Deliver a Pro Elevator Pitch by First Winning the Head Game

New Mental Approach Cures the Real Problem in Delivering a Crisp Elevator Pitch

I recently attended the Cleantech Open Academy. The Cleantech Open is the world’s largest accelerator for cleantech startups. The Academy is the start of a six-month program during which nearly 400 of the brightest, most inventive entrepreneurs in the world learn the business skills to turn their startup operations into profitable businesses. 

Several times during the three-day program, participants were asked to stand and deliver their elevator pitches, essentially a 30-second recitation of their Action Messages.

They were asked to combine the problem they were solving, their solution and how it was different from their competitors’ – thirty seconds to clarify their purpose in the business world and convince anyone to care.

Their first rambling attempts were long, filled with features instead of benefits and targeted to no one in particular. After a critique and some coaching from their assigned mentors, they each took another shot.

While better, most couldn’t implement the concepts, even though they understood them well. They were cramming in too much and stumbling over all kinds of information. Often, they couldn’t even make it clear what they did.

As the individuals delivered their pitches, I could hear people all around me correctly assessing every misstep. They’d then take their turns and be as hapless as all the others.

This is all familiar to me, having guided people through this exercise countless times . . .  and suffered through it myself many times.

The reason it’s so difficult to compose our own 30-second elevator pitches is our total immersion in the subject compounded by a mental thing. Being too deep in the forest isn’t a big revelation and can be overcome with a little coaching. Not so easy to overcome is our compulsion to burst out with every feature, benefit and spec we know to convince a prospect.

I once witnessed a vice president in a technology firm take a half hour to answer a reporter's first question: "What's your new product?" His elevator pitch would have gotten the interview off with his Action Message and probably a quote.

We subconsciously fear leaving a prospect, reporter or anyone without knowing everything. It’s a mental thing. 

So, how do you achieve the right perspective when we’re so compulsively wired ? I call it the “Rule of One.” It requires discipline, but I use it successfully to sidestep my compulsion to share everything, taking it completely out of the game. 

I sit down at my desk and compose the perfect elevator pitch. Then I get up and walk to the other side of the desk, where a client would customarily sit. Now, I pitch myself imposing some strict rules:

  1. I must do it in one sentence within no more than one line.
  2. I can only address one problem, the customer’s most painful.
  3. I must solve it with only one of my offering’s capabilities expressed as a benefit.
  4. And I limit myself to only one differentiating point.

Forcing me to write within such restrictive criteria takes that a forest of information and unconscious attitudes inconsequential. It’s the only way to arrive at:

Only our mountain-grown apples will make you smile for a week. 

This statement meets all of the criteria at roughly half a tweet in length. Its simplicity makes it understandable and memorable. With my Action Message boiled down to so few words, I gain confidence that quells the mental demons.

Try it. See if the Rule of One can help you make your elevator pitch that clear, compelling and concise. You’ll deliver an Action Message that will have your prospects smiling in just half a minute.

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No Product, Money or News? Creative PR Keeps Your Message Engine Roaring

Flexible PR Strategies Provide Multiple Routes to Your Audience

I was recently talking with a friend who had started a business around a new technology. I asked about his PR plans. We’re just starting out and want to keep our product secret. We’ll issue a press release when we launch it.

I regularly hear similar reasons why businesses adopt a stealth-mode strategy, forgoing any PR initiatives. Word of mouth produces customers in this business. We sell socks, hardly a headline grabber. My PR budget only covers the electric bill.

Since these were decisions they’d thought through, they all have an element of logic to them. In my mind, such marketing strategies are like keeping your brakes on at the Indy 500 starting line while the field roars away to ensure your engine still sounds like it’s running perfectly. As a result, valuable ground is lost.

Too often businesses consider PR a marketing tool only for product publicity, seldom venturing further than a press release to launch a product. PR is the most adaptable and cost-effective of marketing tools. Those who see its potential weave it into to their plans for virtually every marketing objective.

If your product isn’t ready for prime time, rev the engines of a complementary objective: expand customer’s consciousness around the problem you’ll shortly solve; increase your company’s industry and community prominence; grow your startup’s reputation as a technology superstar; or turn senior execs into luminaries and engineers into thought leaders to turn up the volume around your Key Messages.

By focusing creative PR strategies on other objectives that enhance the market environment, you stay in the race.

