means without my decoder ring.

Speaking of the decoder ring, here is a (tongue in cheek) glance at part of it. I hope this helps in the future.

TechnoBusiness Marketing Speak

What it really means?

Innovate, Innovation

To make something that is totally new. Or something that sounds new but isn't.


Helping... you to spend money.


Pushing... you to spend money.

Solution, Solutions

A fix to a problem. Or, a bunch of stuff thrown together into groups. We can sell you bundles this way.


Moving around. Like moving your money into our pockets.


To make something so that it is as good as it can be. Unfortunately, we seem to have to optimize constantly so it really doesn't make things optimal.

Efficiency (Attain Efficiency)

Using the least resources possible. Notice, that money is not included in this. Your money anyway.

Productivity (Boost Productivity)

Doing more with fewer resources... including your money.


Not doing stupid things. It does suggest that you are doing some dumb things right now doesn't it? Feel insulted?

Business Need

Stuff your business needs to keep going. As in “our business needs your money”

Sometimes though, you hear something that is pretty straight up. It doesn't mean you believe it but at least you understand it. So, from the front page of Microsoft's website comes “Windows 7 is pretty dope.” It's not hard to guess that someone likes Windows 7. If only we could always be that obvious.

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