10 tech buzzwords marketers need to know

10 tech buzzwords marketers need to know
Image by Sebastiaan ter Burg

As the world gets more digital, it can become more and more bamboozling for traditional marketeers. It’s like learning a whole new language, that of a ‘marketing technologist’ .

This brave new world comes complete with a brand new list of tech buzzwords: concepts, ways of thinking and strategies which while established in Silicon Valley, are only just taking root on Madison Avenue.

So we’ve collated our top 10 tech buzzwords, and tried to do our best to explain them in plain English (!), to help you on your digital journey.

1) The Cloud

When you hear the phrase “The Cloud” it can conjure up images of fluffy white cumulo nimbus, a magical place like Kitty Heaven. But what is it, really?

While it sounds like some mystical, intangible thing, it’s actually just a way to describe the computers which have been installed in data centers around the globe and connected to the Internet. It is hundreds of thousands of machines that process data – enormous buildings full of them – built to fail without interrupting service.

This creates an on-demand computing resource which needs no IT department to manage. If one machine fails then another takes it place. If workloads spike (ie more site traffic), more machines are brought online to help automatically. The cloud transforms computing as we know it, by commoditising hardware – you no longer need to buy a machine to host your web site.

By using the cloud, people can access content and work regardless of where they are, so the need to be in the same place at the same time is gone. The cloud gives everyone access to global networked computing, previously the domain of only the biggest corporates.

A good example is Salesforce Wave Analytics Cloud, which allows all of a company’s data sources to be housed in a single, accessible store. That could include sales data, marketing data, HR and services as well as any other inputs that could contribute to business intelligence.

By using the cloud, you can access that data anytime, anywhere and on any device.

2) Collaboration

Another word which has come to the fore is “collaboration”. At first glance this word seems almost superficial: of course its better to work with rather than against people?!

But to build a truly collaborative business isn’t a nice to have, it’s a vital survival tool for the today’s fast moving world – whether you’re a startup or global blue chip. Thinker and academic John Hagel provides the intellectual framework neatly when he defines what he calls “The Big Shift”.

marketing technologist

He sets out that in today no single organisation can possibly know everything, they need to be more open and allow ideas – knowledge flows – to come in and out of their organisation. He also advocates a “positive sum mindset” (as opposed to “zero sum”), as a way to succeed:


His article “Defining The Big Shift” is required reading for senior managers and anyone wanting to enact change in an organisation.

Open collaboration across a diverse range of disciplines allows your brand to genuinely innovate (we will come onto ‘Disruption’ later in the article) within its market, and remain relevant as markets shift.

3) Culture

Culture is a big buzzword in the tech world, now seen as a critical part of a startup’s chance of success. Indeed legendary entrepreneur (he co-founded PayPal) and investor Peter Thiel famously said to Airbnb: “Don’t f**k up your culture”.

But it’s not just hip tech startups for whom culture is important. Forbes has said that corporate culture is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage, and Slideshare has a regular update on the latest culture slide decks – Netflix, Hubspot and AirBNB are just 3 great examples of brands that openly document their internal company culture.

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Your company culture is the starting point of your brand, and comes out of every pore: your product, your service, how you treat customers, staff, partners. Staff today are attracted to companies that don’t just pay well, and treat them well – but that share the values they hold dear. This is particularly relevant to Millenials, so helps attract and retain the best talent.

Harvard Business Review recently wrote how Netflix has reinvented HR – this slideshare on the culture shows why they think that.

In marketing departments, culture is important because – done right – it encourages true collaboration and openness. Openness allows new ideas and insights to emerge from the bottom up, rather than the top down, meaning that you harness the true creative talent of your teams and agencies.


At Techdept we use an Open Business System – it’s our own methodology that we created and implemented, inspired by the concept of “Flow” and of “Intrinsic Motivation”.

By having a clear company culture we know the right kind of people to hire (as opposed to just looking at skills), and we treat these values as seriously as any tech skill. This more open approach absolutely attracts young talent, and creates an emotional connection with the business which glues the team together when things get challenging.

4) Disruption

Nowadays it seems the whole world wants to be “disruptive”, it’s a phrase that’s being bandied around by everyone, from tech startups, to musicians, to – yes you guessed it – marketing campaigns! Indeed it’s so over-used that the backlash is beginning.

But what really is it?

