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Surviving Buzzworld: Beware the Buzzwords of Pharma Marketing

Sarah Morgan

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  • What’s the value-add of scaling our multichannel marketing to add a new patient-centric element of gamification?
  • MRL is worried about UGC before the sNDA’s PDUFA date.
  • We need big data so we can get analytics to prove the ROI on making our disruptive campaign programmatic.

Jargon, acronyms and buzzwords: the bane of every new hire, but also the downfall of many a seasoned marketer. Our industry is a highly regulated, highly scientific, highly litigious one. It’s just plain complicated. There has to be a lot of specialized terminology. 

But sometimes, the terms we use don’t serve us. They don’t make the conversation more specific and precise. Sometimes, terms get used quite often, but nobody is entirely certain what they actually mean. 

Try it sometime: In a meeting, take note of the different acronyms and buzzwords, and when it’s over (not during — you don’t want to embarrass anyone) pull a colleague aside and ask him or her to define them. I’ve done this many times. Sometimes it’s been in a new role when I genuinely did need to better understand the discussion. Once or twice, I just had an inkling that nobody would really know, and I wanted to see if I was right. More often than not, people have a general sense of what they believe the term means, but they’re not really certain.

This isn’t just an amusing anecdote about pretentious language. It’s a real problem. Buzzwords confuse the conversation. What one person means when they use a buzzword may not be what another person understands when they hear it — and still another person may not have any definition for it at all but be too intimidated to speak up.

Converations like that might have three people in a room talking without any actual communication taking place.  As in the old story, everyone’s making noise, but there’s really no substance. The emperor has no clothes.

Humans don’t “ideate; we think. We don’t “utilize”; we use. “Patient-centric”? Isn’t that what all of healthcare should be? And “disruptive”? If you’re simply using that to mean something that gains your target’s attention, isn’t that what all of marketing is? 

A lot of buzzwords don’t really say anything at all, but some, however, do. Again, this is a highly technical industry with a lot of extremely complex things that need to be discussed. 

Using jargon terms does no harm provided that:

  • You know exactly what the term means
  • The terms you’re using mean exactly what you need to say
  • You take the time to make certain that everyone in the conversation understands those terms to mean exactly the same thing you intend them to mean

Sometimes all that is necessary. But there are many times when, to do all that, it’s easier to be simpler. Precision doesn’t always come with a fancy phrase. Sometimes, it’s far better served by giving a couple of specific examples and leaving it to others — like annoying industry bloggers — to spout buzzwords. 

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