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Hate buzzwords? Watch out for the DNA then

"It's in our DNA…"

DNA is having a moment. Although companies don't technically have DNA, executives are not letting facts get in the way of a good story.

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Mark Evans | Getty Images

The C-Suite has hijacked the lab term to emphasize just what their companies do and do not stand for, adding it to the corporate jargon playbook of "scalable," "thinking outside the box" and "paradigm shift." During the past year, company officials used the phrase "in our DNA" more than 150 times in conference calls, according to a FactSet transcript search. This is up from 119 times in the prior-year period.

So just what is in company's genetic makeup?

At coffee and tea distributor and manufacturer Farmer Brothers Co., it's an "authentic coffee geek factor" while retailer Guess' DNA contains denim. GoPro's? That would be manufacturing. And at Adidas, athletes are in the company's DNA.

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Frequently, companies' stressed their operational efficiency and cost controls in DNA terms. Growth and innovation were two other frequent talkers in genetic terms.

"The more overused a buzzword is, the less influence it has because. It really does go in one ear and out the other," said Carmine Gallo, communications coach for large companies and author.

While Gallo is a proponent of metaphors in business, he said they lose effectiveness when people repeat overused phrases.

One rare company, Sequenom, which analyzes genetic code, used the phrase "in our DNA" in the context of an actual DNA business.

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Others spoke about deal making in genetic terms.

"[W]e'll be looking at M&A, which is basically in our DNA," Microsemi's CEO said last July. National Oilwell Varco also described acquisitions are part of its genetic code.

Companies are quick to point out what is not in their DNA as well.

In October, Chubb's CEO emphasized that growing through acquisitions has not been part of its genetic makeup while Cogeco Cable said share buybacks are just not in its DNA.

At least one company alluded to the phrase's imprecision. Earlier this month, one executive at United Continental Holdings said "historically, capacity discipline has been, for lack of a better word, in our DNA."