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Words that should be banned: Solutions – Guest Post by Clare Lynch

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Today we have a real treat, a guest post by copywriter Clare Lynch. She writes with brilliance and wit about the English language and has a fine eye for spotting the true idiocies of corporate adspeak. Clare, thank you so much for this fabulous rant. There are about 10,000 companies I can think of offhand that should read it.

copywriting-solutionsThe word “solutions” seems an easy target for writerly spleen. After all, everyone knows that incorporating it into your professional vocabulary is a short-cut to sounding stupid. The UK satirical magazine Private Eye even had a whole column devoted to collecting examples of this vile little piece of corporatese.

Yet this low-point of the business lexis just won’t die. Few professionals, it seems, can resist the pull of the pretentious when they’re trying to push their wares.

Only yesterday I came across the repeated use of “solutions” in a brochure for a comms team, who you’d think would have access to a copywriter that might know better. (Though the document did also contain alarmingly frequent references to “our value proposition”, whatever that means.)

So in the war on “solutions”, I hereby present my four top reasons to bury this nasty little word once and for all.

1. It’s inevitably used in a pompously opaque phrase to describe something very simple. For example, I recently came across a company advertising itself as a provider of “fluid transfer solutions”.

It turns out they made hoses.

Yes, hoses.

Had I been in need of a hose that day, then they’d have lost a sale simply because a potential customer had no idea what they were selling.

I’m sure if you’re in the rather mundane business of selling hoses you might feel the need to big yourself up among your dinner party circle now that it’s no longer cool to brag about the size of your mortgage.

But to put off potential customers in this way is madness verging on bankruptcy.

2. It’s invariably redundant. What does “joinery solutions” say that “joinery” doesn’t? Or “herb solutions” rather than “herbs”?

As all decent writers know, the fewer words you use the better, so ditch the meaningless appendage, please.

3. It’s downright ugly. Can there be anything less appetizing than the “Italian meal solutions” on offer at my local supermarket?

How typically English to turn the joy that is spaghetti vongole into the kind of mass-produced mush that’s chowed down between shifts in front of Britain’s Got Talent.

I guess if you see eating as problem requiring a solution, then your ideal meal would be something that sounds like astronaut provisions.

4. It’s a magnet for other similarly tedious expressions found in the corporate lexicon.

What, you hadn’t noticed that solutions are always “delivered”? And if they’re not “creative” then they’re at least “cost-effective”. Sometimes they’re “innovative” as well as “integrated”. And they’re always best when they’re “tailored” or “targeted”.

The resulting corporate babble is formulaic to the point of meaninglessness.

Saying you “specialize in creative, tailored solutions that deliver real business value” tells me nothing about what you actually do.

What it does tell me is that you’re obviously so busy delivering these creative, tailored solutions that you skimped on the copywriter and came up with some tired, generic old blurb that could have been pinched from a competitor’s website.

Scrub that – I mean any business website.

Oh, and that you think I’m stupid enough to be taken in by it.
clare-lynchAbout Clare Lynch
Clare Lynch is a professional copywriter who gets immense satisfaction from helping businesses ditch their gobbledygook in favour of clear, engaging English. Her ear for language was developed over many years as a student of English literature, culminating in a PhD in Old English poetry from the University of Cambridge.

Clare’s blog, goodcopybadcopy, is dedicated to dissecting good business writing and bad. Actually, it mostly focuses on the bad – simply because there’s so much more of it.

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27 Responses to Words that should be banned: Solutions – Guest Post by Clare Lynch

  1. Pingback: goodcopybadcopy » Blog Archive » Guest post on the Word Sell blog: Solutions

  2. Andrew, Robert, “Solutions” is a good word to use when you have no idea what you are talking about. Exceptions – Chemical Solutions would be a worthy tagline for DuPont. Saline Solution Solutions would work for Bausch & Lomb.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Words that should be banned: Solutions – Guest Post by Clare Lynch

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  4. I’m with ya on this one! When I was actually IN consulting I used to cringe when forced to use the same old tired jargon you see everywhere. My favorite: Methodology, which if you translate it means, “the study of methods”. Paugh!

  5. Brad,

    I take it that ‘Word Sell Inc’ will never be renamed to ‘Online Marketing Solutions’ or ‘Business Blogging Solutions’ or anything like that!

    I am certainly with you on this one – when I want to buy a hose, I will simply go down to the hardware store and look up ‘hoses’ in their store directory. I most certainly will not be asking the sales assistant and say “Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find a fluid transfer solution?”

    I’ve probably mentioned before that I used to work for a technology company which offered ‘Workforce Management Solutions.’ I didn’t work in that department and even though I was at the company for two and a half years, I have absolutely no idea what that particular division actually did. Indeed, I was challenged enough to understand what my own department did, even though it had the magnificently helpful title of ‘Outsourced Services’ to describe in its operations in specific detail.

  6. Clare, Again, thank you for this fabulous post!

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Words that should be banned: Solutions – Guest Post by Clare Lynch

  7. Thank you, Brad, for giving me an opportunity to rant on your site. I’m glad that others feel the same way as I do about this dreaded word!

