What would Taylor tell their colleagues in the coffee lounge about it?

In many companies, it’s the most valuable office space. It’s the place where connections are made and ideas are born. It’s where information is passed on: The coffee lounge.

A common remark that’s made there goes something like this: “Have you heard about X? It does Y! It relates to our problem Z!”

Ans so, one of the most useful questions you can ask yourself when working on the message that you want people to pass along about your product is this:

“What would Taylor tell their colleagues in the coffee lounge about it?”

Taylor won’t share what’s important to you. She will share what feels important to her. Most importantly, she will decide what that is. And she will pass it along using her own words.

You’ve had your chance during the pitch to make your point and tell your story. But then, it’s Taylor’s turn to decide to bring it into the coffee lounge and pass it along.

The good news is this: If you’re aware of that, you can craft your story accordingly.

So, what would you like Taylor to tell her colleagues? Why would she? Your task is to bridge that gap.

The risk of passing a message along

When we tell our story, the ultimate result is when people pass our message along. But let’s face it: Passing anything along is kind of a risk for our audience.

Think about yourself. When, for example, you recommend something to someone, you’re extending your credibility to the thing that you recommend. That’s why we recommend only things that we feel comfortable with ourselves.

It doesn’t stop there. We intuitively understand that, ultimately, the person who asked for our opinion needs to be happy with the thing we recommended to them. And so, we put one extra layer of carefulness on top of our recommendation. Because what if they don’t like it, right?

It would be a threat to our status.

On the other hand, the more someone can be sure that the thing they pass along will boost their status, the more likely they are to actually pass it along.

Will it boost your audience’s status when they pass your message along?

Tesla’s marketing

The easiest way to get people talking about your product is to start with a product that’s worth talking about.

That’s why, for example, the new Tesla Plaid S accelerates from 0—60 mph in less than 2 sec – or 1,99 sec to be more precise.

It’s the fastest acceleration for any production car ever sold. And it gets talked about a lot. It’s what spreads the word about Tesla’s updated Model S.

Tesla excels at this kind of marketing. It’s easy to overlook that this is by design: a clear focus on messages that spread.

Rather than mentioning the acceleration as one technical feature among a thousand other things that could be said about the car … rather than mentioning it as bullet point 3 on slide number 17, they started with the message and made it the key pass-along phrase: this is the fastest acceleration ever built in production cars. Even more: they designed the car so that it can accelerate that fast. The message is not an afterthought after the car was built. The car was built with the message in mind. It’s by design.

What’s worth talking about for your product? How can you make it the centrepiece of your communication so that it can spread because you made it super easy for your audience to pass it along? How can you build your product so that it becomes worth talking about?

Hoping that something sticks

A common approach to communication is to throw a bunch of things at the audience and hope that something sticks:

We have this and that. And this. And also this. And that one, too.

Also, don’t forget these top 17 features of our offering …

Here are 23 awards and 13 testimonials of happy clients to prove that this is, in fact, great …

Please don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter and our YouTube channel. Also listen to our podcast and become a fan on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.

Because you never know who exactly is in the audience. So, it seems sensible to include something for everyone. If this message doesn’t stick, then maybe that other one will. Or the third one. Or the 24th. So, we throw all of it at our audience and hope that one will stick.

Of course that never works. Because when you’ve got 24 message – or even just five – it’s going to overwhelm any audience. Each of these messages will be weaker than if you focused on one strong message. And put everything that you say under service of this one message.

It’s a difference to say 24 things that – step by step – lead to a strong message or to say 24 things each of which is their own message that compete for our audience’s attention.

I’d always prefer one message and to make it resonate so strongly that it leads to change.

Being super prepared

Back in school, I had a classmate who put an unbelievable amount of work in preparing for exams, reading mountains of books. I remember one exam in social sciences for which he had read no fewer than 10 textbooks on the subject. We were blown away by what he knew. To us, it felt like there was nothing he didn’t know about the subject.

And still … The grade he got on this exam? An “E”! Failed!

Because he had missed the point.

I can still see his consternation when the teacher calmly explained to him why simply writing down everything he knew about a topic was not an appropriate way of dealing with the assigned task.

My classmate had failed to
– read the assignment carefully,
– filter out the relevant information from all the knowledge he had accumulated,
– apply it to the specific question,
– and write it down in a comprehensible way.

Sure, somewhere deep down in his explanations the correct answer was certainly hidden, but it wasn’t the teacher’s job to go looking for it. It was the student’s job to make obvious that he could apply general knowledge in a specific context.

Similarly, it’s not the task of our audience to go looking for the point in our communication. It’s the other way around. It’s our most important task to present our accumulated knowledge so that people see the point and get it.

