Ad and marketing creatives

Red Pen Diaries: The Solutions Problem

I've got a problem with solutions. Well, it's not solutions, per se, but the word "solutions." Actually, it's not even the word "solutions"; it's the notion that all you have to do is throw that word onto your home page and the world will beat a path to your door.

But "solutions" in this context — or, more precisely, lack of context — has little meaning; it doesn't say anything. Of course you provide solutions, for a price — that's what a business is. Sadly, "solutions" has become a cliché, much like the use of "passion" in a cover letter.

Industry solutions. Office solutions. IT solutions. Networking solutions. Enterprise solutions. Virtualization-technology solutions. Audio solutions. Staffing solutions. Hair-loss solutions. Data-protection solutions. Budgeting and reporting solutions. Product-development solutions. Daily living solutions. Distribution solutions. Solutions for corporate events. Solutions to community-based problems. Solutions for mobile computing. Blah blah blah blah blah.

Speaking of "virtualization-technology solutions," way back in 2005, our friends at Marketing Profs called "solutions" "the most overused word in technical marketing," with writer Wendy Gibson urging readers to "avoid the nondescriptive 'solution.'" Judging by the litany above, lemming-like reliance on "solutions" has spread well beyond the tech arena.

Bottom line: If you're saying "solutions," you're not distinguishing yourself from your competition; you're failing to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

There are several solutions to this problem. For one thing, you could use the more active "solve" or the more vernacular "deal with" (though for my money, I'd go with "vanquish"). Or if you're intent on providing a noun, why not "an answer," "a remedy," "a positive outcome," "a way out," a "dynamite denouement?" (Okay, even I wouldn't use that one.) What about supplying "the key?" Prefer to stick with a plural? "Results," anyone?

For that matter, why not try showing instead of telling? Even a single case study can make a potential customer or client understand in a flash — feel it on a gut level — what you can do for her that no one else can. Because that narrative is yours and yours alone, which clearly can't be said for "solutions."

Sometimes "solution" is exactly the right word, perhaps the only word that will do. But when it comes to branding your product or service, it's quickly becoming an empty word, or worse, a word that transmits the message: "I'm just not that good at messaging." Hmm... I wonder what else you're just not that good at.

Month after month, we hear that consumers still aren't buying, despite extensive economic stimuli. Providers of goods and services must work harder than ever to cut through the marketing clutter. One response to the problem is to avoid "solutions."

Have you found effective branding language that doesn't involve "solutions?" Feel like griping about some other innocent word now irreparably sullied by its recasting as business jargon? Problem solved — just leave a comment below!

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Julia Rubiner is a partner in Editorial Emergency, a Los Angeles copy shop specializing in content manufacturing and brand communications for entertainment, lifestyle and nonprofit concerns. She is also a personal-branding consultant, writing resumes, LinkedIn summaries and executive bios, among other tools, for people in creative fields who want to advance their careers. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, she was an editor of reference publications. Rubiner wears the label "word nerd" as a badge of honor. Click here to read more articles by Julia Rubiner.

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Comments from our users:

Thursday December 3rd 2009, 8:53 AM
Comment by: Robert B. (Norwich United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
"Do not hesitate to..." YUK!
"Massive ,massive" - miniscule impact
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 10:50 AM
Comment by: Audrey T. (Sacramento, CA)
I have to admit that I used the word back in 1980 when I named my firm TSURUDA TSOLUTIONS. Oh dear....does that mean I have to change it now that the word has become a marketing cliche?
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 11:47 AM
Comment by: DIANNE M M.
To Virginia, about her question on the 'f'-looking character used for 's' in early-American text:

My understanding is that the character (which, unlike the lower-case 'f') is uncrossed and is referred to--at least by me--as a 'long s.' This form of the sibilant is commonly used initially in words in older English and American scripts, whereas the 'short s' was commonly used medially and terminally at some stages of the transition, with of course some exceptions to complete the rule: for example, '-est' looked more like '-eft' (again, without the cross).

It's a vestige from our past. I don't know whether printers or typewriters or just plain Yankee simplicity did it in.
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 12:33 PM
Comment by: Bryan S. (State Center, IA)
"Your partner in ..."

I loathe that phrase. It has all the personality of a pink soap dish and isn't even true. If we were really partners, you wouldn't charge me for your services, right?
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 3:06 PM
Comment by: Kitty S. (Brooklyn, NY)
"User-friendly" is a dead giveaway, meaning "Impossible to use."
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 9:07 PM
Comment by: Lesley M. (Cumberland, RI)
I'm new to the site and love it. I cringe when I hear or read "grow" in reference to building or increasing business. It's a misuse of, or perhaps confusion between the transitive and intransitive, though we do grow vegetables. I'd also like the current usage of "branding" to go the way of the Dodo.
Tuesday December 15th 2009, 6:25 PM
Comment by: Neal WhitmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
Wait, don't you mean you have issues with the word solutions?

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