Thursday, January 1, 2009

solutions

Those of us who receive press releases from a wide variety of sources may be forgiven for assuming that all companies and organizations are now in the same line of work, as they uniformly seem to be offering something called ‘solutions.’

One of the most insidious buzzwords today, ‘solutions’ has come to entail any mix of products and/or services. Some companies promise a combination of both; others offer only one or the other. They’re all missing the point, though.

Generally, a solution isn’t anything tangible (though a notable exception will be discussed in a moment), but rather the means, act or value of solving a problem. An obvious example is a math solution, but in the broader sense, any answer, decision or explanation is a solution, as it addresses a difficulty.

Amazingly, however, this dictionary definition doesn’t seem to be broad enough for today’s tastes. Instead, we hear about storage solutions, IT solutions, energy solutions, banking solutions, etc., etc. The word is used to describe so many products and services, it ends up as a meaningless catch-all.

The only legitimate type of solution that is truly tangible is a mixture—whether liquid, semi-liquid or even solid—produced through the use of a solvent. We all learned about these solutions in chemistry class.  Is it possible that marketing departments perceive the combination of their goods and services as somehow akin to chemical solutions? It’s a big stretch, but even then, it wouldn’t explain all of the similarly branded one-offs, from closet organizers to software.

If instead companies are trying to suggest they can solve problems, it’s interesting to note they do not mention what these problems are—or even acknowledge that they exist. ‘Solutions’ are instead offered in a blissfully optimistic voice that never deigns to suggest anything could be wrong or might need to be fixed. The inference is everything, allowing the world ‘solutions’ to serve as a reassuring platitude, nothing more.

It cannot be reassuring, however, for consumers to find themselves faced with countless companies seemingly all offering the same thing. In an age of information overload, it would make far better business sense for them to stand out of the crowd by *gasp* being specific about what they offer.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Peter,

    This is a really fun blog. The overuse of "solutions" is one of my pet peeves. I've seen countless sales letters from companies offering "web-based solutions." The letters are usually so vague that I can't figure out what the problem is, let alone the company's promised "solution."

    Cheers,
    Rachel Foster

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  2. It's crazy how it's hitting every industry. I edit a sign industry magazine and just the other day, a sales rep from a local sign manufacturer and installer was telling me how his company sold 'a solution' to a jewelry store. What exactly is a sign solution?!

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  3. Sadly, this isn't a new trend, either. Back in the late 1990s, I was working for a business magazine where we'd get press releases every day from companies offering "solutions." Every once in a while I'd call the contact and say "What exactly do you people do?" The answer usually involved a lot of synergies and paradigms.

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