The tell-a-friend impulse

How do you scale a magazine from 0 readers to being Europe’s best selling magazine? You need three things:

Great writing.That resonates.And gets passed along.

Interestingly, this list starts at the end. It’s how Henri Nannen, founder of the Stern magazine and its editor-in-chief for more than 30 years, led the Stern to actually become Europe’s bestselling magazine. He demanded from his editors to start their writing at what gets passed along. Unless an editor could clearly state what a reader was supposed to TELL A FRIEND after reading an article, they were not allowed to write the article. Nannen explained the rule by an anecdote about his grandparents:

Suppose grandpa and grandma are going for a walk. Along their way they buy the newest edition of our magazine. Now, when they come home, they do what they always do: Grandma walks into the kitchen to prepare lunch, while grandpa sits down in the living room to read our magazine. Suddenly, after reading one of the articles, he closes the magazine to shout into the kitchen: “Grandma, they’re going to raise taxes again.” It’s the one sentence that felt so important to him that it created the urge to shout it into the kitchen. It’s the same phrase that he’s going to tell his friends when he meets them in the evening. When we don’t decide what that phrase will be, grandpa’s just going to decide for himself.

What’s important to keep in mind is that it’s the same sentence that our audience is going to tell their friends (colleagues, boss, partner, …) when they tell them about the piece they just heard or read from us. It’s the same sentence our audience will reply with when someone asks them: “So, what was the pitch like?” It’s the same sentence that they are reminded of when they make a decision a month or so after we’ve talked to them.

The thing is this: Our audience will always have that sentence. No matter whether we like it or not, our audience will always have an answer when someone asks them: “So, what was it about?” … and they’re not going to ask us for support.

All the things we’re not

Many companies are quite good at explaining what their product is not but not at all good at explaining what it is instead. When you push them they will keep reminding you that “no, this is not quite what we do.”

The problem with this is that we don’t have hooks in our brains for what a thing is not. There just isn’t a place for “not Netflix”, “not a streaming service”, or “not a film producer”.

Often, the effort that’s required to remind us of what you are not and why we got you wrong is better spent at understanding what we know already and what hooks we have already so that you can attach to these hooks.

The art of digging deep

TED has popularised the art of presenting big ideas. What gets easily overlooked is how another art is even more essential to a great TED talk: the art of digging deep.

This is the art of not only identifying the stones but actually picking them up and looking under. The art of scratching our heads and asking further. The art of looking for answers as opposed to stopping at the questions. So that we arrive at ideas that don’t just look big but actually are big.

For this, it’s not enough to copy the looks of a TED talk: the structure, the storytelling, the stage layout, the timing. That’s just the surface.

A big idea is not in how the idea looks.

A big idea is in what it inspires. What it changes. Such as a fundamental change of perspective.

More often than not, these ideas originate in the mud and dirt. By digging deep. And getting your fingers dirty.

People on the TED stage are standing there because they have an important story to tell. One that originates from doing the work. Sweating the details. Looking beyond the obvious. Asking the questions and looking for answers.

The problem with our world of inspirational TED-like speeches is that it’s copying the looks of a great TED speech while missing the work that precedes it. These people copy the TED part but not the digging deep part.

Yet, digging deep is the most reliable way of arriving at a big idea talk. Dig deep and do the work. And then, tell a true story about what you worked out.

This is how you light the path.

Looking from the other side

Quick, in one sentence: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you see …

… the McDonald’s logo?
… the Red Cross logo?
… an iPhone?
… Donald Trump?
… Billie Eilish?
… your product?

We’re super quick with a short statement like “That’s fast food.”, “It’s super tasty”, “Unhealthy diet.”, “It reminds me of my childhood.” when we think about others but we struggle a lot when it’s about ourselves.

Suddenly it’s not that easy to leave this aspect out or that. Suddenly it’s super important to include this detail and that.

Yet, for our customers it’s not like that. For them, we’re the others. They are just as quick with their statements about us as we are about them. They just don’t care what we might think we can’t leave out. They will happily leave it out for us.

It’s better to do this job ourselves. What’s the core that we would like our audience to think of when they are reminded of us?

The ruthless audience

Audiences are ruthless. When, after a talk, someone asks an audience member: “What was the talk about?” they are going to answer with a short reply. In their own words. Every time.

In particular, there’s no way an audience member will reply with a 30 minute verbatim copy of what we said. We’ve had our chance during the talk. But once we’re finished, the audience is in control. Whatever they pass along, we must live with it.

In a way, that’s good news as it forces us to focus. Because if we don’t focus, our audience will happily do it for us. It’s much better to stay in control and focus our story on a concise message that people can and will pass along. Because only when we do, can we craft our talk such that that’s going to work.

Remember, audiences are ruthless. If we don’t provide them with a clear and concise message they will just craft their own.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz

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