Happy but Hollow Talk: Maximize, Optimize
- On April 28, 2015
Maximize and optimize crop up a lot in business communication. We blithely use them to make upbeat—yet ultimately hollow-sounding—statements that prevent us from saying how we’re going to make the most of the thing in question (maximize) or make it perfect or fully functional (optimize). When that happens, we miss the opportunity to show our expertise, convey useful information, and maintain the relationships we work so hard to build.
I’d say those are some missed opportunities.
I recently led a writing workshop in which I learned that online shoppers will leave 4 trillion dollars’ worth of merchandise in shopping carts this year. One participant wrote an article about this phenomenon (it’s called cart abandonment) in which she asked retailers, “How will you take action to maximize checkout during the holiday season?” I recommended changing that sentence to, “This holiday season, here are some things you can do to increase the likelihood shoppers will actually buy what they put in their carts.” I thought it was more authoritative, informative—and most important, would help cement the relationship between company and customer.
“If you’re selling your goods in foreign markets,” another participant wrote, “your website needs to be optimized for consumers in those countries.” I thought tailored would work better, but what I really wanted to know was what the site needed to feature to make it “optimal.”
And then there was this line: “Shoppers will leave a site that’s not optimized for use on the go.” Easy to use is easier to grasp than optimized. Plus it defines what it takes to be optimal—simplicity.
A few months ago, the chief executive of a media company said of a newly appointed senior executive, “I have every confidence she will help us maximize our opportunities as we align our portfolio around [a single brand].” I don’t know about you, but if I were doing business with this company, investing in it, or working at it, I’d have liked the chief executive to say more about those exploitable opportunities. And had I been the person in the announcement—enjoying my 15 minutes of fame—I’d have wanted a more ringing endorsement of my potential.
As for the word align, it’s best left to the stars.