Sarah-Jane Freni: Sell the sizzle, not the sausage

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In business we are constantly pitching our products and services to the world at large, but translating complex ideas into a language your audience will understand is not always easy.

How would you describe a hairdryer? Would you describe it as an electromechanical device designed to blow hot hair onto the hair to allow better control over the shape and style of hair, by accelerating and controlling the formation of temporary hydrogen bonds inside each strand? No, you probably wouldn’t. Instead you’d say something along the lines of: a hair dryer blows hot air onto the hair to dry it more quickly and help you to style it.

All too often we are so absorbed in what we do that we lose sight of how to effectively communicate with our audience. The example of the hair dryer may seem ludicrous but it happens all the time, and you are probably guilty of it too.

Ask someone who, for example, sells a nifty piece of software what it is they do and they’ll launch into a full description of the technical specifications and how advanced and innovative it all is. They’ll probably throw a few acronyms in too for good measure. And when they’re finished, you’ll still be none the wiser as to what the software actually does.

Pitch at the wrong level and you will quickly lose the interest of your audience. You might be passionate about how clever your piece of kit is, but if people can’t understand it, you will lose all credibility and trust.

We’re all enthusiastic about what we do, and usually we work among people who share the same interests and goals. Our colleagues provide us with one of those dreaded echo chambers – they use the same jargon as us and they share the same experience. This in turn fools us into thinking that everyone speaks the same language.

I hate to break it to you, but very few people outside you and possibly your staff actually care about the amazing technical specs of your product. What they really want to know is what problem you are solving for them. And if you want them to buy into it, you’ll also have to tell them why you do what you do. Preferably in simple layman’s terms.

Going back to the hairdryer example, this would translate as: a hairdryer helps you tame your mane, which in turn will make you feel beautiful and confident.

Next time you are asked what it is that you do, put yourself in your (potential) user’s shoes and look at it from their point of view. What is it? What does it do for them? Why should they care?

To win business, you need to appeal to your audience’s gut feelings rather than to their rational brain. It’s easier for us humans to rationalise an emotional purchase than assign an emotion to a well reasoned argument. And drowning someone in technical details just isn’t the way to go about it.