It’s not all about search

As a magazine and website editor for nearly twenty years, I had to read more industrial and scientific product marketing material than it’s healthy for one individual to suffer. In the mid nineties, it took me two hours a day to go through the post, which was 95% press releases. Ten years later, I was receiving even more stuff, but at least the 100 or more submissions a day were coming in via email then. In all that time, the one thing which never failed to irritate me was the indiscriminate use of the word “solution”. The word “product” seemed to drop out of favour in the mid-eighties, probably about the same time it was appropriated by the financial services “industry”, which started to sell financial “products”, as if its services were something tangible. That term was eventually taken over by the beauty “industry”, and nowadays “products” (or worse, “product”) refers to something you put in your hair.

But back to “solutions”, which of course you can also put in your hair if you add water to a concentrate. I don’t have any problem with anyone having a solution to my problem. Where I get uncomfortable is when people are offering solutions to non-existent (or at least unperceived) problems. Seth Godin blogged about this recently. Just because your product can make people’s lives easier or cheaper doesn’t mean they have a “problem”, and if they don’t have a problem then you’re wasting your time promoting your product as a solution. The only way this can work is if you first devote some effort to convincing them they do have a problem, and that’s not easy.

Web search is a nice way of getting clarity on this issue. Several clients have said to me that they’re finding it difficult to come up with search terms which are relevant to their products or services. This is because people aren’t looking for what they sell. Their potential customers don’t have a problem and aren’t searching for a solution. If that’s your situation, I’d suggest that search engine marketing isn’t for you. There’s no point in spending money on Google AdWords or trying to get to the top of the Google search results if people aren’t going to be searching for what you sell. A great website is needed, but you’re going to have to alert people to the advantages you can offer them by other methods.

Discussion

  1. Chris Boyce

    Hi Chris,

    If its any consolation, I became similarly exasperated on the other side of the fence (technology marketing management) about the indiscriminate use of the word “solution”. Junior staff, having heard that, ‘customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions’, would simply use the terms interchangeably, ignoring (actually, not even thinking about) the fact that our widgets typically needed several other manufacturers’ widgets to let the customer do anything useful. Of course, you can always phrase a question to demand a solution, e.g. “the solution to all your resistor needs” but that simply displays a lack of understanding/care regarding the customers’ predicament.

    Cheers… Chris

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