Avoid the word ‘solution’ – it is a lazy marketing cliche that should almost always be replaced with simpler, clearer phrasing. However, in some situations, is the best word for the job.
The phrase has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning of ‘a solution to a problem’. It was rated the seventh most overused marketing word in an extensive study (behind unique in fifth) and there are numerous articles deriding its use in marketing. The satirical magazine Private Eye even dedicated a regular column to mocking real examples.
Why do people use the word ‘solutions’ in marketing?
Writers sometimes use the word ‘solutions’ to make the product or service sound more important or valuable. If you place the word at the end of a product description, that would make perfect sense without it, you should drop it without hesitation. For example,in the phrase ‘carpet tile solutions‘ – it is completely redundant. ‘Carpet tiles’ is sufficient here.
Marketers will use the word to overcomplicate products or services when it would be better to use simpler language. This may be due to a belief that making things sound more important, or using complex language, is better for your marketing. (This is the usage that Private Eye would make fun of – ‘hosiery solutions’ instead of ‘tights’, for example.) In a construction products context, I’ve seen reference to ‘under-desk power solutions’. In reality this product would be better described as a module or unit. Specifiers need to know exactly what the product is, and what it does – don’t make things a guessing game for them.
If it is difficult to describe a product or service, people sometimes use ‘solutions’ as a convenient way to summarise things. In an example such as ‘erosion control solutions’, (a) the product solves a problem of erosion control, and (b), a ‘textile formwork that acts as a surface sealing system while protecting against erosion, mechanical damage and buoyancy forces in waterbodies’ is a complicated concept.
It is used as a catch-all term to cover a broad range of products. I have seen ccompanies providing ‘hard landscaping solutions’ when various types of paving, kerbs, drainage, car parking areas and traffic management – everything but the asphalt. Companies often claim to offer ‘complete solutions’, though, when in reality they only offer a few products.
‘Welded mesh fencing solutions’ in reference to vertical mesh, double-skin mesh, anti-climb mesh, ball-stop fencing, etc. In these situations, it is simply many different products, not a solution.
When to avoid the word ‘solution’?
- 1: when it serves no purpose in the phrase or sentence.
- 2: when your product is simple and you are tempted to make sound grandiose.
- 3: when it is difficult to write a useful, clear and informative description of your products or services.
- 4: as a substitute for a broad range of products.
Alternatives to ‘solution’
In situations 1 and 2, simply drop the the word.
In scenario 4, use the word ‘products’ instead. Alternatively, another umbrella term to describe a group of the type of products described. This often isn’t easy, so instead it is worth looking at ways to rewrite your text to avoid the need for this word in the first place.
Scenario 3 is more interesting – when the product or service is complicated, ambiguous or difficult to describe. Sometimes describing something as a ‘solution’ is OK if the product requires many words to explain and you don’t have the space. However it is worth examining closely ways to communicate the product and its benefits in shorter phrases.
- Re-focus on your customer needs
- Employ the skills of a copywriter!
When is it OK to use ‘solution’?
In the past, I would vehemently and doggedly avoid the word ‘solution’. Over time, my stance on it has softened a bit. Maybe I have been ground down into submission. As an editor, I came across various grey areas where I felt that using the word was OK.
Where more than one product type could solve that problem, the specifier is looking for a solution. For example, if you claim to offer ‘erosion control solutions’, you should provide more than one way to solve problems of erosion. However, most suppliers still provide and systems, not solutions. I use the word ‘solutions’ for companies who offer design and technical advice, to help the specifier make the right choice of products and systems.
Some companies manufacture or supply very broad range of products, as well as helping the designers with selection. You could say they solve the problem of a particular area of a building or landscape. A supplier like Broxap and Marshalls can provide “lots of hard landscaping products from the same supplier used together in an integrated way”. A “full external landscaping solution”, if you will.
I’m comfortable if innovative techniques can be referred to as solutions, such as off-site manufacturing, or genuinely bespoke design. A ‘prefabricated concrete floor panel, with integrated thermal and acoustic insulation is more than just a product. I’m not sure it is a solution but it certainly solves more issues than standard products would.
When you have a limited word count, sometimes it is the best word for the job. For example, it can be difficult to describe a complex product or a range of products, in a 140-character tweet or email subject line. Bear in mind the above guidelines if you do this.
Recommended posts about usage of the word ‘solution’
MarketingProfs: The Most Overused Word in Technical Marketing
Walker Sands: Over-used Words & Clichés: What’s Another Word for “Solution”
Turner Ink: If this is the solution, what was the problem?