Creative Linguistics – A Consultant’s Marketing Tool in the New World Order

Here is an article that I wrote on Fads in my Powerlines newsletter Number 7 way back in December of 1998.

These days it seems that every month some consultant or writer comes up with a new Cure -all for managerial ills, that has its own trendy specific title.

These actions have their origin in the need for specialisation and
establishing an unique identity in the marketplace. It also becomes a necessity when sales of a particular product dwindle. Marketers then know that they have to change the product’s image and appearance.

Often they just change the packaging and reword the statements in the advertisement and product literature. But what does consultants do: They reframe their messages.

Reframing is taking something and putting it into a different context or giving it a different meaning. The content remains the same but the context or meaning changes.( also called Redefining or relabeling). Everything we perceive we perceive in a certain context with a certain meaning – A Frame.

Reframing in another field is one of the principles of Aikido; “Never
fight against energy offered by someone. Utilise it. The paradoxical use of response and energy. Faith Popcorn called it Trendbending – The process of shaping your product or strategy around emerging trends – Example bending “a fast food chain from Good Fast Food to Good Food fast”.

However these new panaceas often deserve stripping of its hype. Often these new fads* seem to be at first glance genuinely new ideas that can improve business processes. However on close examination and stripping of the hype….they are often revealed as merely recycled and reframed fads.( The Webster dictionary defines A Fad as a practice or interest, followed for a short time with exaggerated zeal – or a craze, a particular notion, mania,
rage, fashion, trend or in vogue). a Something that has passed this way before but now it is in a new bottle, package or put in fancy lingo.(Even the magazine Fast Company had a section called The Consultant Debunking Unit).

Check your knowledge of the following;( Answers at the end of this e-mail):

  • Physically challenged
  • Gender Bender
  • Perfume Dynamics
  • Allergy
  • Information Specialist
  • Voice mail
  • Alternatively schooled
  • Ethically disoriented
  • Development needs
  • Overdraft
  • Corporate Culture
  • Downsizing,
  • Career Alternative Enhancement program,
  • Change Management
  • delayering
  • transformation,
  • reengineering
  • Negative deficit
  • price enhancement
  • a period of accelerated negative growth

To me some of these words are nothing other than doublespeak – the art of non communication or language that appears to communicate but fails to do so because the communicator is attempting to obstruct the truth.

Paul Hellman wrote in an article called Words and Things in the AMA journal of 1995 the following statement about the word “World -class”. He writes about reading about a bunch of terrorists being described as world-class in a newspaper.

He asks the question : ” Does it really matter?
Terrorist: Get in the van. We’re taking you hostage.
Hostage: Not so fast. I need to know whom I’m dealing with.
Terrorist: Don’t insult us. We’re an extremely reputable group of fanatics.
Hostage: I’m afraid ” reputable” isn’t good enough. Kidnap me in a few years when you’re world -class.

Now consider the meaning of the quiz words above:                

  • Physically challenged – Disabled
  • Gender Bender – A term popularised by the singer Boy George
  • Perfume Dynamics- Aromatherapy
  • Allergy – Used to be an itch
  • Information specialist -Used to be a gossip
  • Voice mail – used to be an answering machine
  • Alternatively schooled – uneducated
  • Ethically disoriented – dishonest
  • Development needs – Euphemism for problems
  • Overdraft – Postponed bankruptcy
  • The terms Downsizing, Career Alternative Enhancement program, Change Management, delayering, transformation, reengineering – These terms often just mean firing of people.
  • Negative deficit – profit decrease
  • Price enhancement – price increase
  • a period of accelerated negative growth – Recession.

What we often forget is that the meaning in words do not lie in the words we use but in people’s heads. Is it not better to  communicate clearly and accurately? What we have to ask ourselves : ” Are we really reframing the words we are using or are we just using words to obscure”. Perhaps the message to us all is ( in the words of the writer whose name now eludes me): ” Why use a 25c word when a 5c one will do”.

There’s always another option – Use words to obscure and become successful in the same vein. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Create a new technique, method or process( see reframing above). Give it a real catchy name such as ” Theory Z” or ” Rambo Management”.
  2. Write a book on the subject. Use a lot of visuals, illustrations and
  3. Develop a speech for the “Rubber chicken” circuit. Tailor your general speech to fit local industry problems. Speak at as many engagements as possible. Ensure that you have a team selling your books during the breaks and maybe your tapes as well.
  4. Get yourself a good publicist.
  5. Continue to use words such as above – Relabel, redefine and reframe …..

And soon you will be on your way to becoming quoted in Fortune magazine and you’ll be touted as the next Management Guru – Saver of ills( For a while anyway) .Until another guru replaces you.

You may say : ” It’s just a matter of semantics”. Is it? Bradley Chatfield, Director of Communications, Arizona Hospital had the following to say about this in an interesting e-mail to the Forum that got me thinking:

“When someone brings up semantics, the context to me, seems always to be negative. Look at the following examples, going from past words to “modern” terms for the same thing: shell shock, battle fatigue, post traumatic stress disorder, layoffs, reduction in force, downsizing, rightsizing, crippled, handicapped, physically challenged, differently abled. People can debate whether these evolving terms have increased meaning, improved perceptions,
or the reverse. My view is that larger and multi-syllabic words can only make comprehension suffer”.

Consider how the modern words obscure the meaning:

  • Differently abled could mean left handed
  • Rightsizing could mean losing or gaining weight or it could mean firing of staff.

So no matter how you deal with it – It’s semantics. No matter how you interpret the terms, the simple fact of what really happened remains unchanged( reframing).The danger is that seasoned managers start to regard every new theory with distrust, and will ignore even those with value. AND that is the biggest danger for consultants( On the other hand they also need to make a statement I guess..).

From a PR perspective we also overuse many words such as world-class and premier. Every piece of software, Laundromat or car rental service seems to describe itself as ” premier”. Again are we trying to obscure? Bradley to me sums it up nicely when he wrote : ” Clear, well written language will always overcome noisy superlatives and lazy prose”.

I am not saying it’s wrong. Let’s talk about it. Sorry, Let’s have a
dialogue……… you could also Tweet this message….and that is definitely no longer a fad!