The Solutions Epidemic

My one-woman campaign against the most overused word in marketing copy.

by Deb Gabor 

What do you think is the most overused word in technology marketing copy? Scalable? Reliable? Proven?

Nope. It’s solution.  The word solution is everywhere in today’s technical marketing copy.  It’s an epidemic.  And I admit, I’ve contributed to the epidemic. Starting now, I’m on a quest to eliminate the word solution from our technical marketing copywriting vocabulary.

There are three root causes of the rampant spread of the word solution in marketing copy:

1. Lack of understanding. Sloppy marketers either don't fully understand the technology or cannot succinctly speak about their products or services. Instead, they refer to solutions.  As a result, they miss the opportunity to describe what the product is and does.

Here's an example: A young software company we’re working with is getting ready to launch a new product with the word solution in their positioning and description.  Customers need to know basic information about a product, including what they’re actually buying. This particular company seemed afraid to call their product software, which is what it is.  If we don’t say it’s “software” or an “application” or a “system,” and just say it is a new solution, the question of what the product actually IS remains open, leaving customers scratching their heads.  Using the word solution in place of another more specific description makes the company seem like it doesn’t really know what its product does.

2. Lack of commitment.  Positioning is as much about what you’re willing to give up as it is about what you do.  Marketers and business leaders who are unwilling to commit to a particular product or service category often cop out by using “solution” instead of a specific description of their product.  These are the same marketers who say they are creating “new categories” or “disrupting” old ones.  That’s great if you have enough marketing muscle and budget to permeate customers’ decision-making processes with a whole new category of product or service.  But my experience shows me that unless you’re a FORTUNE 50 company, you probably don’t have the stomach (or the budget) for creating an entirely new category on your customers’ shopping lists.

If the product seems to have no direction, then help define one. If it's composed of multiple functional pieces, then explain it so customers understand what it includes.  If it is software, call it software.  Your car isn't your “transportation solution.”  Your phone isn't your "communication solution."  Is your boyfriend a “loneliness solution”?  Reserve use of the word solution for times when it’s paired with statement of a real problem or when helping your teenage kid with her chemistry homework.

Speaking of teenagers, this leads me to the third reason for the solutions epidemic...

3. Laziness. Yes, we are all lazy. Our peers in other industries, such as medical technology, have to work even harder than we do at describing their products and services. They can't just continue to say that their “solutions will revolutionize the way people live.”  In many cases, they have to define the science and then be able to communicate what their technology does.

Whether you’re an internal marketer or serving clients as an agency resource, your job is to help convey the company's identity and what its products and services do. If you use “solutions” early on in your descriptions and key messages—you're not working hard enough.