Small businesses, in particular, often cite limited budgets and lack of PR expertise as their chief limiting factors. PR has always had a reputation as the “free” promotion discipline. It’s certainly cheaper than advertising and offers much higher credibility.

PR isn’t just common sense as some claim. It requires expertise. That said, there are numerous situations where nonprofessionals can and should take advantage of PR opportunities. Normally, it’s just knowing how to spot them when they appear.

I’ve found that good PR 101 training helps people acquire a good “head” for PR. You become attuned to where PR can benefit a project. You’ll absorb a Sixth Sense that enables you to recognize a PR opportunity when you see one.

If you use an external PR consultant part time, staff with basic PR know-how normally make the partnership much more productive and cost efficient.

Here’s a common example of where trained staff can assume a PR role. A business seeking to increase its visibility locally should build a relationship with the appropriate business reporter at the community’s newspaper.

It’s no different than developing any other business relationship. Ask someone who knows the reporter to introduce you. Your objective isn’t to score a story. Asking someone you just met to do you a favor is bad form anywhere. Instead, let the reporter do the talking and learn how you might become a resource for him.

Hmm . . . This sounds like the networking you do all of the time, doesn’t it?

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How-To: Capitalize on Messaging (Part 4)

Part 4: Hold on! We need ‘blisters’ in the message!

If you’ve read through from Part 1 of this how-to on developing a Key Message, you may be waving your arms, “Wait a minute! You forgot the blisters! It’s 20 percent of the market!”

The Key Message is the foundation for press releases, keynotes, product brochures, web content, advertising – all of the communications supporting a product. It absolutely must be effective.

So, Why ignore 20 percent of a market? is a fair question.

Limiting what goes into a Key Message is essential, but undeniably difficult. It takes discipline to position nearly as compelling points down the page.

You’ll recall that our study found wearing socks with holes caused unbearable personal humiliation for 80 percent of respondents and painful blisters for 20 percent. So, why did we build our key message only around one thought, personal shame?

Only Argyle Warehouse socks with bulletproof toes end the humiliation of exposed toes in colorful style.

Wouldn’t we capture more mindshare if we added that it solved the blister problem too? And we didn’t even discuss low price, new array of fashionable colors or the company’s commitment to high quality. All are important.

Science tells us that we can keep only three to four ideas in our heads at one time. That would suggest three to four messages, right? Only if we could trust customers, reporters, investors and other stakeholders to remember all of the messages, keep them in our order of importance and emphasize our Key Message before addressing the others.

Though I’m passionate about socks, I’ve already forgotten the first thing we’d expect of them. You can’t expect less interested stakeholders to do better.

Focusing on your Key Message keeps you in control. Without your Key Message fixed firmly in mind, a harried reporter might write the wrong story.

Imagine your CEO’s disappointment after spending millions of R&D dollars on Rmer to read the headline: “Argyle Warehouse Unveils Blister-proof Socks” – that addresses only a lowly 20-percent of the market. Any competitors catering to the large, affluent sock-aficionados market are back in business.

Multiply this confusion by the potentially hundreds of communications channels that can cover any announcement, and you can see how unfocussed messaging can quickly and irrevocably dilute a poorly conceived messaging strategy’s impact. 

Now, picture this: pretend you’re Argyle Warehouse’s marketing director and a friend introduces to a reporter or investor. “Have you heard of us?” you ask. “Sure! You’re the company that ended people’s embarrassment when taking off their shoes by inventing stylish bulletproof socks.”

Think about that response spreading throughout your audiences. You’re smiling, aren’t you?

Be relentless in pursuing one and only one Key Message. The results will astound you.

Rate your company’s messaging. Compare the messaging for the product brochure, press release and homepage content for a recent product introduction. Does each emphasize a single Key Message? Is the Key Message the same on all three?

If so, I’ll bet you’re smiling. If not, go back to Part 1 of this series and learn how to get it there. Let us know how it goes or if you have questions.

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How-To Capitalize On Messaging (Part 3)

Part 3: Four Steps to Constructing a Bullet-proof Key Message

Now that we’ve looked at the benefits the Key Message approach to communications and so some other methods that are commonly used, let’s learn how to construct a Key Message that your customers and press won’t be able to get out of their heads.

Let me do a little catch-up for anyone who skipped the first two parts and jumped in here. A Key Message, a single statement – likely just one sentence – that crystalizes the most important reason for buying, writing about or supporting what you’re selling. Press, customers, analysts and other stakeholders absolutely must believe your Key Message and have it top of mind when your spokesperson says, “That wraps it up! Thanks for coming!” If they can remember only one thing, that’s the thing.

