Business Advice

From “Activate” to “Amazon”: The business buzzwords that defined 2017

Emma Koehn /

She Will Shine Danielle Price

She Will Shine's Danielle Price. Source: Supplied

Small businesses and startups are always focused on using their language to promote growth, but everyone has a phrase that sounds more like nails on a chalkboard than something to inspire them to action.

Plenty of branding and business-related words popped up in the Oxford Dictionary’s shortlist for word of the year in 2017. The controversial practice of “newsjacking” made the list, as did “Gorpcore” — a word coined in the US to describe the outdoor activity clothing like puffer vests, which rose in popularity in 2017.

Closer to home, however, there are plenty of business buzzwords that have driven Australian entrepreneurs nuts this year, whether because of overuse or simply because they don’t accurately describe business processes. Here’s a list of top picks for ‘most annoying business buzzwords of 2017’, plus a few phrases entrepreneurs wish would be used more.

“Activate”

Founder of professional women in business community She Will Shine, Danielle Price, says businesses should stop thinking of bringing on customers as “activating” them.

“I’m not ringing a phone number to set up a credit card or new mobile phone with an automated system, I’m creating an experience for an actual person. It’s real,” she says.

“Amazon”

Shark Tank investor and RedBalloon founding director Naomi Simson says she’s sick of the media attention on the global retail giant, as well as local retailers’ fears about disruption.

I don’t know whether it’s smoke and mirrors, but everyone else is talking about them more than they have done themselves … and I’m so sick of retailers talking about it,” she says. 

“Bandwidth”

Thinking about your energy and attention as “bandwidth” is a less that ideal startup mindset, says founder of The Interchange, Gabrielle Harris.

“[When people say] ‘I’ve totally exceeded my bandwidth’ — are you an Ethernet cable?” she says.

“Game changer”

“It’s so overused and there are really are such a tiny number of products or services that actually are developed to change the way an industry works – most things are just copies that are tweaked slightly,” says Jacqui Esdaile, founder of coworking business Gravity.

“Growth hacking”

Several entrepreneurs nominated the phrase “growth hacking” this year as their pet hate — data-driven marketing takes work and long-term planning, rather than a few simple hacks, they observe.

“The cult of growth hacking says that multimillion-dollar revenue is just a few simple hacks away. It’s a nice story, but it’s unfortunately, it’s a lie,” founder of digital communications firm ntegrity, Richenda Vermuelen, says.

“No”

In a blog post earlier this year, Virgin founder Richard Branson outlined the one word he thinks is the secret to entrepreneurship — “yes”. On the flipside, entrepreneurs with a “no” mentality, of which there are many, stand to get left behind.

“Omnichannel”

“I’ve been hoping this word would die for a few years now but no luck yet!” says Adore Beauty founder Kate Morris.

Other honourable mentions

“Mumpreneur”, “ecosystem”, “disruption”, “architecture” and “women in … X industry” were also top responses from entrepreneurs this year.

Meanwhile, SmartCompany readers on Twitter added a few more suggestions.

Words to use more

It’s not all bad news, however. Some words need to be used more, say company founders.

Co-founder of coffee business Podpac, Toby Strong, says his word of the year is “patience”.

“I strongly agree with Gary Vaynerchuk [in that] that too many people want immediate success and this leads to shortcuts which can backfire. In my view nothing trumps hard work combined with long-term thinking (and being willing to eat s#!% in the short-term),” he says.

At the larger end of the business spectrum, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg revealed in a speech last week the word that defines his approach to entrepreneurship: optimism.

“The saying goes that optimists tend to be successful and pessimists tend to be right,” he reflected at the Facebook Social Good forum at the end of last month, reports CNBC

Which buzzwords would you like to see less of in 2018? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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