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Over-used Words & Clichés: What’s Another Word for “Solution”

UsingtheWordSolutionsIsLazyWe have a large number of tech clients so I see the word “solutions” on a daily basis. For at least five years this word consistently tops any list of banned words and clichés every year. It’s a lazy word. Solution can just as easily mean a wheelbarrow when talking about a gardening solution as it can a piece of sales automation software when talking about a technology solution. It means nothing.

Yet, everyone still uses it. From Microsoft to IBM, Xerox to the local consulting firm you’ve never heard of. It’s a crutch that people can’t stop using. And I’m just as guilty as the rest of us.

So lacking any better solution (I really love this word), I used the wisdom of crowds to see what I could find. They delivered.

Knowing that I was the wrong person to ask, I turned to LinkedIn Q&A to find out what other people in my position were using. I asked, “What’s another word for the ever popular solution?”

Honestly, I was looking for an alternative to the actual word. If the powers that be determined this buzzword was broken then there must be another word that was the “right” one to use.

I’d already been using alternatives of my own for the technology products I’d been working with. I rotate through “tools, applications, software, systems”, etc… The crowd added “technique, strategies, methodologies, process, blueprint, answers, protocol, framework, and technology.”

It was a good start, but I started to realize I wasn’t looking for a new word. Is a CRM application all that much better than a CRM solution? It’s still non descriptive and generally doesn’t deliver what I was looking for.

Intuitively I knew it wasn’t so much a word I was looking for as a new way to write. That’s really what I had been doing - rewriting copy so that I could avoid having to use “solutions” in the first place. The best answers headed that direction.

Bob Kalsey, a Communications Consultant who blogs at Well, Now, Bob… put it best with his answer:

The problem for me with "solution" is that the word is intentionally vague and unspecific.

One reason I think some software marketers, especially, have trouble with specificity in their product descriptions is that the stuff they offer manages entire business functions—customer relationships, purchasing and inventory, HR matters, and the like—may be used differently by different kinds of customers, and will appeal to those customers for differing reasons.

Vague language, the thinking goes, does not to exclude prospective buyers. But generalizing a message to include every possible audience isn't an effective way to connect and engage with any of them. It also lacks energy, excitement and vitality. And because people don't really talk that way (or should be shot if they do), it seems stuffy, pretentious, and illusive: the literary equivalent of smoke and mirrors.

If you can't be specific – always a good idea – what's wrong with a word like "product" or its plural? I suppose marketers are a little embarrassed to talk about "products" because they want to seem more customer-centric, more focused on solving customer problems than on selling doo-dads, hence: "solution."

But if you want to talk benefits instead of products, why not replace "X is an integrated solution for..." with simpler, more informative, and less stuffy language like, "X can help you to..."? If you want to describe benefits, tell me what the thing DOES, not what it IS.

Often people use "solution" (especially with the aforementioned "integrated") to refer to a "product" that is more than one thing: a suite of tools and methods, perhaps. Still, no matter how many gadgets and applications might be involved, the end result – what the customer buys – is usually a product that goes by a single name. Buyers aren't interested in purchasing "a solution," they want to solve a problem; tell me what problem your gizmo solves, make me identify with that problem, and show me how it can make me a hero.

Sometimes the answer isn't to find another word, but to re-think the message. Sometimes it isn't to replace a word, but simply to remove it.

Well said. Writing coach Ken O’Quinn echoed Kalsey’s thoughts and framed the issue in way that really gets to the heart of the matter:

Try focusing on what the product or service is. It could be software, hardware, or a septic tank cleaner, but those are all understandable to a reader or listener. The problem with buzzwords is two-fold: They are cliches, and thus are stale from overuse, and they are vague; they don't tell people what writers think they do. You could go around a room and hear 25 interpetations of "solution."

It is true that sometimes the product comprises more than one thing, and in those cases, "solution" sometimes can be a convenient "umbrella" term that becomes an easy shortcut. But most of the time we can do what we always did: Call it what it is. If you look at business communication before the advent of technology in the 80s, the word "solution" was only used as a synonym for "answer" or for "the way to solve the problem." But like so many words, it gets pulled into the lexicon and then takes on a life of its own because writers don't take the time to be more original and more clear.

Don’t use “solutions” when you can attack what the product actually does. It’s a crutch and allows a writer to create an accurate sentence without actually relaying to the reader what the “solution” is or how it will benefit them. Challenge yourself to really dive into how it will impact your audience and work in those terms rather than usng the bland term solutions.

Thanks again to everyone who provided input into this discussion. You can see all the answers at “What’s Another Word for the Ever Popular Solution?” And certainly if you have any thoughts on the use of “solutions” leave them in the comments.