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The Four Letter Words of Marketing (And Why Innovation Isn’t One of Them)

Growing up my parents had a list of “four letter” words that I wasn’t allowed to say.

Having been in marketing for 30 years, I (and my colleagues) have used those words liberally. Still, I feel like the parent now, and there are some words and phrases that I don’t want to hear. Let’s call them the “four-letter words of marketing.”

Here are some of my least favorite:

  • “Real time” – Can someone tell me when time isn’t real?
  • “Out of the box” – I cringe whenever I hear this because I know that what will follow isn’t.
  • “Literally” – Millennials give us great insights in all walks of life, but using the word “literally” to describe their feelings should not be one. “I literally can’t even.” (You can add “can’t even” to that list, as well.)
  • “Disrupt” – This FastCompany article describes my distaste for this word perfectly by saying,Many industries have their favorite buzzwords, but the word “disrupt” for the tech sector is in a league of its own. It’s become so overused that, basically, everything is disruptive today and, therefore, nothing is.”
  • “Turnkey” – What kind of asshole came up with this term?

There’s another word that belongs on this list, but I won’t put it here because, when used correctly, it’s extremely important. That word is:


Too often the word “innovation” is used in relation to something ordinary that has been put into a new wrapper or expressed in a different way. As agencies, if we aren’t offering our clients true “innovation” or ideas that will build their businesses, we’re in big trouble.

The 2015 New Year Outlook Report, compiled by RSW/US (a full service outsourced business development group based in Cincinnati) states that one of the most frequently mentioned “troubling trends” cited by marketers about agencies is “lack of innovation.”

As technology advances and the lens through which we view the marketing landscape continuously changes, it’s our job to be at the forefront of that change so we can convey new ideas to our clients.

I want to share some examples of true innovation that Princeton Partners has recently implemented with two of its clients:

One is the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor of the State of New Jersey. With our guidance, they took the plunge into the world of social media. That’s a big step for a state agency; even more so for the Attorney General’s office. One might even call it an innovation. Read about it here.

The second is for the Newark Downtown District business development association. They put out an RFP for a new website that would foster a vibrant culture in the core of New Jersey’s largest city. What we proposed was not just a new site, but a whole new approach to conventional website design and structure. It excited them so much that in the meeting before we were awarded the business, we were told that we were their first choice. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that in an RFP process before the decision was made. See why they said this.

Both of these projects relied on a ground-breaking platform (and our Partner) called Gravitater. Take a look. It’s a powerful tool that will help agencies harness the power of social media.

I’d love to hear about innovative solutions you’ve developed for your clients.

Also, I’d love to know if there are other words or phrases that would you add to the four-letter word list. Just make sure “innovation” isn’t one of them. It deserves better than that. And so do our clients.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and message me with your responses.








Marketing Agency Blog Post Author of The Four Letter Words of Marketing (And Why Innovation Isn’t One of Them)

February 17, 2015
Written by Jeff Chesebro

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