Disruptive Innovation’ is a term coined by Harvard Professor of Business Clayton Christensen in his 1997 book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. It’s quite an academic read, but was the only book namechecked in the Steve Jobs autobiography – apparently Jobs was obsessed with it. When you grasp the concept, you’ll understand why.

Disruptive Innovation describes a process by which a product or service begins life at the bottom of a market and then ruthlessly moves up market, eventually superseding established competitors. It does this by being simple and cheaper and – critically – using new technology.

Because the established players have listened to their customers – and added features that the customer wants, they add cost and “weight” to their product (and business). Thish means smaller nimbler competitors steal a march.


So: you do everything right (listen to your customer, give them what they want), but these incremental changes make you less likely to succeed over time.

Taxi app Uber is perhaps the most obvious current example of market disruption. They are using tech to do something cheaper and better than an established, sluggish industry, which isn’t designed around the needs of the customer. I took my first Uber in London recently, and it was quick, easy, friendly – and two thirds of the price of a black cab.

Modern marketers need to take the core principle of Disruptive Innovation to heart: listening to your customer may just kill your brand.

That’s why open collaboration is key to any future marketer, new ways of thinking need to be a critical part of the marketing technologist skillset. You may need to ‘disrupt yourself’.

5) Accelerators

If you’re a budding entrepreneur (with a big idea that will change the world and make you a gazillionaire) chances are you’re thinking of applying to one of the growing army of tech accelerators.

They seem to be popping up every day, indeed this morning it was announced that ad guru John Hegarty has launched one, named The Garage.

The ‘big beasts’ in the tech accelerator world are Y Combinator (alumni include Dropbox, Airbnb, and Reddit) and Techstars , who have been leading the way since the mid noughties. These vanguards of Silicon Valley startups have become shorthand for a process which is broadly consistent across every ‘accelerator’.

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An accelerator traditionally provides a 3 month programme, seed funding (for the founders to live on while taking the programme) in return for a small equity stake (normally less than 10%), office space, rapid fire advice from a wide range of mentors, and then a ‘pitch day’ when they can unveil their ‘accelerated’ idea in front of a room full of VC’s and angel investors.

It’s a format that undoubtedly works well – building on the key principles of “The Lean Start Up” (more on that later) – in getting an idea from concept to scrappy reality, and “blooding” teams in the real world. They have been criticised however for ‘throwing pasta at a wall’ and seeing what sticks.

However the process is worth considering for brands to rapidly develop product innovations. And indeed many brands are developing their own accelerator or incubator programmes, including Unilever, BBC Labs (which launched six media start-ups in 2013) and Microsoft. It’s a structured way to get new – dare I say ‘disruptive’ – ideas into a corporate environment.

6) Actionable Metrics

In the era of Big Data, brands have a Big Problem. How to deal with all the information, because having data is one thing, using it wisely is another.

One way to approach this challenge is to employ the concept of Actionable Metrics.

Actionable metrics is a phrase that has been popularised by by Silicon Valley legend Dave McClure, a potty-mouthed angel investor and head of tech accelerator “500 Startups”. He’s travelled the world holding forth on his theory of “startup metrics for pirates”: AARRR – which stands for Acquisition, Activation, Referral, Retention, Revenue. It’s worth taking 5 minutes to watch this video:

By focusing on the few – less than 5 – metrics that will progress your business plan, you can start to see the ‘big data’ wood for the trees.

Let’s say you want more email signups: how many are you getting now – and how can you move heaven and earth each day, week, month to increase that number? This encourages trial and error, learning over time to optimise a business – or indeed a campaign.

By focusing on the core data – and taking action based on that information – you can not only focus on the important, but ignore the unimportant data – which would otherwise take up your valuable headspace and time.

7) Entrepreneur

Blame the movie “The Social Network” but nowadays being an entrepreneur is cool. In fact it’s as cool as being a rock star – which is perhaps why most tech accelerators like to advertise for “the next tech rock star”!

It’s another term which has evolved in meaning in recent years , but I define entrepreneurship as the ability to see what could – or should – be there, and then doing something about it.

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Image by Sebastiaan Ter Burg

This is really important within marketing, because that instinct – to change the world around you – should be encouraged in all our teams, particularly those that need to engage the customer. Yes, it refers to someone who is willing to take risks, and grow companies, but it can – and in my opinion should – be a fundamental part of any company culture.

