I'm looking at an intimidating 800-page binder as I write this article. It contains confidential information about a new product category. When I prepare the company's leaders to launch the product, I'll be thinking about a technique Steve Jobs and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin used brilliantly: Don't start with the product details; tell people why the product will change their life.
In any presentation, your listeners are asking themselves one question. It's the most important question for you to answer and the one question that matters most:
Why should I care?
It may come as shock, but your customers don't care about your product, service, company, or idea. They care about themselves--their hopes, dreams, and quality of life. Tell them how your product will improve their life and you'll have their attention.
Steve Jobs once said that people don't want to know about computers; they want to know how computers will help them live better. "You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology--not the other way around," Jobs said.
Steve Jobs explained the why before the how.
Jobs applied this concept to presentations by explaining the why before the how. For example, few people recall how much storage was built in to the original iPod (5 GB), but they can recall that it made it possible to carry a thousand songs in your pocket; "1,000 songs in your pocket" became one of the most iconic taglines in product history. But it started when Jobs asked a fundamental question--why should Apple's customers care about a new MP3 player?
In 2008, Jobs launched a notebook computer with these specs: a 13.3-inch LED backlit display, a full-size keyboard, 1.6GHz processor, and a unibody aluminum design. Those were the details, but the specs didn't sell the benefit of the product. When Jobs pitched the first MacBook Air, he simply said: "In a sentence, it's the world's thinnest notebook." In one sentence, Jobs explained the why (the benefit of the product) before expanding on the how (the details of how they managed to squeeze so much power into a thin computer).
The Google guys captivate an investor with one sentence.
"A great leader can strip down a complicated product to its essence," famed venture capitalist Michael Moritz once told me as he recalled the day two Stanford graduate students--Sergey Brin and Larry Page--pitched a company they called Google.
When Page and Brin walked into the offices of Sequoia Capital, they presented investor Moritz with a one-sentence summary of their product that was irresistible in its simplicity. In one sentence, it answered the question, Why should a customer care? The pitch went like this: "Google organizes the world's information and makes it accessible." It was clear and unmistakable. Once the investors were satisfied that the technology was capable of doing what the Google founders said it could do, they bought it. But they were hooked by the opening sentence.
How to create a pitch line.
Every time I'm asked to meet with senior leaders about a new product, I urge them to create a pitch line--one sentence that sells the benefit of the product, answering the question, why should I care? The answer should be short (140 characters) and free of jargon or buzzwords that take up space without answering the question.
For example, I once worked with executives at Toshiba America Medical Systems to help them launch a CT brain-scan machine. Here is how they first described it:
It's the first dynamic high-volume CT that utilizes 320 ultra high-resolution detector rows to image an entire organ in a single gantry rotation.
I told them it was too complex, abstract, and failed to answer the one question that matters most.
"Why should I care?" I asked over and over.
Finally, out of frustration, one of the leaders blurted out, "Look, Carmine, if you have a stroke and our product is in the hospital, doctors will be able to make a far more accurate diagnosis much faster than before. Our product could mean the difference between going home and living a full life or never recognizing your family again."
"Why didn't you just say so?" I responded. "I'm sold."
The presentation the leadership team went on to create for a major radiology conference won an award in the health care category that year. But it all started with asking the one question that matters most: "Why should I care?" Answer the question clearly, precisely and concisely. Sell the benefit to hook your audience.