Elisha Oti’s breakthrough had a catalytic effect on many industries, including the business of giving advice. Almost from the moment that elevators became commonplace, gurus like Dale Carnegie advised us to be ever ready with our “elevator speech.”
To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others offers a fresh look at the art and science of selling.
The Elevator Pitch
The idea was that if you found yourself stepping into an elevator and encountering the big boss, you needed to be able to explain who you were and what you did between the time the doors closed shut and dinged back open at your floor.
Today, we have more opportunities to get out our message than Elisha Otis ever imagined. But our recipients have far more distractions than those conventioneers in 1853 who assembled to watch Otis not fall to his death. As a result, we need to braoden our repertoire of pitches for an age of limited attention and caveat venditor.
1. The One-Word Pitch
The ultimate pitch for an era of short attention spans begins with a single word–and doesn’t go any further.
The one-word pitch derives in part from Maurice Saatchi, who with his brother Charles, founded the advertising agencies Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi. For several years, Saatchi has been touting what he calls ‘one-word equity’. ‘In this model, companies compete for global ownership of one word in the public mind,’ Saatchi writes.
When anybody thinks of you, they utter that word. When anybody utters that word, they think of you. For example, in his 2012 reelection campaign, President Barack Obama built his entire strategy around one word: ‘Forward’.
2. The Question Pitch
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was running for president of the United States in a grim economy. Unseating an incumbent, even one as vulnerable as then president Jimmy Carter, who’d been elected in 1976, is never easy. So Reagan had to make the case that Carter’s poor stewardship of the economy required the country to change leadership. In his pitch to voters, Reagan could have delivered a declarative statement: ‘Your economic situation has deteriorated over the last forty-eight months.’ And he could have supported the assertion with a slew of data on the nation’s spiraling inflation and steep unemployment. Instead, Reagan asked a question: ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’
By making people work just a little harder, question pitches prompt people to come up with their own reasons for agreeing (or not). And when people summon their own reasons for believing something, they endorse the belief more strongly and become more likely to act on it.
3. The Rhyming Pitch
Rhymes boost what linguists and cognitive scientists call ‘processing fluency,’ the ease with which our minds slice, dice, and make sense of stimuli. Rhymes taste great and go down easily and we equate that smoothness with accuracy. In this way, rhyme can enhance reason.
That’s one explanation for why Haribo, the German candy company best known for its ‘gummy bears,’ uses a rhyming pitch in every country where it operates and in each of those countries’ languages.
For example, its pitch in English is: Kids and grown-ups love it so–the happy world of Haribo.
In French it’s: Haribo, c’est beau la vie–pour les grands et les petits.
In Spanish it’s: Haribo, dulces sabores–para pequeños y mayores.
4. The Subject-Line Pitch
E-mail has become so integrated into our lives that, as Xerox PARC researches describe, it has ‘become more like a habitat than an application,’ But as with any habitat, the more deeply we’re immersed in it, the less we notice its distinctive features. That’s why many of us haven’t realized that every e-mail we send is a pitch. It’s a plea for someone’s attention and an invitation to engage.
Tapping the principles of utility, curiosity, and specificity, if I were to send you an e-mail pitch about the preceding five paragraphs, I might us this subject line if I suspected your inbox was jammed:
3 simple but proven ways to get your e-mail opened.
But if I thought you had a lighter e-mail load, and yuo already knew me well, I might use:
Some weird things I just learned about e-mail.
5. The Twitter Pitch
Each year the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa receives more than three hundred applications for roughly seventy spots in the coming year’s MBA program. Applicants submit their university grades, scores on the standardized business school admission test, letters of recommendation, and several essays. But in 2011, Tippie added a contest to its process, one intended to test the pitching prowess of the future business leaders it would be educating. The school asked a fairly standard essay question: What makes you an exceptional Tippie full-time M.B.A. candidate and future M.B.A hire? But it told applicants to respond in the form of a tweet–a micro-message of 140 or fewer characters.
The mark of an effective tweet, like the mark of any effective pitch, is that it engages recipients and encourages them to take the conversation further.
The winner of that first contest was John Yates, who crafted his winning entry in the form of a haiku to emphasize his previous work experience in Asia:
Globally minded (5)
Innovative and driven (7)
Tippie can sharpen (5)
6. The Pixar Pitch
Four hundred miles north of Hollywood, in a small city along the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay, sits the headquarters of an unlikely entertainment colossus. Pixar Animation Studios, in Emeryville, California, opened in 1979 as the geeky computer graphics division of Lucasfilm. Thirty-five years later, it’s one of the most successful studios in movie history.
How does Pixar do it?
Success has many parents–the foresight of Steve Jobs, who invested in the company early; the distribution and marketing muscle of the Walt Disney Company, which struck a development deal with the studio early on and acquired it in 2006; the meticulous attention to detail for which Pixar’s army of technical and artistic talent is renowned. But an additional reason might be the stories themselves.
Emma Coats, a former story artist at the studio, has cracked the Pixar code–and, in the processs, created a template for an irresistible new kind of pitch. Coats has argued that every Pixar film shares the same narrative DNA, a deep structure of storytelling that involves six sequetial sentences:
Once upon a time there was a widowed fish named Marlin who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo. Every day, Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away. One day in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water. Because of that, he is captured by a diver and ends up as a pet in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney. Because of that, Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way. Until finally Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite, and learn that love depends on trust.
Complement To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others with How fascinating are you? In Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation, advertising and media personality Sally Hogshead explores what triggers fascination—one of the most powerful ways to attract attention and influence behavior—and explains how companies can use these concepts to make their products and ideas irresistible to consumers.