Have you ever been at a networking event where someone comes up to you, introduces them self, asks what you do, and before you get too many words out of your mouth, they hand you their business card and start “pitching” you on what they do? Of course, this happens all the time, and yet to the discerning individual it feels disingenuous. In this scenario, when the person asked me what I do, I didn’t feel as though they really cared about me or what I do, only that they see me as a “target.”
Branding is all about the energy that is conveyed to an audience, whether that audience is potential customers, investors or employees. Therefore, we are constantly looking at the work we do for our clients in terms of the energy around it, and the words we use are a key component of the energy.
For example, we don’t use the term “target market” because a target is something we shoot at and we don’t want to shoot our customers. So, we encourage our clients to say, “intended audience” or “those we seek to serve” or any similar phrase that conveys a different kind of energy than “target market.” The point is to rephrase our dialog to convey a greater respect and concern for those we do business with—that they are more to us than mere numbers on a spreadsheet.
The language of business consists of the terminologies that allow us a certain kind of shorthand for communication, and yet it has been said that culture is contained in language. So, if we can see the truth in this, then it gives us call to examine the words we use—even if those words are the commonly accepted shorthand for doing business.
“Pitching” is a term that was derived from the notion of pitching a ball or throwing something at someone. Dictionary.com’s definition is, “to attempt to sell or win approval for something or someone by advertising, promotion, etc.”
One piece of what we offer our clients is to help them develop a 30 second elevator pitch that is more authentic and compelling, and we’ve been using the term “pitch” in our work until recently when we examined it more deeply. Maria and one of our clients kept saying that they don’t like the term “pitch”—that it didn’t feel right to them—and considering the etymology of the word it makes sense.
In a more aggressive business culture we may want to “throw” ideas and products at people. In a more humanistic business culture, a culture in which we offer products and services that we truly believe in and stand behind, we may want to “share” our offerings with people.
One energy is that I have something to sell, and you are someone I’ve identified as a target to sell to. The other energy is I have something that I believe in and if you are someone who could benefit from what I have to offer, then I would like to “share” my offering with you.
The distinction is subtle, and yet branding is all about subtle energy. There are hundred-million-dollar advertising campaigns that have failed because the subtly of the message didn’t connect with an audience, or that lacked subtly altogether.
Coke sells a product that is increasingly being understood as hazardous to our health, and so they don’t market their product by talking about its taste or quality, instead they give us feel good messages associated with the consumption of their product. The subtle energy of their advertising is that you too will feel this way if you drink Coke. One could perceive this as psychological manipulation, as their product is harmful to our health.
The secret to an effective 30 second elevator pitch is to not pitch, it’s to share, and to begin with caring. Since I have this product or service that I truly believe in, then I naturally want to share it with people who could benefit from it.
When I meet people, or I’m designing an ad campaign, or writing copy for a website, I’m feeling the energy of what I have to offer, I’m seeing how this could benefit people, and I’m reaching out to “those I seek to serve” to “share” my offering.
The difference in energy is subtle, but it will be felt by those who care.
For a related post on the language of business see Delicious Words.