The Key Message should be so clear, so compelling that it’s as unforgettable and irrepressible as a first kiss.

Once your key message is undeniable and unforgettable, it drives everything that follows – communications objectives, tactics to deliver it, even how to measure success.

So, what is it you want to say that’s as memorable and uncontainable as a first kiss?

You may be stumped. You may sell socks.

That’s OK. I’m not saying that you need make socks as titillating and uncontainable emotionally as that smooch at your junior high prom. You reason differently with people at the Sock Warehouse than you would in a junior high school coatroom.

This process takes diligence. However, if you put in the work, the rewards will be outstanding. Not only will you nail communication with your audiences, but efforts in related areas – planning, collateral, web content, press events, customer communications – will be more on target and run smoother.

Let’s dig into the Four “Ds” to creating an unforgettable, irrepressible Key Message.

  1. Define What Most Ails Customers.
    Returning to our sock sufferers, what’s the primary cause of distress from their perspective? Holes in the toes? Yes, partially, but that’s from our perspective as observers of the human condition. What’s life like for those people who put off buying new socks? What’s their pain point? Sock Warehouse, Inc. conducted a study that uncovered two major pain points: 80 percent of respondents cited unbearable personal humiliation whenever they removed their shoes at parties to play Twister? In addition, 20 percent reported suffering painful, chronic blisters?

    Although customers suffer from two problems, we’re seeking a first-kiss caliber Key Message. So, we’ll go with unbearable humiliation as our pain point to remedy.

  2. Demonstrate Your Solution.
    This one is easy. Sock Warehouse offers a premium model woven with a new synthetic para-aramid fiber called Rmer. Rmer is bullet-proof, literally, ensuring the toes will never wear out. You can take Rmer socks to the grave. No holes, no embarrassment. This could be our message so far:

    Sock Warehouse new socks, with toes re-enforced by an indestructible synthetic para-aramid fiber called Rmer, eliminate the social humiliation of exposed toes.

  3. Differentiate your product.
    While good, our message lacks a statement that sets us apart from competitors. Several other companies strengthen their socks with other synthetic para-aramid fibers. As it stands, our Key message could work equally well for them. Are para-aramid fibers in these socks lighter, cheaper, permanent press? Unfortunately, no. However, Rmer is the only synthetic para-aramid fiber that can be dyed. As a result, fashion becomes our competitive strength. Playing the fashion card, the message becomes:

    Only Argyle Warehouse socks, with toes re-enforced by a new synthetic para-aramid fiber called Rmer, eliminate the social mortification of exposed toes in colorful style.

  4. Do It In English
    Now we come to final step, the explain-it-like-our-customers-are-all-grandmothers discussion. The same conversation is repeated hundreds of times with “synthetic para-aramid fiber” replaced with other jargon.

    PR Manager: “Explain ‘synthetic para-aramid fiber’ to me like you’re talking to your grandmother, so anyone can understand it.”

    Sock Engineer: “We sell to sock aficionados, not grandmothers. They’ll understand it.”

    Both have a point. Sock aficionados will understand the term. However, it does need to be in English, but not so everyone can understand it. It needs to be in English because even for sock aficionados “synthetic para-aramid fiber called Rmer” doesn’t rouse any emotion stronger than a yawn. An emotional element is as important as a logical one when you’re trying to sway opinion. Telling me instead that a “bullet-proof toes” in my socks, my passions are aroused. I’m feeling a little 007-ish.

    Only Argyle Warehouse socks with bullet-proof toes end the humiliation of exposed toes in colorful style.

Our message is clear, compelling and focuses on our primary differentiator – social acceptance in style. Plus, because it’s written without jargon emotion re-enforces the logically argument.

Now, for some practical experience. Evaluate a few of the press releases on the news feed of Business Wire, the leading distributor of press releases. Do they follow the 4Ds? Can you improve them? Share your feedback on what you find.

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How-To Capitalize On Messaging (Part 2)

Messaging Part 2: Six Approaches To Messaging to Ensure Anonymity

In Part 1, I built a case for the potential of well crafted Key Message to invigorate your customers and to emblazon your Key Message on reporters’ minds. Tapping the Key Message for all its benefit requires a change in the traditional method of communications planning – to reap tons of mindshare develop your Key Message first and make your communications plan about driving that message into the heads of your audiences.

