The Three Most Overused Words In Marketing

It seems like just about every marketing-related blog post I read mentions at least one of the three most overused words in the business world today: Death, Disruption, or Innovation.

I can’t help but wonder if some of these bloggers are trying to demonstrate their prescience by writing about the death of this or the death of that. There’s the death of traditional media, death of old marketing, and my favorite, the death of direct marketing.

My take: These death claims are reminiscent of those from the dot-com era, when pundits were proclaiming the death of everything traditional. Oh, there was a lot of death, alright — mostly among the dot coms.

The reality is that the new almost never swiftly replaces the old. In fact, the old often doesn’t even completely die. The new blends in with the old, and the parts that no longer work — from both the old and new — get left behind. Granted, more from the old gets thrown away than from the new. But it takes time, and it happens imperceptibly.

Then there are the folks who attach the label “disruptive” to every new technology announcement that comes along. And I’m not even referring to the people who sell those technologies.

One of my favorites in this category is the claim that P2P lending is “disruptive.” In an article titled Here Comes The P2P Economy in Harvard Business Online’s Conversation Starter, the author claims:

Peer-to-peer, or P2P, networks have thrown the media industry into turmoil. A shock like the one that jolted the media is poised to strike other industries, perhaps more disruptively. It is already being felt in financial services. It is only a matter of time before these digital systems close the arbitrage enjoyed by large banks, which lend at up to 15% interest but pay only about 5% on capital.”

My take: Disruptive, my foot. If and when the large banks start feeling the pain from P2P upstarts, what do you think they’ll do? They’ll close the gap. Any major FI in the US could replicate what the emerging P2P lending platforms are doing in a heartbeat. Not that they will, but they could. It’s simply a business model (and, to a certain extent, risk management) issue to them.

Finally, the calls to “Innovate or Die!” are deafening. One blogger recently claimed that “firms will not survive and succeed if they don’t innovate.”

My take: Nonsense. There are two secrets to survival and success. You don’t need to write them down, because I wrote them down for you:

1. Find a problem. Fix it.
2. Find an opportunity. Exploit it.

If it takes an “innovation” to fix the problem or exploit the opportunity, so be it. But “innovation” is not a prerequisite for accomplishing #1 or #2. My point is that there’s too much focus on innovation — as if it’s a panacea — and not enough on identifying underlying problems and opportunities.

Bottom line: The underlying motivations in the overuse of these terms run the gamut of reasons. But collectively, the excessive use of death, disruption, and innovation contributes to a “boy who cried wolf” or “the sky is falling!” kind of feel. More selective use of these terms would give them credence and weight. In my opinion, at least.

Technorati Tags: Marketing, Disruption, Innovation, P2P Lending

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