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What does your company do?

That’s the dreaded question that inevitably happens in the proverbial elevator when you have precisely thirty seconds to respond with a clean, crisp, mildly rehearsed elevator pitch. But is it any good? Does it simply answer the question—or does it leave the listener wanting to know more about your company and how your work applies to them?

No, this isn’t an article to talk about what you say in the elevator. Instead, it’s to press pause on the over-done elevator pitch and have you reflect on the critical question: who are you talking to in that elevator, on the street, and in your community when you have to give your 30-second pitch?

You’re no longer in an elevator. You’re screaming this pitch from the rooftop to your entire community—thousands of people. Your company is spending top dollar to push this message out. Does anyone hear it? Do they care? Or is it just more noise in an already noisy world?

Here’s the good news: a lot of companies struggle to define who they’re talking to. This means that, if your company can do it well, you may find your brand rising to the top.

Here are the biggest challenges I see in how companies approach communication:

1. Companies lack an outside perspective

Picture this: you’re really good at building widgets. You love building widgets. You build the best dang widgets anywhere—and you know it. When someone asks you about your company, you can talk all day about how you make the best widgets, the specific materials you use, why your process is the best, and how it is that your widgets are on top.

Here’s the problem: that’s all inwardly focused. That’s about how your business runs—how you make them. But it fails to understand your customer. Why do they want widgets? Why does quality impact their widget use? Why does using that special material improve their use of your product? Working with people outside of your company to get in the shoes of your customer can be a huge and valuable resource that, if you’re not using it, you’re missing out.

2. Companies use internal lingo

The other day I needed a certain type of home repair product and visited a few websites to try to figure out what I needed. It was after hours and I couldn’t just call. The first website I found had products with lots of specifications—yet it might as well have been written in hieroglyphics. I had no idea what I was reading to differentiate products. All of the text failed to recognize that I’m a layperson, not in this industry, just trying to figure this out. Does the content you use to market your product or services help welcome in people who may be unfamiliar with your day-to-day lingo? Or does it say they don’t belong and push them elsewhere?

3. Companies don’t know the problem

My family was watching tv one night and a commercial started. It was funny. The kids laughed. I now know this thing exists. But what the commercial failed to do is tell me what problem it solves. Some brands do this really well. Red Bull—it gives you wings. It’s clear. You need energy. It gives you energy. Problem solved. Snickers—you’re not you when you’re hungry. If you’re hungry, eat a Snickers. Problem solved. Verizon—“can you hear me now?” Frustrated with spotty cell service? Get Verizon and you won’t be. Problem solved. What is the problem you’re solving for customers?

This all takes putting yourself in your clients’ shoes. To have successful marketing, you must not only envision the person standing there but also understand what they care about. If you do not, your words make a thud like a concrete block hitting the ground.

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