Three tired marketing words you should stop using

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Over the years, I've had many people label me as a marketing guy just because I help build brands. I don't like being labelled, but I particularly don't like that marketing label. Why?

In my view, traditional marketing sets up an adversarial relationship, a battle of wills pitting seller vs. buyer.

The seller begins the relationship with a goal to convince the buyer to buy something. The buyer begins the relationship wary of believing what the seller is saying (often with good reason). It is an unhealthy connection that is doomed to fail most of the time.

What's the alternative? I believe companies should stop trying to build relationships with those interested in their brands using a marketing-based approach and instead move to a community-based approach where the culmination of the relationship is not always a transaction, but instead a meaningful partnership or friendship that may create multiple valuable outcomes for both sides.

How do you do this? Consider beginning by eradicating three of the most common words in the marketing vocabulary: audience, message, and market.

So you better understand what I mean, let me attempt to use all three of these words in a typical sentence you might hear coming out of a marketer's mouth:

We need to develop some key messages we can use to market to our target audience.

Yikes. So much not to like in there. Let me break this one down.


You hear companies talk about their "target audiences" all the time. So what's wrong with that?

The word audience implies that the company is talking and the people on the other end are listening. This sort of binary, transactional description of the relationship seems so dated to me.

Certainly in the glory days of advertising where companies had the podium of TV, magazine, and newspaper ads, the word audience was more appropriate. After all, no one ever got far talking back to the TV set.

But in the age of Twitter and Facebook, companies must respect that everyone has the podium. Everyone is talking, everyone is listening.

Where most marketing folks would use the word audience, I often substitute the word community. By thinking of those who surround your brand as members of communities rather than simply as ears listening to you, you'll already be on your way to a healthier, deeper relationship with the people who engage with your company.


The word message bothers me for the same reason. It is such an antiquated, transactional term. When a company talks about "creating messaging" or "delivering targeted messages" I start thinking we should call the Pony Express.

I believe the move to a community-based approach begins when you quit worrying about "delivering messages" and begin thinking about sharing stories, joining conversations, or sparking dialogue.

These are much better ways to communicate authentically in a collaborative world.


Perhaps the word that bugs me most is market (used as a noun or a verb) and its related friend consumer. Companies that think of people interested in them as consumers or markets take what could become a multi-dimensional relationship and whittle it down to one dimension: a transaction.

If you think of someone as part of your "target market" or a "consumer" you are making your interest in them abundantly clear. You want them to consume something. You want their money.

But what if there were more that people who are interested in your brand could share besides just their money? Perhaps they have valuable ideas that might make your company better? Perhaps they'd be willing to volunteer to help you achieve your mission in other ways?

When you stop thinking of the people that care about your company as consumers or a market, you can begin to see opportunities that you would have been blind to before.

Want an example? Look anywhere in the open source world. Sure there are buyers and sellers, but there are also lots of people bringing value in other ways. Developing code. Hosting projects. Writing documentation. The list goes on.

So let me be the first to admit these three words are the tip of the iceberg. Moving a company from a marketing-based to a community-based approach to building relationships will take more than changing a few words. It will require you to embrace new media, new skill sets, and a totally new way of thinking.

But you have to start somewhere.

Do you see other things that may need to change as we move from a marketing-based to community-based approach to building brands and companies?

I'd love to hear your ideas.

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Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)


My particular pet hate - the "verticals". Totally misunderstood and it just makes me cringe. The successful firms in the long term will be the ones who can appeal to the biggest audience (oops - community!).

I believe that the community can find better uses for your products or services and increase sales opportunities than some slick marketing schmoozers so we shouldn't try and limit ourselves to attracting a certain type of customer.

However - here is the catch. The challenge for us small business owners is not spreading ourselves too thin by trying to be all things to all people - so we end up "targeting" "markets". Finding the balance is key and one I am still looking for. As we grow I want to only focus on making our services appeal to the community and believe the sales will follow.

From the other side of the equation - amen!

When I first saw the title of the discussion, I thought you were going to at least mention "touching bases". I get so many "marketing" calls that I can recognize one as soon as the caller opens his/her mouth. And I have learned to hang up almost as quickly. That is because of exactly what you mentioned. I have a [VERY] few vendors with which I have what you suggest - a partnership. We mutually benefit. I can call or email when I just need advice. When I need to buy something, I LIKE to spend my money with them. Anybody can sell you computer stuff. The really successful ones are those who create - and respect - that partnership. I don't get sales pitches, they get my money.

Thanks for the great article. Who knows, maybe someday we can "touch bases".

thanks! glad you liked it!

that whole language of marketing-- of which "touching base" and whatnot are all parts-- needs to change to be relevant to a community-based world. The language of marketing itself has become so formalized, so incredibly out of touch with our humanity, that it is off-putting and actually damages the relationships it is trying to foster.

I'm a big fan of replacing the language of marketing with a new, much more human form of communication. It's nothing revolutionary, simple comes down to this:

Talk to people like they are people. Don't talk at them, talk with them. Use the same words you'd use to explain something to a friend. Speak as a person, not as a company.

How did we ever get away from that anyway?

Trying it out.

<em>We need to develop some key messages we can use to market to our target audience.</em>

<em>Let's deepen the conversations with our customer community so that we can hear what they want and continue to improve our product/business.</em>



or even

"Let's deepen the conversations with *all of the communities* we work with so that we can understand what we can do to improve our products and services... but also so we can better understand how we can help these communities (and people) become even more successful in their own efforts."

or even better, rather than talking about it, we just do it!!


More from the other side: Not being a salesman, I can not speak from experience. But, I think the issue is that the sales/marketing force is told to do just that: sell, sell, sell. Rightly so, of course, it's their livelyhood. The problem with that approach is that the focus is on getting a product or service into the customer's hands, and their money in your pocket. Very shortsighted. The sales/marketing force is not trained (nor even encouraged) to build a long-lasting relationship with their customers. All of us are salesmen, and all of us are customers. What we all need to realize is that none of us can exist on what we sell today. We need to develop real relationships that will pay us tomorrow as well.

Most of the calls I get all begin the same way. If it's someone that has ever spoken to me before, they are "touching bases". After that point, all the calls are the same: "Do you have any projects...?" "We are the leading source..." "How can I get on your bid list?" "We area Fortune 500..." "We sell to..."

Thank you. Click.

I have one vendor in particular that, before I ever bought the first thing from them, they offered me tech support on a product that I actually bought from another company. It was in the form of, "call us if you need us". When I did called them about an issue, they treated me like I was "their" customer. NEVER did they mention support agreements or selling me anything. So, when it did come time for me to purchase a product which they sold, that is who I spent my money with. I got [friendly, courteous, no pressure] service from them long before any sale.
In an industry that is this competitive, and getting more so, I believe that to be truly successful you must - as the author of this discussion points out - create mutually beneficial relationships.
Just my opinion.- but it works for me.

Maybe businesses and individuals who realize and utilize the capabilities and methods of large resource allocation that promote their own interests inherit more responsibilities than individuals alone. Because they exist in an environment that rewards them with a special status for accumulation of ever larger control of resources and their allocation, their mission would need to evolve beyond that of simply acting in their own interests to acting in the interests of an audience that includes the wider community, Their methods would not only aim to realize their goals but also empower audience members as individuals or groups to realize individual or wider audience goals. This is not socialism, but rather, capitalism that embraces the tenets of our democracy.

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