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Say what? Marketing jargon, illuminated.

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Jeff Exstrum

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Nearly every industry and profession has its own language; a series of abbreviations, acronyms, amalgams and sometimes made-up terms (one of my favorites is “strategery”) to foster more efficient communication. Communications and marketing professionals are undeniably guilty of this (as is higher education, but that’s a story for another time). Though we often revel in our own special language, for those of us who aren’t ‘in the know,’ these terms can often cause others to feel less important, confused or alienated.

To help remedy this, Jeff Exstrum, MarComm’s interim senior director for marketing and brand management, compiled a list of common marketing terms that will help you keep pace with even the most fluent jargonistas (Yes, he made up that word).


Analytics is the collection of meaningful information and patterns, to determine what’s working, what isn’t, and how to adjust accordingly. How many people visit your website, comment on your social media post, or complete your request form? This information, along with why it is (or isn’t) relevant, helps us make better decisions. Which in turn helps us engage more effectively with our customers. Plus, sometimes big numbers are just fun to show-off.

B2B / B2C

B2B stands for business-to-business, used to describe companies and efforts aimed at other companies (not people). Google, IBM and Salesforce are primarily B2B companies.

B2C stands for business-to-consumer; in other words, companies and efforts aimed at an actual, breathing person. Most retail companies (Amazon, Apple, Nike, etc.) fall into this category, as does higher education.


An industry favorite, CTA stands for call-to-action. Taking many forms (buttons, links, images, persuasive language, etc.), the call-to-action exists to get the consumer to actually do something. Join, subscribe, attend, RSPV, visit, learn more, apply now—all examples of calls-to-action doing what they do best.


As a marketer, if you’ve done a good job, sooner or later you’ll turn a passively interested viewer into an active customer. That transition is called conversion, and it’s one of the core goals behind most marketing efforts. Put another way: when you catch a fish, you’ve successfully converted it from an interested observer into dinner. Not great for ensuring repeat business, if you happen to be the fish.


DMA stands for Defined Market Area; a term marketers and advertisers love to throw out when they want to sound smart. In reality, all it means is a specific geographic area. For example, the Denver DMA includes the Denver Metro area, as well as the I-25 corridor from Ft. Collins to Colorado Springs.


Not just a 1950’s insult—or 21st century fashion compliment—drip also refers to a specific type of marketing strategy. Specifically, a campaign or effort that delivers pre-scheduled content to a set of customers over a certain amount of time. Remember that time you shared your email with a company to download a white paper, and then received daily emails from them for the next several weeks (or forever)? That’s drip marketing at its finest (and most annoying).


No, this isn’t (just) a wedding industry term. Engagement refers to how your customers are responding to your marketing & communications efforts, based on your KPI’s and goals. How many people are participating, how often are they participating, and in what forms are they participating? You’ll most often hear this in relation to social media content, but engagement can be measured in virtually any customer interaction. 500 people RSVP’d yes to your event, but only 19 showed up, you say? We’d call that ‘poor engagement.’


Marketers love to hold up giant impressions numbers, to get their clients excited. However—and I’m risking my marketer’s guild membership for saying this—impressions are a bit of a double-edged sword. They refer to the number of times an ad or piece of content has been served—the number of people who MAY have seen it, not the number of times it was read, remembered or acted upon. Remember those ads bombarding you at the airport? Of course you don’t. They’re practically everywhere you look, but how many do you actually pay attention to or remember? That’s the difference between impressions and engagement.


If you’ve been part of a DU marketing effort, campus-wide initiative or (*gasp*) budget planning team, you have most likely run afoul of the dreaded KPI. An imposing placeholder for key performance indicator, KPI’s are really code for “how you plan to measure success.” Knowing is half the battle.

Lead generation / lead-gen

Remember that cup full of business cards near the register of your favorite coffee shop? That’s old-school lead generation at its finest. In a nutshell, it is the process of stimulating and capturing attention—of getting your customer to share their interests and contact information—for the purpose of adding them to your marketing pipeline. 


Not the strategy of giving away free milk and cookies (wouldn’t it be nice if it were?). Nurturing refers to the action of cultivating customer leads (see ‘lead generation’ above) until they’re ready to take action. Sometimes, this is quick and dirty; in other cases—especially higher education—it may span months or even years.


A stand-in for pay-per-click, this term refers to an advertising model that lets marketers place ads on a  platform—think Google, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn—and pay the host of that platform every time their ad is clicked. From a marketing perspective, PPC ads are useful in that you only pay when a user clicks on them—meaning you can get your message in front of a lot of eyeballs (AKA, impressions) without breaking the bank. Those banner ads that seem to follow you around the internet? PPC. Those “sponsored results” that come up every time you do a search on Google? You guessed it.

Retargeting / remarketing

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Retargeting refers to an aspect of marketing campaigns where, should a consumer express interest but not take action, you try and get them to commit by following up. Remember that time you looked at shoes on Zappo’s, and the next time you visited the Denver Post website—shazam!—an ad for the exact same shoes appeared on the page? Congratulations, you’ve just been retargeted, my friend.


ROI stands for return on investment. If key performance indicators and analytics had a baby whose first toy was a calculator, it would be ROI. Incessantly converting your goals and performance into dollar values, reminding you whether you’ve chosen wisely or poorly. And unlike in accounting or analytics, with ROI you always want a positive outcome.


Short for search engine optimization, it refers to the process of improving your website to increase its visibility in relevant search results. The higher it appears in search results, the more likely you are to get attention and attract customers to your company, product or service. How do you improve your site’s SEO? Magic. Just kidding; it’s a combination of having good, fresh content, relevant keywords, a strong user interface and user experience design, and usability across desktop, tablet and mobile devices. Easy, right?

UI / UX / CX

The trifecta of modern marketing acronyms—and the most-often confused for one another. UI, or user interface, refers to the specific assets, elements and interactivity of a product, tool or system. Good UI design helps users find their way and complete their journey more quickly and efficiently. Poor UI design may not only contribute to a negative user experience, it may land you in accessibility jail (AKA legal trouble). Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

UX, or user experience, are the impressions and feelings a user has with a company, product or service during a single encounter. A visit to your website, attending an event, a call to your help desk, etc. A user experience may involve multiple user interfaces (the design of your website, the speaker at your event, the support options of your help desk, etc.) as part of the overall experience. Is UX important? You bet it is. Studies show that it takes five or more “good” experiences to counteract a single “bad” experience.

Last, but certainly not least, CX stands for customer experience. It refers to the sum of all touchpoints a brand has with its customers, across every channel and at any time. Put bluntly, the brand is the brand, no matter where it is experienced. If you watch a company’s product overview on YouTube, purchase it via their website, and return it in-person, you may have completely different and seemingly unrelated experiences. But the sum of all those experiences forms your overall impression of the company, and influences whether you’ll interact with them in the future. This is why every single touch point and user experience matters.

There you have it; an assemblance of oft’ used marketing terms and definitions to help you make the most of your next team meeting or strategy session. Use them wisely and well; and feel free to dazzle your friends and colleagues with your newfound grasp of marketing jargon.