A businessman and businesswoman have the good fortune of finding a magic lamp. Doing what you’re supposed to do when you find a magic lamp, they rub it, and sure enough, a genie pops out. “I will grant you three wishes…total,” says the genie. “Not three apiece. Three total.” The businessman, being greedy, quickly blurts out the first two. “I want to be wealthy and fabulously successful,” he commands. With a nod of his head, the genie grants these wishes and turns to the businesswoman. “Give me a compelling, sure- fire, never-miss elevator pitch and I’ll get the two things that he wished for damn near automatic.”
Zen and the art of the elevator pitch
There’s more to success, of course, than merely honing and delivering the perfect elevator pitch. But that pitch can go a long way toward getting the relationship off to a great start. Or killing it before it ever gets started. Walking the floor at the DSE in Las Vegas, you couldn’t avoid it. The pitching was pervasive. Every single one of us played one of two roles — the pitch-er or the pitch-ee — in a numbing yet necessary exercise, kind of like the business version of speed dating.
Some found it to be exhausting. They peeled off to take haven in either Starbucks or that mediocre cafeteria with the unfortunate combination of long lines and inflated prices. But none of us schlepped all the way to Vegas just to drink coffee or eat pricey, mediocre food. We were there to fact find. With all of the industry players back-to-back and booth-to-booth, fact finding should have been no problem, right? Not exactly — at least not for me. The DSE show floor (and virtually any trade show floor, for that matter) comes off like a sea of sameness. The challenge for exhibitors: how do you make your pitch stand out? The challenge for attendees: how do you cut through the crap?
Stories from the floor
Jennifer Nye leads the in-store digital marketing solution program for Harley-Davidson dealerships. In other words, she’s a retailer. And at DSE, retailers are coveted. Highly coveted. Like gold. “I don’t even listen to elevator pitches,” Jennifer says. Pity the rookie retailers walking the show floor for the first time who might not know what they’re in for. In my days with Nike, I quickly learned to play defense. I flipped my badge
backward to maintain anonymity. Jennifer agrees. She employs a proactive strategy at DSE and all trade shows. She does her homework, pre-screening specific exhibitors who have products and services relevant to her business. She’ll seek out those exhibitors, and only those exhibitors, limiting her exposure to the pack. “I like the way the DSE floor is organized but I won’t walk it (the floor),” Jennifer says. “Everyone’s software will do everything. They all tell you what they think you want to hear.”
When people like Stuart Armstrong and Rebecca Walt hear comments like those, they recoil. And they sense opportunity. Stu, President of EnQii North America, and Rebecca, VP Professional Services at Reflect Systems, take a completely different tact. For them, it’s not what they say, but what their clients say that matters most. “We provide solutions,” notes Rebecca, “and you can’t provide solutions unless you listen to the problems and goals of the client. How big is their network? What are they trying to accomplish? How do they want to speak to their audience?” Of course, Rebecca still has a pitch. Stu does too. But they both know when to weave it in and when to hold back. Experience has taught them to avoid leading with a cookie-cutter “our widget is better than their widget” approach. That comes much later, if at all. “I have no problem in telling a prospect,” Stu says, “that if our solution isn’t appropriate for them, I will recommend one of our competitors.”
When your reputation doesn’t precede you
Reflect Systems and EnQii, along with a mere handful of others, are proven players with solid track records. And when you’re proven, the first impression precedes you — the elevator pitch is not do-or-die, as it might be with newcomers to this space. Or as the great philosopher Yogi Berra might put it, “If you need a good elevator pitch, you probably don’t have one. And if you have one, you probably don’t need one.” But what are those newer companies that might lack a positive reputation, track record and client list to do? How about those like, well, like me, Pat Hellberg, and my newly-formed Kaicon Consulting group? In the space of three days at DSE, I delivered a couple dozen variations on my own pitch. Each time, I tried to adjust to the audience, zigging and zagging according to the tell-tale signs: body language, eye contact and verbal interaction. Each time, there was a personal post mortem, ranging from “I nailed that one” to “I didn’t really say that, did I?”
We always think we can improve. Our distinguished blog host, Bill Gerba, has been in the digital signage game for nine years and says he’s still fine tuning his own elevator pitch. As for me, I’m also more than ready to admit that my own pitch is a work in progress, and probably will be forever. But combining some tips from the pros (there are literally hundreds of books and web sites chuck full of tips, like The Closet Entrepreneur, Twitpitch and TechCrunch Elevator Pitches) with my own personal experience (what has resonated vs. what has fallen flat), my working draft reads something like this:
Clients fall in love with the technology. They buy the hardware and the software. They hang the screens and turn ‘em on. The clients have the first three days covered for content. But they don’t know what they’re going to do for the next 362 days and beyond.
It’s like buying a great new car but only having enough left over for half a tank of gas.
I use the experience and expertise I gained in running Nike’s network to help clients craft a sustainable content strategy at a reasonable cost. And I have the resources to help them produce the content if needed.
A DS network represents a serious investment. A sustainable content strategy will ensure that the
investment pays off. By elevator ride standards that’s about 14 floors worth, depending on whether I’ve had any coffee.
A pitch that maybe we all can agree on
Take the idea of the pitch and expand it to the entire digital signage/DOOH industry. Ultimately, our business is all about grabbing someone’s attention in a small amount of time, and then providing content that engages and motivates them. When they leave our tiny sphere of influence, hopefully we’ve left them with an impression, a few small, memorable tidbits. In a way, all DOOH content is essentially thousands upon thousands of elevator pitches.
Having said that, it will serve us well to continue to evolve the pitch about ourselves, about our companies, and about the business in general. We still lack a meta-pitch that’s suitable for the industry as a whole. Are we in advertising? Storytelling? Information exchange? A killer pitch can be an important tool as we move this industry forward, even as more people outside our circle of “in the know” experts become familiar with what digital signage and DOOH really are.
Or we can hold out for a magic lamp.