It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the business world is a place where crimes against English are committed on a regular basis. It still makes me wonder, though, why people think that being obscure will help them to communicate effectively. Or to sell anything.
I recently attended a trade fair for the publishing industry and was astonished at the sheer number of exhibitors who were in the business of ‘solutions’.
I realise that ‘solution’-bashing is a well-established sport among those who care about words. But I still live in hope that we may eventually create enough ridicule to put a stop to this misuse of what once was a useful word.
Looking through the event programme, I found companies offering ‘hosted solutions’, ‘workflow solutions’, ‘ad server solutions’, and ‘merchandising solutions’. You can probably try and guess what these mean. Then there are ‘deliverability solutions’: they send out emails.
But then it gets really abstract: ‘a professional and affordable solution’; ‘bespoke solutions’; ‘in-office solutions’; ‘best-of-breed solutions’…. even ‘a new standard for magazine publishing solutions’.
There are some very good, meaningful words that you can use instead. One is ‘products’; another is ‘services’. Interestingly, these tend to be used by companies who are selling old-fashioned, tangible things, such as printing and distribution.
But even some of the tech companies choose to be clearer: ‘tools’, ‘software’ or ‘systems’ tells you more about what they are actually selling.
I really wonder why business-to-business communication tends to be so obscure. Is it because businesses are afraid that they won’t have credibility if they’re not using the latest buzzwords? Is it really a prerequisite for selling to publishers that you have to know what ‘conversational marketing’ and ‘combinatorial publishing’ mean? Or to clothe your products in trendy vagueness so that no-one knows what it is you are actually selling?
If I want to buy something, I don’t want to waste time trying to work out whether a particular supplier actually sells it. I’ll always favour someone who knows how to use plain English and wants to speak to me clearly.
This is one exhibitor who got it right: ‘Author and supplier of a range of computer programs written specifically for the magazine publishing industry that helps you to manage your business.’ One sentence, 23 words: who they are, what they do, how they can help me. Clear and simple.
And I did, at least, find one exhibitor in the entire programme who was able to use the word solution correctly: ‘Don’t have the resources to develop apps? We have the solution.’