Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Business "Solutions"

I was going to make a serious post, but 1) I don't have much time before I have to go, and 2) I can't get this out of my head, so here goes.

Business lingo. It makes me want to simultaneously laugh and facepalm (see Exhibit A) every time I hear it (or see it). From my experience, business lingo is an elaborate exercise in trying to make your product and your activities sound more important than they really are. I guess it's a good thing that I'm not a venture capitalist, because I would be put off of investing in anything that has a transparently bull-shitty self-description, and just about everything does.

Exhibit A

In particular, business lingo makes excessive use of the term "solution." In the context of a business-lingo description, the word "solution" means, roughly, "our product does something." In other words, it doesn't mean anything at all. If, however, you make sure to include it in the description of your product, it's sure to sound more professional, and professionals will wonder why they haven't found a problem to apply it to yet.

For example, if I were trying to sell you on the idea that Gaia Online was a product that you should invest in, I would describe it using the following language: "Gaia Online is a highly integrated network-based virtual property acquisition solution for the pre-pubescent demographic." Wow, Gaia sounds pretty impressive, doesn't it?

Now if I were trying to convince you NOT to invest in it, I would describe it like so: "Gaia is a site where 10-year-olds go to pretend that they own things." Both descriptions are about equally accurate and descriptive.

And this is why I could never be in marketing. I would always be tempted to give the latter description, and that isn't likely to go over well. I only wish business and video games had nothing to do with each other...


William said...

I don't know whether this is cause or effect (or both), but in Microsoft Visual Studio, the preferred interface for writing programs in any reasonably advanced Microsoft-owned language (VB, C#, etc.), what were once called "projects" or "workspaces" are now called "solutions". Whenever you start a new program, you begin by creating a "solution". In fact, software companies have grabbed on to "software solutions" as the only possible descriptor of what they sell.

To be fair, it probably is. I mean, what else are you going to call it? You could just say they sell "software", I suppose, but they're not just trying to sell Microsoft Office; they're talking about suites of tools customized for and integrated with the customer's business framework. What I just said was complete nonsense; but like all useful jargon, it's even harder to explain what I mean without using it.

So, yes, the use of "solutions" in business and particularly the software industry is a nice bit of marketing babble. But it's also a way of indicating the full range of services that the company provides. A solution isn't just a product; it's installation, customization, and ongoing support -- ideally. Of course, once one person does it, everybody does it, and things are marketed as solutions when they're really nothing of the sort, and we get the kind of nonsense that bothers and amuses you (and me, and probably a good portion of people in industry as well).

Wow, this turned out to be a much longer and more serious comment than I'd intended. So I guess I'll wrap up by saying that right now no game deserves to call itself a solution, and I think most of them realize it and don't pretend they are (at least not to their customers; venture capitalists are a different story, but then again venture capitalists who invest in games are by nature crazy). I look forward to the day when a video game can honestly call itself a solution.

Ellipsis said...

Very good point. The word "solution" does, clearly, mean something, and in some cases it does capture the service being offered fairly well, but the word has become so prevalent that it's effectively become meaningless.

Personally, I would just say "software" or "tools" or even "tools suite," or if you really must, "customized tools suite." These are all more descriptive and straightforward than "solution," in my opinion.

I feel like I had another really good example of amusing business lingo that I was going to bring up here, but now I forget what it was...oh well.

William said...

I just saw a Wacom ad on Slashdot advertising "Professional Pen Input Solutions"... made me think of this.

Ellipsis said...