Why hide your offering?

I’ve worked in business communications for thirty-five years, and while most things have changed beyond recognition, some things persist …including my dislike of the word ‘solution’ in a non-chemical context. Imagine my delight then when I read one of the best takedowns of the word ever, just last week. In an article called Why Typewriter-Like Linear Thinking Works Better Than Tools for Content Creation, on the Content Marketing Institute blog, the author was talking about how the right tools can enable different kinds of creativity, but that we shouldn’t mistake the tool for the task. He wrote: “Tools aren’t solutions – no matter what the clichéd website copy says. The word ‘solution’ is lazy, vague, and usually obscures what the product or service does. Worse, referring to tools as solutions reinforces the idea that tools have the answers – even if we’re not sure of the question. It’s like holding a shovel and calling it a hole.”

I suspect it was back in the 1980s when companies first started to claim: “We don’t sell products, we sell solutions”. I’d bet the phrase appeared as the computer software industry took off, but was instantly appropriated by marketing departments everywhere. After all, who wants to sell screws when you can provide fastening solutions?

A ‘peak solution point’ came many years ago when one of the engineering industry’s major exhibitions was rebranded as the ‘Total Solutions’ show. After all, why give your potential audience any sort of clue as to what your event is about when you can sound cool and mysterious instead?

Fortunately, obfuscation has been shown the red card by the rise of the search engines. If you don’t state clearly what you’re offering, nobody’s going to be able to find you. And nobody looks for ‘fastening solutions’.

To be honest, it’s probably not the word ‘solutions’ that I’d be glad to see the back of, it’s the laziness that was behind it in the first place. Sure, most companies like to think they offer their customers much more than just the product, and want to say so. But if that’s the case, why not tell them what exactly that extra offering is?