What's the most overused work in technical marketing?

Would you guess "collaboration"? "proven"? "open"? "scalable"?

Nope. In my view, "solution" is the most overused word in technology product marketing. Why? I've identified two main reasons, which I'll describe later. But, first, a confession: I have contributed to the solution epidemic.

I've actively marketed a product with the word "solutions" in its name (Sabre Business Travel Solutions), and I've referred to my company's products as "solutions" as well.

However, a couple of years ago, when I received a press release from a new partner and realized that "solution" was mentioned 17 times, I diagnosed the epidemic and began my research.

Behind the Epidemic

There are two main reasons for the "solution epidemic."

The first is lack of knowledge and understanding. Technical marketers either don't fully understand the technology or cannot succinctly speak about their products or services. Instead, they refer to "solutions." Many times, they miss the opportunity to explain to their readers (or prospects, customers and media) what the product is and what it does. It is hard enough to get your products in front of your target market, so why blow it when you get there? Tell your readers exactly what you have.

Here's an example: One of the largest enterprise resource planning companies in the world (or ERPs, as they are known) recently launched a new product with the word "solutions" in the name. I needed to know basic information about this product —what it actually does. So I read all the available marketing material (e.g., Web site content, marketing collateral, presentation with notes, etc.) on this new "solution."

The result? I'm still scratching my head about what it does. (And I'm not alone.) The word "solution" is used so many times that I'm thinking that the company doesn't know what its product does, either.

Nonetheless, get smart about your products and services. Call it an application, system or tool—whichever it is—instead of a "solution." Ask a lot of questions, until you have the knowledge and can incorporate it into your marketing messaging and materials.

As with my ERP example, if the product seems to have no direction, then help define one. If it's composed of multiple functional pieces, then explain that so the reader understands what it includes. The key is to sharpen your knowledge and gain a better understanding of your products versus taking the easy way out and using "solution" to describe your product.

Which brings me to the second reason: laziness. Yes, we are all lazy. Our peers in biotech marketing need to work a lot harder than us to explain their products. They can't just continue to say that their biotech solutions will revolutionize the way medical science will evolve. In many cases, they have to define the science and then be able to communicate what their technology does.

Whether we are on staff or are hired consultants, our job is to help convey the company's identity and what its products and services do. If you use "solutions" early on in your descriptions and key messages—you're not working hard enough.

When 'Solutions' Is OK

OK, by now you may be pulling out your marketing material and circling the number of times " solution" appears. But sometimes it is OK to use the word. For example, if you refer to your competition, use the word "solution" instead of naming the product. You don't want to give them free publicity.

Also, if you've done an excellent job at explaining your products from the beginning and created a strong visual for the reader, he or she can identify what you offer. Then you can throw in a casual "solution" to assist you in summarizing your offerings.

The bottom line is this: As tech marketing experts, we have a responsibility to communicate what our product is and what it does—early, and often. If within our array of marketing material we can successfully explain what our product is, how it benefits the customer and answer questions regarding its features, we will differentiate ourselves from the competition and ultimately gain more sales.

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Wendy Gibson is the Chief Operating Officer for Skywire Software (www.skywiresoftware.com).