The problem with solutions

The doors open, and I make my way up the platform and out onto the pavement outside Richmond station.

It’s getting on for Autumn (Fall, North-American friends) so as I emerge I pull my coat collar close, and hurry up the high street towards Velocity Towers.

Though my brain is still waking up, it already knows one thing for sure – it absolutely has to have coffee in the next 5 minutes or it’s hitting the emergency stop button.

So I scan the high street for coffee, so I can find some coffee, and then drink all the coffee. But as my eyes pan across the shopfronts my eyes fall on a business I’ve never seen before.

I take a moment to breathe this in.

I look again.

It’s still called ‘Foot Solutions’.

So, okay. What the hell does this mean?

Is it a shop that exclusively sells methods of doing things using only feet?
Is it a shop that sells solutions for your feet?

If it is a shop that sells ‘solutions for your feet’, what does that mean?
Is it drugs? Massages? Creams? Perhaps feet are puzzles just waiting to be solved.

Baffled, I make my way into the office to mull it over.
And now I’m here, writing it over.

I think the shop struck me because I see the word ‘solutions’ a lot at Velocity.

It’s a staple of the B2B tech world* and probably a word I’ve used even today.
But I do have a problem with it. And it’s because it’s unclear.

(And also a bit of a cop-out.)

Here’s why.

Let’s say I’m the guy who’s just invented sliced bread.

First, you’re most welcome. Second, what this actually means is I’ve invented some sort of cutting device.

Because I’ve invented it, I get to call it what I like.
I could call it a ‘cutting solution’.
Or if Foot Solutions is anything to go by, a ‘bread solution’.

But that’s not what it actually is.

An oven is a bread solution. So is a bakery. So is yeast.
They all solve problems to do with bread – but in reality they all do very different jobs.

The name isn’t giving you what you need to know – as a customer – to tell you if you need one or not. It’s just not specific enough.

A bread cutter, is what I’ve invented.
Or a bread knife, if you’re already familiar with the ‘knife’ concept.

But when tech brands call the new widget they’ve created a ‘customer experience solution’, it’s so vague it’s almost meaningless.

Am I buying an entire call centre here or what?

Product names have jobs to do.

Those jobs are:

  • Describe what the thing is (Like Airbus).
  • Describe what the thing does, or what it’s like to use (Like Windows Explorer).
  • Tell us where the thing came from (Like Champagne).
  • Or nothing. (Like Kodak.) It’s just a word you can fill with meaning through the rest of your brand and marketing – very much like Champagne.

What about ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!?’, I hear you cry.
Well, yes, true — there are hundreds of weird anomalies in naming.

But in B2B tech? These are the main jobs that product names need to do.

There’s a reason for that.

Through some combination of your product’s name and marketing, your aim is to help your customers to find, identify and buy your product.

The name plays a role in that, and the marketing plays a role in that.

Which means that if you call your automated texting tool a ‘customer experience solution’, the name’s contribution is so feeble that:

  1. At best it’s a wasted opportunity to help your customers find and identify your product.
  2. And at worst, it’s confusingly off-putting for the people that actually need it.

And not only that – it means you’re going to have to spend a ton more cash on marketing to do the job it’s failing to do: explaining what this thing is, or does.

Even just calling it an ‘Automated-Texting Tool’, would make it a lot easier to find, and ultimately a lot easier to buy.

And that’s the game.

So perhaps there’s a compromise here.

In fact I’ll let you off.

On just one condition.

You can keep ‘solution’ in product names.

Just so long as you combine it with the minimum number of words** it takes to absolutely nail what this thing is, or what this thing does.

That way the name will make a more meaningful contribution to your sales, and you have to spend less cash on marketing.

Do we have a deal?

Right, I best go. I’ve got an appointment at the foot pharmacy.
What was it called again?

*usually it refers to a product that’s part tech and part managed-by-actual-humans

** I say ‘minimum number of words’ because otherwise you end up with madness like this

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