by Bill Reichert
If you have only a few seconds to communicate the essence of your company, what is the most important message to deliver? When confronted with this question, most entrepreneurs think about their elevator pitch – sixty seconds of highly condensed hyperbole intended to entice an investor to ask for more. You need to be able to articulate what is exciting about your company in a few sentences that connect with both the head and the heart of the listener. You have to make logical sense and get the listener’s pulse to speed up.
Remember, your primary objective here is not to explain – it’s to sell. Most entrepreneurs forget this and get wrapped up trying to teach, rather than trying to motivate.
- Part One: Context. Context. State what it is that you do better than anyone else in simple, easy to understand words:
“SuperCo has developed a low-cost technology that reduces the vibration caused by hard drives and cooling fans in data centers.”
- Part Two: Benefit. Clarify your unique benefit or advantage. One trick to help you phrase this sentence is to begin with, “The big idea behind SuperCo is…” Getting this clear benefit right is the core to your success in communicating your value proposition. What is the central big idea? And for whom is this a big benefit? Often the problem you are solving is obvious, but if it isn’t, you need to put your benefit in context:
“Because vibration reduces the performance of hard drives, our technology increases performance by up to 2.5x, as we’ve shown with three beta customers.”
- Part Three: Differentiation. Clarify how you are different from the competition and the alternatives. One way to help you phrase this sentence is to begin with, “Unlike other companies that offer…” Do not say that you have no competition, or that no one else can do what you can do (Entrepreneur Lie #5). Instead, state your key point of differentiation and compelling advantage over the next best solution to the problem:
“Because we use [unique approach], unlike alternative solutions that require [standard approach], we can save our customers 40% of their total costs.”
- Close: Call to action. Wrap up with something that gets your listener to actively engage. Your goal is to affect their behavior, to get them to do something – like inviting you in to talk more. This might be your “mantra” or tagline, along with a call to action:
“Bottom line, SuperCo saves money and increases performance for data center operators. Does this sound like an interesting opportunity to you?”
Don’t take this as a rigid template. There is no fixed recipe; no example fits all businesses or all circumstances. These are guidelines to help you focus on what is most important. You might emphasize something that could be even more compelling or enticing, such as a major recent accomplishment – a Nobel laureate just joined your board, or Cisco just decided to standardize on your platform. This may be the most effective way to establish your differentiation (Part Three above).
Or you might take a different approach altogether. Another way to create your Wow statement might be to tell a story or paint a picture:
“Imagine a product that enables you to synchronize all your contacts from all your different social and professional networks and databases. Imagine that this product categorizes all these contacts automatically. And then imagine that you can send out personalized communications to each of these contacts, according to their category. This product could save you hours every month, and thousands of dollars a year. We have developed such a product, and we already have 45 small businesses using it.”
This is not likely to work as a voicemail message, but it might work at the beginning of a pitch, or in an email introduction. Another approach is to help the listener understand what you are doing by offering a useful analogy:
“We’re the TV Guide for internet video.”
One of the best Wow statements I’ve ever heard condensed the framework above into something very simple, and yet very compelling:
“We offer a suite of software tools for producing animated graphics. Last year we won an Academy Award for special effects.”
The CEO went on to describe the company and its products in much greater detail, but afterwards I told her, “You had me at Academy Award.”
Your Wow statement is the front end of your effort to persuade others. Keep it simple, crisp, easy to read, and easy to say. It should fit nicely into your email introductions, your executive summary, your pitch, your website, and other communications. But you need to follow it up with all the other elements that make for successful communications in the venture world.
Also, be aware that your Wow statement is going to change over time. What makes your company so compelling will evolve as you grow and succeed, and as the market changes. What made Cisco compelling when it launched is not what makes it compelling today. Accordingly, each company’s Wow statement needs to be revisited regularly.
For more resources to help you launch your venture, see Resources for Entrepreneurs: Getting Started.