IMHO 411 on TLA’s (or Enough with the Acronyms)

I have a love hate relationship with Marketing.  I’ve met a lot of great marketing people over the years.  Every year I’ve learned a new thing or two.  What I’ve really learned is to spot bad marketing.  Usually I just ignore it, but since I have a vehicle to vent my frustration, here goes.


In the last month, I have seen ECM used to mean: Enterprise Content Management, Enterprise Contract Management, and Enterprise Cloud Management, just in the software space.  Sure there’s 17,576 possible TLA (Three Letter Acronyms) in the English alphabet, but we’re down to 26 when we’re Enterprise Managing anything.  Acronyms will step on toes.  I just want two rules.

  1. Use proper grammar and write out the acronym the first time you use it. Let us know what you’re talking about.  I don’t want to spend time reading an article totally confused only to find out that the C in ECM meant Cloud and not Content.
  2. Don’t use an acronym to ride on the original acronym’s coat tails. Yes I’m talking about you, “Enterprise Contract Management.”  Don’t use an acronym to hide away from the pack.


I hate buzzwords for the sake of buzzwords. They have absolutely no place in business.  If “your new buzzword” is like “common business term that everyone knows,” then use the word that everyone knows.  If I search for your new buzzword on-line and only find only your website or your press releases, use the old term.  There are exceptions if you truly created something new, but expect to be asked to clarify.  For example, Agile and RAD (Rapid Application Development) are not the same approach to development.

Buzzwords should be nouns and not verbs.  Most verbs are common.  I think our brains are already trained to classify new nouns. Even common nouns sound appropriate when they’re out of context.  Take the next two sentences.  “I saw a squirrel waterskiing.”  “The man was planking.”  I bet most of you could visualize the first sentence, but how many were able to even have an idea of what the man was doing.  Marketing is about getting people to visualize a complex topic, not adding to the complexity.


Explaining ECM in common terms is an art.  I’ve seen a lot of people do it well.  At the International AIIM Conference last month, four vendors held an “elevator pitch” competition.  The current champion is Glenn Gibson of Hyland.  I saw the confusion in the audience as Glenn spoke of black holes.  I knew what was coming, but I just couldn’t see how he’d get there.  He wrapped it up as a great analogy to ECM.  Unfortunately that presentation isn’t online, so I’ll share his The Beast of Inefficiency.

For those of you in marketing, don’t focus on the next new acronym or buzzword.  Instead work on the whole message and let’s give Glenn some competition next year.

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