To be fair, there are competing methods that you should be aware of. Even those who neglect messaging in their plans, will likely acknowledge that the story they deliver is important. They handle it in another way. Here are the most common alternatives used by companies you’ve never heard of and likely never will:

  1. We don’t need formal messages. Joe knows what to say. Be honest, does Joe really? In my experience, Joe is an excellent speaker and knows his stuff, but he’ll be much more effective telling an up-to-date story that’s honed from every angle. And how about everyone else? Joe may be your primary spokesperson, others communicate with customers, press, vendors, wives, colleagues at other companies, trade show attendees, Face Book friends. When solid messaging underpins these conversations, a the story you want to tell emerges from everywhere, not just from Joe.
  2. We’re too small to worry about messaging. Our customers know us anyway. Well thought out messaging is important to businesses of all sizes. Both your current and potential customers want confidence that you understand their needs. Particularly for a small business, message development can be a brainstorm – based on data – that leads to new ideas.
  3. The product features are our message. But which differentiate you? Which solve customers’ biggest problems? Which are new? Which are the coolest? Which appeal to particular categories of customers. Not surprisingly, the plan that follows is unfocussed and out of kilter. Results are no better than your competition.
  4. Each department provides its messages to ensure we don’t miss anyone’s priorities. Often this leads to communications plans with 10, 20 or even more messages, including those cut and pasted from the annual report. Rules to live by: Too many messages is no message. You can never have too few messages.
  5. No use spending a lot of time on messages, Bob always rewrites them when he reviews the final plan. This happens. The final check-off is always assigned to busiest person in the organization. Knowing he has the last look, does little more than glance at the drafts. Actually, this is OK because he rewrites the rest of the plan as well. Office humor aside, getting your story down right is critical. Do it right and attach a brief rationale for Joe.
  6. We thought up this real cool PR event, but we need to change the message to make it work. No. It’s the Key Message we’re trying to instill for crying out loud. Messaging drives tactics, never the other way around. Be firm and confident knowing this creative team that came up this idea will come up with its equal that’s on message. They will; trust me.

These are all drawn from real businesses and other organizations, hopefully your competitors. I’ve withheld their names because, quite frankly, I don’t remember them. Next I’ll show you how to construct a Key Message. From then on, I’m sure I’ll never forget your organizations’ names.

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How-To Capitalize On Messaging (Part 1)

Part 1: Make Messaging Drive Planning To Reap New Mindshare

Do you have customers who just don’t seem to get what’s different about your service? Did news stories about your last product launch lead from angles different than the point you wanted to get across? Does this sound familiar: “Really! I didn’t know your main business was accounting software.”

Any situations like these have you reaching for antacids lately? The most common reaction is to call for more publicity. However, a flurry of press releases and advertisements will only make you vague in even more peoples’ minds. The problem isn’t that no one has heard of you. The problem is that they didn’t come away with the primary message you wanted to deliver. Instead, they came away with a bunch of messages and got confused.

Your Key Message should be a statement – often a single sentence – that crystalizes the single most important reason for buying, writing about or supporting your offering. It must be absolutely credible and compelling enough that it remains top-most in customers’ and reporters’ minds. If they could remember only one thing, the Key Message is that thing. The Key Message becomes the foundation for all of your communications.

The result of a well designed Key Message is almost magical – your customers will make your competition defend its wares against your best argument; newspapers and trade journals trumpet your message as one melody; and with increased confidence donors cease to waver about contributing.

Developing your Key Message starts with your communications plan. Surprisingly, I find that even companies that develop otherwise well thought out communications plans, often do little more than cut and paste messaging from another plan.

While I anticipate mail from scores of MBO adherents, the Key Message can have such a powerful impact on your communications plan that it should be developed first. It should drive your goals, objectives and certainly tactics.

After all, how can you develop objectives until you have a handle on the case you’re supporting? Strategies too evolve more effectively when you have the Key Message that brings to light opportunities and hurdles in your path? Messaging invariably shapes the press and customer events, media tours, social media programs and the tactics that are the teeth of the plan.

So, if you have a communications plan underway, put it in your drawer and let’s take a message-down approach. In the next part of this series, I’ll show you the most common alternatives to the Key Message process and why you should avoid them. In Part 3, I’ll show you how to develop a Key Message.

Meanwhile, those of you with experience, anecdotes or tips, please share your wealth with all of us.

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