Published October 17th, 2016
by Steven Clark

Earlier this year I wrote about the continued use of the word “disruption” by agencies and the tech industry in order to convince us that work, products or services are game changers when they’re mostly the same old shit or something humdrum with some novelty bells and whistles. While we’re slowly coming to terms with the fact that the “Internet of Things” is – for now at least – a massive waste of time and energy, the use of vague and meaningless buzzwords unfortunately continues unabated.

“Digital Transformation” is the latest in experiments to dress up preexisting mundane services as something elevated and metamorphic. In this case, a phrase adopted by agency buzzword artists to sell potentially metathesiophobic businesses an ongoing strategy for implementation across one or more digital platforms. Government bodies, software businesses, and business consultancies also use this term but more in the sense of transitioning traditionally analogue processes into digital ones to improve experiences and better utilise customer and user data.

What “Digital Transformation” really means

Any digital consultancy you do business with should evaluate your end goals, give advice and suggest appropriate platforms as part of any ongoing work agreement. “Digital Transformation” is just an attempt at repackaging this continuous fact finding and recommendation process as a separate, one-off, perhaps more in-depth service.

Rather than a stock repeat of the disruption post where I pontificate on the phrase “Digital Transformation” and its general usage, let’s instead think about why a highly competitive industry feels the need to continuously reinvent the wheel when it comes to their services and how they sell them.

Salespeople in digital can often have little regard for naming and describing their services in clear and pragmatic ways despite a number of technical knowledge barriers to entry for potential clients. The regular emergence of new buzzwords and fancy job titles means a certain amount of – possibly deliberate – obfuscation of the actual services being offered to seem more innovative, advanced or individual than their competitors.

Buzzwords Simpsons
Simpsons gifs always relevant

Then, when a business becomes a new potential lead, the veil is lifted and the services are newly defined. They become less like the revolutionary transformative processes they claimed to be, and more like a series of workshops, a staged web development process, or a marketing audit. How innovative. What’s left of my brain is now dribbling out of my ears.

Naturally, this can lead to less technically savvy clients choosing a service which might not be right for them out of sheer bewilderment. After all, without prior knowledge who would you choose? A company offering you a digital strategy or a consultancy offering to help you “break free […] and grow not just a little, but a great deal?”. We creative industries professionals then find ourselves wasting time as we pay lip service to new terms, posting articles and blogs about what they mean instead of doing our jobs.

Mega64 Hacking
Pictured: me doing my job

Ironically, I struggle to find appropriate terminology for this phenomenon. For now, let’s just call it “Word Inflation”. The process of combining and redefining words for the sake of elevating an existing, relatively simple but competitively sold process. Especially when doing so makes it harder to understand and obfuscates the actual process itself behind a barrage of talk trying desperately to own or define it.

You could argue that this is just the evolution of language. According to Google Trends, many of these terms are recent inventions, with quite a few falling into general usage around the start of this decade. Even though “Digital Transformation” is a ridiculously grandiose term, I still think word inflation is epitomised by “Disruption”, a word we’ve chosen to redefine to mean groundbreaking on an unprecedented scale while somehow losing the negative connotations of the original definition along the way. Despite the fact that disruptive ideas can often result in very negative consequences.

So I guess we now live in a world where change is “Disruption”, brainstorming concepts is “Ideation”, copywriting is “Brand Storytelling”, digital strategy is “Digital Transformation” and people with lots of Twitter and Instagram followers are “Social Influencers”. All terms thrown around by people who probably consider themselves “Thought Leaders” who don’t so much lead thoughts as cannibalise language.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Habanero Digital blog meaning certain parts are probably weirdly self referential or talk about ongoing feuds that probably exist almost exclusively in the mind of the author.

Clients Digital Agencies Innovation

by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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