How can these entrepreneurial principles be applied to your thinking? How do you encourage your teams and agencies to look beyond “the campaign” to see the next thing which will really change your market? How do you get the Board to accept that there will be risk in this, but it can be minimised, measured and learnt from (more on this later)?

Getting your teams to think of themselves, and to approach projects, as if they were entrepreneurs is not only ‘cool’, but reframes the entire process of strategy, idea generation and execution.

8) Fail Fast

Failure is accepted in the tech world as the price of innovation. The only crime is when you don’t ‘fail fast’, to recognise that things are not going to plan, and quickly change course – or kill it. Mark Zuckerberg famously coined the phrase “Move Fast and Break Things”.

It helps to approach failure like a scientist. When a scientist runs an experiment, what doesn’t work often creates more insights than what does work: failure creates data, real world insight. Treated in this way, it’s possible to continually learn from your activity, and adjust your marketing and new product development accordingly – rather than sweeping mistakes under the carpet – or firing the person that took the risk.

Looked at in another way, don’t pour all your time and money into something before launching it.

Get it out there fast and be set up to deal with bugs, and hiccups as they occur. By running experiments, and measuring the data from those experiments, the marketing technologist builds insights over time, proving things work before committing the entire budget.

The more your activity can be tested in the real world, the more sure you can be that an future investment – of time, money, resources – will actually work with the people that matter most: your customers.

9) The Lean Start Up

There is a new a bible in tech startup land and it’s called The Lean Startup – authored by Eric Ries, himself now an eponymous “rock star” .

Harvard Business Review said that “The Lean Startup changes everything”:

“Recently an important countervailing force has emerged, one that can make the process of starting a company less risky.

It’s a methodology called the “lean start-up,” and it favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development. Although the methodology is just a few years old, its concepts—such as “minimum viable product” and “pivoting”—have quickly taken root in the start-up world, and business schools have already begun adapting their curricula to teach them”

It’s worth dwelling on some of these Lean Startup terms:

Minimum Viable Product

The minimum you need to test your idea. This could be something as simple as a web signup form promising a new product. If no-one signs up, ditch the idea.


This is to change direction when data from iteratively updating your product shows that it is not achieving “product market fit”.

Product market fit

This is when your minimum viable product has been tested with real world people, and has been optimised to meet the needs of that market.

product market fit

A key concept behind the Lean Startup is its customer development process (created by Steve Blank) – comprising the business model canvas (I recommend their iPad app), and the iterative testing of your business plan – your hypothesis until you find the right ‘fit’, which is when you invest and scale.

As Steve Blank says:

“a start-up is an organisation formed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model.”

Couldn’t the same be said of your brand?

10) API’s

OK brace yourself for the last push – the most techie of our list of tech buzzwords, as API’s are usually only discussed amongst technical types. But if you’re a modern marketer they are critically important to understand.

API stands for Application Programming Interface. All clear now right?! Well in layman’s terms API’s are how cloud services expose their software’s functions to be used by anyone else on the internet – which is why you see lots of people using Google Maps in their web site.

This is how developers build global scale business applications without starting from scratch – by standing on the shoulders of the giants of the web.

Need video services? Use Vimeo, YouTube, Amazon or Microsoft’s video API’s. Need email services? there are a ton of APIs like SendGrid, MailChimp and the like. Need to build a sales application on SalesForce? You will need their API.

There are so many API’s there is no need to list them all, safe to say that almost every need is covered.

Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, YouGov all have many APIs which can perform many tasks or expose very useful information to the marketer. Once your team gets to grips with the possibilities it will open your eyes to a new world of rapid development. The power really comes when you combine a few different API’s to create something new. Many a business has started this way such as Uber, or AirBNB.

One thing to consider is that API’s dont have to be public, so core business functions can be built in the cloud, in a way that internal teams across the world – or indeed key strategic partner / collaborators – can integrate with your systems, using a common web language.

Maybe there are ways to create a public API for your brand, allowing third party developers and startups the opportunity to create new and unimagined products and services. These could ultimately make your brand more embedded in people’s lives.

Tech is the future

These 10 tech buzzwords contain ideas which are shaping – and will continue to shape – the way that business thinks in the 21st Century.

While these terms are still relatively new for many, they are practical and applicable today for the modern marketer. To manage a successful brand – you need to look to the future – and the future is being written by the world of tech.

Have you and your brand applied any of these ideas? What were your experiences? What are your thoughts on the role of of the marketing technologist?

Let us know in the comments section below.

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