Buzzword visionaries will rightsize the lexicon

December 24, 2013

By Quentin Webb

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Do executive thought leaders need best-in-class jargon? Can only visionary C-suiters move the needle at the investor day or the Davos interactive panel? It appears embedded in the corporate DNA, but is a laser-like focus on buzzwords mission critical? Join Breakingviews, your end-to-end provider of financial commentary solutions, on a deep dive.

Analysis of 15 years of corporate press releases, and a decade or so of conference calls, shows some expressions are relentless in taking share. “Visionary” and “disruptive” have consistently surprised to the upside. (See content-rich infographic with value-added functionality.) However, counter-examples have experienced sustained sequential deceleration.

If you are looking to impress in terms of linguistics, there is a rich opportunity set to target. But be careful with what looks like low-hanging fruit. These phrases, net-net, may have transitioned past an inflection point.

Some have been sunset by comparables. Best-of-breed is no longer best-in-class. And the paradigm has shifted: in fact, yesterday’s paradigm shifts are today’s game changers. Other terms simply exhibit sustained downwards momentum. Win-win is on a losing streak. Perfect storm is a bit 2008. And only a mergers and acquisitions boom could increase the relevance of synergistic.

So we recommend drilling down for additional granularity. The bear-case scenario would be a sub-optimal impact on personal brand equity. Or here’s an alternative. Rightsize the lexicon. That means abandoning the verbal benchmarking against the peer set altogether. If you really want to stand out, ditch the verbiage. Use fresh, clear language instead.

Use this interactive graphic to see the buzzwords falling in and out of fashion.

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