Language Matters

By Pedro Pereira  |  Posted 2007-01-24 Email Print this article Print

Opinion: The linguistic twists in IT marketing and branding hurt channel partners and make customers suspicious.

Have you ever noticed how the English language takes a kick in the teeth every time a technology company comes up with the next big thing?

Over the years I've poked fun at the hijacking of terms such as "ecosystem" and the outright invention of words such as "incent" or "incentivize." And let's not even talk about the numbingly redundant "internetworking" or the oxymoronic "small and midsize enterprise."

John Lennon, at the height of his drug-induced wordplay creativity, had nothing on the IT marketing types and tech heads who are destroying the language. At least "marmalade skies" has an ethereal, gastronomically pleasing quality.

At this point, some of you may wonder why you should be bothered with this stuff. After all, if you're a VAR, distributor or integrator, why should you care what term vendor X uses to describe its technology?

You care, or should, because language matters. It is, after all, what we use to understand each other. And if the marketing and branding language misses the mark because it is being misused, selling stuff to customers is tougher. If you can't explain what a certain piece of equipment or application does, or you attempt to explain it in terms the customer doesn't understand, how are you going to sell it?

The odd, enigmatic language that IT companies have a penchant for using is one of the reasons average users are suspicious of technology. It's bad enough they have to deal with cheaply built printers that only work sporadically. Now they have to hire a translator to figure out what a product is all about?

People are going way out of their way to be clever or creative with branding and descriptions of technology. But too often they cross the line from clever to cheese ball and nonsensical.

A writing coach once told me that when writing, the sentence I love the most for its supposed creativity and brilliance most likely is the one that makes the least sense and the best candidate for Wite-Out. (In those days we still used Wite-Out.) If only that admittedly frustrating, yet incisive, piece of advice had made it to the branding and marketing rooms of the tech industry.

Well, we might not have terms such as "social networking" applied to a piece of software. With all due respect to IBM, the vendor's Lotus Connections application has nothing to do with anything "social." Yet, "social software" is how the computing giant described the technology at its unveiling Jan. 22, while others have called it "social networking."

And here is the linguistic kick in the teeth: This is supposedly a business application designed to help users do their jobs better. It's business, but it's "social," you know? Like mixing business with pleasure? The boss is going to love that!

Hell, why doesn't IBM just call it what it is—information-sharing software? Here's what the vendor said Lotus Connections does: "Access and share information that is deemed important by others and discover new people and resources with similar interests: Dogear, the bookmarking component of Lotus Connections, enables users to tag and share bookmarks."

OK, there is a search component too, but we wouldn't want to call it a "search engine." That would be so "Googlish!"

I don't mean to pick on IBM. I could go through 10 sites of technology and channel companies and find enough nonsensical language to turn this column into a 40-page dissertation with a dozen appendices.

But that would be overkill, wouldn't it? Best to use that time instead to figure out what "social networking" or "honeypot" means.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner. He can be reached at

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