We're just not leveraging our synergies, honey.

I just don’t feel we’re leveraging our synergies, honey.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, do these words set you afire?

I’m guessing not. That’s because “optimize” is a vague buzzword that could mean anything and, thus, means nothing.

I see this term every day in the raw material clients give me as prep for white papers, blog posts, bylined articles and other content marketing. I sometimes wind up using it, if making a stink with a client would just bog down the process without changing their mind.

But here’s why “optimize” is not only worthless jargon, but is actually harmful because it can lull buyer and seller into thinking they’re talking about the same goals when they’re not. Just as the buzzword “transform” can create landmines that can sink deals, confusion over “optimization” makes it harder for prospects to understand why to choose you over someone else.

Here’s why.

We’re Optimum! We’re Good!

Most folks would agree that to “optimize” something means to make it as good as it can possibly be. But “good” has very different meanings for different buyers and sellers.

One Web site I saw recently said their technology “optimizes” the Web. Does that mean reducing the cost of the Web, making it easier to use, or (as I suspect from their tagline) speeding access to it Saying “We speed your Web access” would have grabbed the attention of prospects who need that specific benefit – speed – but who might pass over a vague “optimization” promise.

Even worse is using “optimize” to convey opposing ideas. Outsourcing providers or consultants will promise, in one sentence, to “optimize costs” for customers and in the next sentence to “optimize their cash flow.” Last time I checked, you want to reduce your costs but increase your cash flow. Using the same word to mean two different things in adjacent sentences doesn’t say much for a service provider’s ability to keep you posted on progress and problems.

Optimize for What?

In other cases, “optimize” can mean too many things in content marketing. Does “optimizing” a data center mean speeding its performance or reducing its cost? If cost reduction is key, are capital (equipment) costs or operational (staffing, power, space) costs the main target?  Different data center owners will have different needs. Why not show how you can meet those specific needs rather than hiding it under overall “optimization?”

Finally, consider a consultant trying to sell a cellular carrier on its ability to “optimize” the carrier’s service and pricing plans. Does this mean “optimizing” the plans to deliver the most revenue and profit per customer (as a mature, entrenched player might want) or to sacrificing some profits to earn market share, as a hungry start-up might want?

I can hear someone out there saying “Optimizing” can mean any of these things, so we use it rather than list all the individual things we can do.”

I’m all for keeping things brief, but not at the expense of precision. If “optimize” really means “increase,” “reduce” or “speed” replacing it with those words is a draw. Adding the words “optimizing for cost (or speed, or market share, or whatever)” adds so much precision it’s worth the extra length.

Sweet nothings are fine for passionate moments, but marketing to time-starved B2B professionals requires clarity. I intend to scrub “optimize” from my marketing lingo wherever possible and replacing it with clear explanations of what my clients offer. Your thoughts?

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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Filed under: Content Marketing For IT VendorsCopywriting TipsIT Marketing

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