I thought that ‘solutions’, the hazy, yawn-inducing buzzword, had had its day. Copywriters have long-since stopped grumbling about it, and Private Eye, source of the world’s finest satirical solutions, ceased poking fun at the S-word years ago.
Sadly not. When I queried its use today in a client’s copy, they explained that “The word solution is a strategic decision … we don’t want to offer products but solutions that can help them overcome their problems.”
That’s all very well. Makes sense. Apart from the fact that the sentence in which the word appeared was It’s called ABC, and it gives your customers a value-added solution that does XYZ.
What is the copywriting solution?
Businesses that find solutions to client problems should be applauded. The trouble starts when they fixate on the S-word instead of what it does. No customer ever wants a solution, they want something they can relate to: software that simplifies a task … equipment that breaks down less often … service that makes them feel like royalty. So don’t tell customers you’ve found a solution; get straight to the point by telling them how your product or service does the job they want to do.
In the land of solution-led business writing, the solution is the thing. It’s the lazy, catch-all term that saves writers from having to think about what customers want and how they can fix their broken world.
When you do start thinking about customer needs, the sentence above becomes simpler, shorter, and more powerful: It’s called ABC, and it does XYZ for your customers.
The multi-purpose solution
In marketing, the temptation to be all things to all people is irresistible. ‘Solution’ fits that need perfectly. The S-word is its own one-size-fits-all copywriting solution. Somewhere, buried in ‘business solutions’ or ‘software solutions’, is the application that saves time, connects teams, automates invoicing, simplifies HR, or communicates directly with HMRC. But which benefit is it?
Like all vague marketing ideas, ‘solutions’ fails to connect. When you aim your sales pitch at everyone, it resonates with no one.
There is no alternative
Writers have often looked for alternatives to ‘solution’. Sadly there are none. The choices (technique, process, framework, system, product, method, tool, etc) rarely help (eg It’s called ABC, and it gives your customers a value-added process that does XYZ). You can still improve that sentence by taking the product/process/method reference out.
The only solution to the solution-problem is to rewrite. Tell your readers what the product/process/method-thing does, not what it is. This can be hugely helpful because the thing is often so complicated it can’t be described in a few words.
Lost in solutions
Before I wrote this blog, I did a quick search to see who was still big in solutions. The obvious starting point was a search for ‘water solutions’. Sprinkle salt into a glass of water, and that’s what you get: a water-based solution.
No surprise to discover that there are plenty of companies with ‘water solutions’ in their name. My favourite makes water-free urinals. Who’d have thought that water solutions involve no water? On that logic, home solutions would involve no home and life solutions, no life. Looking for immortality and untold wealth? Find yourself a death solution that involves no death.
If you’re a business copywriter, don’t be the problem, be the solution. Strike the S-word from your copy.
An email arrived a couple of days ago with this text:
It’s further proof that marketers who deal in liquids will come unstuck as soon as they start talking ‘solutions’.
The answer to their question is: ‘I can take my liquid refreshments either way: in the form of a solution or a suspension. Coffee and water, however, work only as a solution – one that involves intimate contact between solute and solvent. A contact-free solution would be water in the kettle and granules still in the jar. Not my cup of tea, so to speak.’