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Marketing Essentials: The 15 Second Elevator Speech

You're at a conference. Someone steps in the elevator, notices your name tag and asks, "So what do you guys do?" Quick -- what's your answer? You've got about 15 seconds before the doors open.

For most business owners, getting to the crux of what they really do is the hardest, yet potentially most rewarding, one-minute conversation they will ever have. In that shortest of time spans, potential customers, vendors, and employees will make a complete assessment, deciding then and there if your company, products or services are worth pursuing. Why? Because it's all the time they have before the doors open ? so make it count.

Trap #1: The Laundry List

The commonest of traps is to try and list every product and service you provide. "We sell, service and maintenance new and used industrial fittings for the diesel engine aftermarket." The reply? "Thanks! This is my floor? nice to meet you!"

Solution: Like everything else in branding, your 15 second elevator speech should convey the essence of what you do, not just a descriptive phrase. It should stress the benefits of what you do, not the features. In marketing they call it "selling the sizzle, not the steak". Sacino's Formalwear in Florida had rented tuxedos for three generations. But upon closer examination, we determined that customers really did not want to rent heavy, expensive, snug fitting clothing. In other words, it wasn't about the cloth, it was what the cloth did. The heart of their new :15 elevator speech? "We Make Men Look Good!"

In short, look for the solution or benefits your products and services provide. How can you sum that up in two to three sentences? For Harbour House Crabs, the central theme went from selling seafood to "Making any occasion a special occasion?"! For Mark Mohr at Joe Ricos, it went from selling coffee to creating a sanctuary where you could "Escape the Ordinary?".

Trap #2 The Sweeping Statement

Once you realize the laundry list approach doesn't work, you may be tempted to simply summarize. This is great for the back of a DVD, but not good for getting new business. A typical sweeping statement goes something likes this? "We're into enterprise management software". Response? Unintentional yawn. Look down at watch. Leave with a nice pleasantry.

Solution: Add some pizzaz! While attending a business conference in the Bahamas a couple of years back, I heard a very dynamic speaker tell of her work in the philanthropic field, setting up foundations and putting together partnerships. When I asked her specifically what she did, she simply smiled and replied "I make magic happen."

I love magic.

You can bet I made sure to follow up and keep in touch with her as she worked toward setting up peace schools in various nations. Her work was varied, but her benefit was consistent? magic.

Make it a goal this week to develop a one to two sentence statement that sums up the benefits of what you offer. Avoid dry, purely descriptive statements and go for the "Wow!" factor. What is it you do that your customers truly appreciate, demand and are willing to pay top dollar to obtain. To help you, think of the last customer you had that just raved about your products or service. What specifically did you do for him or her that really turned them on about your company. Distill that that into two or three simple sentences of pure marketing maple syrup and you will have your 15 second elevator speech... (and you'll also have the attention of a lot more customers). This will be some of the hardest, and most rewarding work you will do. But as Emerson said? "So much of our time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the path of each man's genius contracts itself to a very few hours." So spend a few moments and make this statement one of the rewards of those few hours.

Phil's life goal of "creating environments where people thrive" reflects his desire to assist in personal, professional and business growth. Phil founded and ran a full service ad agency for over 17 years and now works full time as a business naming and branding consultant. Phil resides with wife Michelle and four energetic offspring outside Asheville, North Carolina. His web site can be found at

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