Draw Your Elevator PitchLiza Donnelly
When it comes to a good elevator pitch, brevity and memorability are everything. Most elevator pitches are neither.
One of us (Liza) is a staff cartoonist for the New Yorker, while the other (Deb) is a mentor to many start-up founders. We got to talking about the problem of crafting a brief, memorable pitch, and the impact of powerful visuals — and began discussing how any new venture or project could benefit from a pithy cartoon that sums up its value proposition. After all, most people are visual learners. And many people — Deb included — turn first to the cartoons when they get their copy of the New Yorker. So why shouldn’t entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs use that human impulse to their advantage?
We see five reasons that cartoons can convey ideas and start conversations better than traditional elevator pitches:
1. Cartoons force us to distill and prioritize our value proposition down to its simple essence – the real reason customers need what we’re offering. The exercise of fitting our values into a single, simple drawing forces us to question assumptions, listen to our targeted customers, and get to the fundamental benefit we’re offering. A cartoon can dramatize the benefit of our product or service from the customers’ perspective — instead of ours, as so many traditional elevator pitches do. Consider this example:
2. Humor is disarming. When people laugh, it’s a form of agreement and consensus, even if it’s just for a moment. Laughter brings people together and diffuses tension, allowing more open dialog. This lets us talk about the value proposition with our potential customers, and even investors. Our potential customers will probably open up more about their wants, needs, jobs-to-be-done because they can see themselves in the cartoon, which is easier to personalize than reading words. Consider another example:
Pictures evoke emotions almost instantaneously and can influence our behavior and decisions while words take a bit longer, literally. Our brains actually interpret images concurrently while text is processed linearly. This means we understand, remember and retains images (and their meaning) better than words. Some argue that this is due to the multiple areas of the brain involved in image processing versus language processing.
3. Cartoons can make A/B testing easier — and more fun. Since we quickly process the image, we can grasp the value proposition faster and perhaps assess how we’d react. Draw several different cartoons and captions to test out which ones get to the heart of the customer need and convey value in the most meaningful way. By testing, listening, and learning, we can iteratively refine our value proposition and show it in ways customers relate to.
4. Cartoons are memorable. Research has shown that the best remembered part of any message is the cartoon. Studies have shown that humans process images 60,000 times faster than text! No wonder we remember cartoons and they impact us. We all have cartoons we remember for various reasons — and you probably remember more cartoons than you do typical bullet-point PowerPoint presentations and now we know why: we are wired to favor images over text.
5. Cartoons are a powerful message to rally the troops, to get our people to buy in, support and become passionate about what our customers need. For decades, images have been used to engage people’s hearts and minds, from advertising to World War II propaganda posters to the power of images in social media. A cartoon provides a common symbol and language for people to share and reference in discussing their jobs, their tasks, their goals and their company’s purpose.
Of course cartoons won’t work for everything. We still need more elaborate reports and presentations for investor pitches, product launch roadmaps, and detailed strategic planning. Using a cartoon doesn’t replace for these, but can supplement these other formats (and prevent them from being quite so forgettable).
But in many cases, a good cartoon and a pithy caption are all we need to get potential customers to talk, investors to listen, and employees to remember. And stick figures can do; we don’t need to be artists. We just need to be able to think with clarity, concision, and discipline. That’s not easy — but that’s business.
Deb Mills-Scofield is a strategy and innovation consultant to mid/large corporations and partner in Glengary LLC, an early-stage venture capital firm. She’s also a Visiting Scholar at Brown University and teaches at Oberlin College. Her patent from AT&T Bell Labs was one of the highest revenue-generating patents for AT&T and Lucent. Twitter: @dscofield.