Can't You Come Up With Anything Better?

Why Canned Marketing-Strategy 'Elevator Pitches' Fall on Deaf Ears

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When asked about the efficacy of your latest marketing efforts, do you have an elevator pitch? I know the conventional wisdom is that you need some punchy, data-rich, confident spiel to throw at all those questions you get from nosy fellow C-suiters, but I have a contrarian thought for you: You risk sounding like an idiot.

Between dinners, meetings and a few impromptu conversations on the road, I've recently been on the receiving end of at least a half-dozen of these CMO downloads. I never knew how silly they sounded. All those knowing nods and "Well, that's damn good work" comments we get in response to our elevator pitches aren't evidence of approval as much as befuddlement. Tolerance is buy-in when there's no real money on the line.

At least three qualities seem standard, and each contributes a fatal flaw to whatever credibility that pitch hopes to achieve.

First, prolific use of numbers. Metrics are everything, and operational folks think all poetry starts with "There was an old lady in Kent," but stats without context are meaningless to everyone. I had one CMO tell me how four indicators were up before I had a chance to realize what he was talking about.

Second, to many of our non-marketing brethren, "brands" are like the atmosphere: something that's good, of course, but not something they can see all the time, let alone describe. So impacting preference, likability or stickiness is not engaging to them as much as reminding them that you're the expert, and they're glorified accountants.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin is the author of "Branding Only Works on Cattle" and blogs about marketing at Dim Bulb.

Third, why is it that elevator pitches are always so fast? I sat next to a CMO who barely paused to breathe while telling me how each of her core strategies were delivering solid results, when my "How are ya doin'?" question had been intended to check if she needed a refill on her drink. Speed isn't synonymous with expertise, unless it involves getting a flu shot.

What works best
What's a marketer to do? The questions keep coming, often from the same people within your organization. You need to have a pitch at the ready, so here's what I think will work best:

Focus on the basic measures, quantitative or not, that matter most to your audience. Your supply-chain person wouldn't answer an informal question with some excruciating detail on a computer subroutine that improved the speed of vendor data entry, so why do you feel compelled to tout how many tweets mentioned your brand?

Next, show some humility. Boxers are confident. So are fools. I know job security is an ever-present worry, but acknowledging that you haven't cracked the nut on marketing to consumers who don't like marketing anymore might actually earn you some credibility.

Finally, use every inquiry to prompt involvement. When somebody asks you what you're doing, it's almost always because they want to tell you what you should be doing. So proactively solicit that feedback; you can probably skip lots of the numbers and references you were prepared to throw out in your stock answer.

Oh, and we've just got to talk slower.

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