[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.”
This all seems pretty simple and straightforward, but it is amazing how often we forget the need to be clear and credible, as well as compelling. Too often we think, our idea is so novel, so powerful, so incredibly disruptive that we can’t possibly distill it down to such a simple format. But unless you do, you may never get anywhere with it.
Once you craft your Wow statement, try it out, and continuously improve it. The great thing about a Wow statement is that it should be effective with almost anyone you know. Start with your spouse and your business colleagues from other businesses. In particular, you should seek out people you know who have good BS detectors and will be honest with you. Then once you have nailed it, make sure everyone in your organization has fully internalized it and can repeat it in emails, at trade shows, on voicemails, in press releases, at cocktail parties – and in elevators.
Top Ten Additional Tips
Having crafted many pitches ourselves as entrepreneurs, and after hearing thousands of pitches as investors, we have developed lists of what to do, and what not to do. Here are some lessons learned that apply to crafting your Wow statement, and to many other similar communications involving pitching and persuasion:
- Keep it simple. Simple is always better than complex. While it is certainly true that some great innovations are extremely complex, the value or benefit of a great innovation is obvious – at least after the fact. You need to bring the obviousness of that value to the front.
- Be engaging. What’s the difference between being interesting and being engaging? Interesting is an intellectual response; engaging is an emotional response. Emotional responses are always more compelling.
- Avoid negatives. Create positive energy. Don’t disparage the shortcomings of your competition. Show how you can create a better future. You want your audience to feel enchanted, not battered.
- It’s not about you. Make sure your value proposition is customer focused, not technology centric. Your solution may be five times faster, and you may be a genius, but how does that translate into customer value?
- Anticipate the obvious objections. The most common investor reaction to a short pitch is, “Haven’t I heard this before?” You may need to simply explain how this is different, or why the time and the opportunity are different. You might preempt by posing and answering the question yourself: “Why have all previous attempts to build a fusion reactor failed? Because they didn’t [whatever you are doing]…”
- Avoid purple farts. Don’t use adjectives or phrases that sound pretty but are really just so much gas. Our favorites: Proprietary, disruptive, next-generation, synergistic, 2.0, world-class, 3.0, and “60 years of combined experience.” Avoid sweeping generalizations. And never say “nobody can” or “we conservatively project.” Even if what you say is true, you will lose credibility.
- Use one or two numbers, if you can, to provide the magnitude of your benefit, but don’t jam bunches of numbers in. And don’t make your listener do the math (“We project our market share will be 18% of the $235 million market in three years”).
- Maybe it is about you. Your Wow statement may be something about your team that convinces us that you are the only company on the planet that can pull off what you intend: “My co-founders and I built PayPal from $0 to $100 million.”
- Is the problem clear? You might be able to best frame your statement in terms of the problem you are solving, rather than the technology you have invented. Frequently, the problem is obvious and doesn’t have to be clarified, but often the entrepreneur thinks the problem is obvious, when in fact it isn’t to the listener. You might need to say: “Vibration can reduce the performance of hard drives by 75%.”
- Don’t lie. You would think this goes without saying, but in their enthusiasm for their creations, entrepreneurs tend to slip across the line all too often. Please do not interpret the need to sell as a license to hype, exaggerate, misrepresent, spin, or lie. The best salespeople are credible and trustworthy. If you lose the trust of your investors, customers, or employees, then you are lost.
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.
And if you’ve got additional recommendations for entrepreneurs working on their Wow statements, please share them with us!
Acknowledgments: Thanks to John Hall for the inspiration behind the phrase “Wow! Statement.” And thanks to Ron Weissman, Marc Burch, Bob Rees, Ho Nam, Adiba Barney, and Nat Baker for their help shaping this guide through their participation at entrepreneur workshops on this topic, and to Jack Gottsman, Joyce Chung, Pamela Smith, Mary Etta Eaton, and Robert Price for their editorial suggestions. If there are any mistakes or ill-conceived suggestions in the above, however, they are entirely the fault of Bill Reichert. If you have any comments, questions, good examples, or bad examples, please share them with the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.