    Clare Lynchs last blog post..Guest post on the Word Sell blog: Solutions

  8. Barbara, You’ve got the right idea – paint your customer a picture of what life will look like with you in their life. But you’re talented enough to get it across in far less than 38 bullet points!

    Dennis, If you go back a few years, “solutions” was not yet trendy. It probably became overused because well intended people had the very sound idea of positioning themselves as being solutions to customer problems.

    Nowadays, if you want to make “solutions” work, you have to take a more literal approach. “Management Solutions” may have become common, but what about “Mismanagement Solutions”? That’s really what you’re selling – it’s a risky approach, but it would get people’s attention.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Words that should be banned: Solutions – Guest Post by Clare Lynch

  9. But but but…..Marketing jargon makes the world go ’round!

    How about instead of

    “specialise in creative, tailored solutions that deliver real business value”

    you could use

    We Make Your Business The Business Your Customers Crave

    followed up, of course, by 38 bullet points. :)


    Barbara Ling, Virtual Coachs last blog post..Fantastic Friendfeed Tutorials and Resources

  10. Dennis, Makes sense – very smart approach. Your strategy demonstrates that there are always (ahem) solutions to marketing problems.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Words that should be banned: Solutions – Guest Post by Clare Lynch

  11. I regret calling my business Ganador Management Solutions. (Ganador = winner in Spanish)

    Hence blog/ websites everything else now operated under a different brand – and that is an opportunity lost.

  12. Brad you are right of course. But I opted for having ‘product brands as the hero brand’ strategy because it is expensive & tedious to legally change the co name.
    And the upside is that I can sell a product (division) without having to sell the company…

    Denniss last blog post..Are you addicted to success?

  13. How about “executive leader”? One of my clients calls anyone above the lowest level an “executive leader.” I wonder where the followers are.

    Lillie Ammanns last blog post..Making a Way and Other Overused Expressions

  14. Lillie, LOL. Trying to send morale building messages via job titles usually backfires.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Is Your Website Working? Take The Content Competence Quiz

  15. I deeply enjoyed reading this post. fluid transfer solutions = fire hoses – I think I won’t forget that for a long time! We’ve got the same way of dealing (or should we say “not dealing”) with langugage in German. We’ve got that terrible word “Zeitfenster” which means “time window” and instead of saying “Ich habe morgen dafür keine Zeit” (I haven’t got the time for that tomorrow) some people say “Dafür habe ich morgen kein offenes Zeitfenster” (I haven’t got an open time window for that tomorrow”. Aarggh!

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..Three Things I learned from my Community

  16. Thanks to everyone for your comments. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my dislike of solutions – and that there are also many other verbal pet peeves out there. Interesting, too, to discover that the urge to use jargon doesn’t seem to be limited to English!

  17. This is painfully funny, such a wonderful word that is so often misused to avoid actually understanding what a customer really needs. Fluid movement is a great example.

    Of course half the time I don’t even realize I’ve been using it. You sent me scurrying back to my website to see how guilty I am…

    Fred H Schlegels last blog post..Community Creativity: “Let’s Put On A Show”

  18. Forgot to say this was a great post by Clare.

    Fred H Schlegels last blog post..Community Creativity: “Let’s Put On A Show”

  19. Hi Claire, I’ve never thought of solutions as being formulaic, since often they are hard to come by. After reading what you had to say, I can certainly see that for some folks they are. That’s exactly why they wouldn’t work.

    Problems that loom and hold a business back certainly don’t work with formulaic solutions. It takes all parties sitting at the table and working them out, often with much pulling of hair to get them. Look at Chrysler, GM, the government and the unions, for instance.

    Robyn McMasters last blog post..Thwart Theft of Memory Bandits

  20. And, Clare, picking up on Karen’s point, I observe that many companies touting themselves as results oriented are actually results disoriented.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Is Your Website Working? Take The Content Competence Quiz

  21. Hi Clare! Great observations that made me laugh. Many companies even when educated by someone about these matters, will not dispense with this language and others insist that because it is “familiar” to the corporate ranks they must trot out these meaningless phrases. It can be maddening. Another phrase I want to kill is “results-oriented.”

    Karen Swims last blog post..Of Unicorns and Rainbows

  22. Perhaps we can stick “results-oriented” in the same bin as “client-focused” (if you weren’t focused on your clients, then you’d soon be out of business).

    Clare Lynchs last blog post..Spot the mistakes

  23. Pingback: goodcopybadcopy » Blog Archive » Thirty words you need to stop using today

  24. Pingback: Drop Solution Selling from Your Marketing Vocabulary : Word Sell, Inc.

  25. Pingback: goodcopybadcopy » Blog Archive » Corpspeak alert: “Solutions” still going strong

  26. Thanks Clare. Another corporate cliché exposed here. The word ‘solutions’ is so commonly used, I think I’ve become brainwashed by it.

    It made me look at one of my own projects I’m working on and yep, there it was; ‘solutions’. I’ve now changed this to ‘equipment, parts and servicing’.

  27. Pingback: Content marketers: how can we end the solution problem? « Scribe LLC :: marketing copywriters for your brand's most important communications Scribe LLC :: marketing copywriters for your brand's most important communications

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