15 Second Marketing

March 18th, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

Have you ever heard of an elevator pitch? That’s when someone casually asks, “What kind of work do you do?” and you give them a brief answer in roughly the time span of an elevator ride.

The people who hear your elevator pitch could be potential business partners or clients, or they could be strangers you meet at a party or on the street. Even when it seems like no serious business relationship is likely to develop, there are lots of people out there that can help advance your career indirectly. For example, they might personally know someone who’s looking for the service you provide, so your elevator pitch could lead to a referral or two.

Unfortunately most people totally flub their elevator pitch, so they’ll typically receive a reply like, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” At best the other person may ask a few follow-up questions, but deep down they don’t really care about your answers. They’re just making polite conversation. They’ll probably never do business with you, and they won’t refer you any new clients or customers.

The Challenge of Crafting a Good Elevator Pitch

I’ve struggled with crafting a good elevator pitch because I do a lot of different things. For starters I’m a blogger, an author, a speaker, and an entrepreneur. But I don’t identify with any of those exclusively.

Often when someone asks me what I do for a living, I’ll say, “Well, it’s a bit complicated because I do a lot of different things.” Then I’ll mention some of the things I do. Typically the other person will give me a strange look while they process this overload of information, and then they’ll say something, “Ok, so you’re a writer?” And then I’ll have to explain some more.

Sometimes I’ll say, “I run a popular personal development website.” That’s usually a good conversation starter, but all too often it backfires — it leads some people (usually people who aren’t very web-savvy) to think of me as a web consultant. A week later I’ll get a call asking if I can help them solve an issue they’re having with their small business website. I definitely don’t want people thinking that I’m their go-to guy for tech support. I have no interest in that whatsoever.

I’ve had great success in delivering elevator pitches that stimulate conversation, but not the right kind. Too often my response leads to a dull conversation about blogging, writing, building websites, or professional speaking. Sometimes those discussions are interesting, but they rarely help me grow my business or attract new readers.

Ironically, I tend to have more stimulating discussions when I talk about the food I eat instead of the work I do. At least then we can get into a discussion about diet and health, and I can offer some value by talking about my raw food diet experiences, juice feasting, polyphasic sleep, etc. This leads to referrals that are actually relevant — such as people who desire to experience greater health and vitality. It’s also led to a few business deals with people who work in the health field. Those deals didn’t make a ton of money, but they did create some new passive income streams.

Attracting Relevant Referrals

On the other hand, people that actually understand the work I do are constantly referring high-quality leads to me. The main reason my website exploded with traffic is because of so many personal referrals. People told their friends, family, and co-workers about the work I was doing, and those new visitors became long-term readers and soon started referring others as well.

To date I’ve never spent a dime on advertising or promotion. My business has grown mainly by word of mouth. Lots of people have been referred here by their friends and family via face-to-face conversations, phone calls, or emails.

The interesting thing about these organic referrals is that they also involve simple elevator pitches, but the pitches are given by someone other than me. More often than not, people refer others to specific articles, not to my home page or main blog page. So they’re pitching specific content, not the overall website. However, when people come and read one article, they often like it so much that they continue to read more and eventually become long-term subscribers.

This gave me a clue as to how to craft a better elevator pitch, but it didn’t bring me all the way there. My individual articles tend to focus on specific, narrow topics. But I write about so many different things that I can’t turn my general elevator pitch into a pitch for a single article. Close… but no cigar.

15 Second Marketing

Eventually I figured out how to resolve these problems, but I didn’t figure it out on my own, so I have to give credit where credit is due. I found the answer I was looking for in an information product called Insider Secrets to 15 Second Marketing by Charlie Cook. In fact, I found it so helpful that I decided to formally recommend it here on my site, so I recently joined Charlie’s affiliate program. Charlie really gave me a critical mindset shift — one of those gorgeous a-ha moments — so I give this product a big thumbs up.

15 Second Marketing is both a book and an audio program — the content of both is the same. It covers how to write your own marketing message and how to use it to effectively attract more business and make more money. Your marketing message is even shorter than an elevator pitch. It’s basically a single sentence — something you can say in 15 seconds or less.

When I saw how long the book was, I wondered how anyone could create a whole book about something that seemed so basic. But Charlie does a great job of explaining why an effective marketing message is crucial to your career or business. I could certainly relate to what he was saying because of my own challenges in this area. At one time or another, I made all the classic mistakes in the “what not to do” section.

The concept of a marketing message is general enough that you can also use it to develop your career, build new contacts, and even to attract new romantic partners. So you don’t have to run a business to benefit from it.

The basic idea is that when someone asks what you do for a living, you want to offer a response that stimulates the right kind of discussion. So if you’d like to grow your business, you need a marketing message that serves as a good lead-in to a discussion that will help you generate new leads and attract more clients. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Your marketing message isn’t just something you say to people. It’s also something you can use on your website, in your newsletter, on your business cards, in your email signature, etc.

When someone asks what you do for a living, imagine they’re really asking, “What are you here to contribute, and why should I care?”

The mistake I made was that I used labels to describe my work (blogger, author, etc), but I didn’t convey the real value I delivered to people. If you tell people you’re a blogger, consultant, real estate agent, or salesperson, most people simply won’t care. Your answer doesn’t do anything for them. There are millions of people doing all of these things, and you’re just another professional with a boring job title. You may still get some business this way, but you could be doing much, much better if you had a more effective marketing message. This is especially true during a recession.

Your Marketing Message

15 Second Marketing provides a 7-step process to craft a strong marketing message as well as a checklist of characteristics your message should have. I can’t summarize the whole book in a single blog post, but I can share the big picture ideas with you.

The overall solution is that instead of describing what you do or telling people your credentials, you should instead share the actual value you provide. What value do you deliver to people? Why do people pay you? Why should I care?

What I really like about Charlie’s program is that it connects the dots between your elevator pitch and your life purpose. Your marketing message is NOT a sales pitch. It’s simply a statement of the value you can offer people. I like to think of it as a statement of your life purpose filtered through your career.

If you tell people that you’re an independent consultant, a realtor, or a web developer, your answer offers no value. It’s boring. You just drained all the life out of the conversation.

But if you offer an answer that states the value you can offer to people, now you’ve opened the door to an interesting conversation. You don’t have to do any selling because the right type of conversation will naturally get people interested in your service. This can lead to direct business as well as referrals. It can also lead to new relationships.

Crafting Your Marketing Message

Crafting an effective marketing message is tricky. There are a lot of aspects to consider. If you really want to do a thorough job of this, I highly recommend you go through the 15 Second Marketing program step-by-step. It packs in a lot more advice than I can cover in a blog post. But I can give you some tips to get you thinking in the right direction.

My advice is to think about what kind of conversation you’d like to stimulate. Tossing out labels to describe your work is usually a dead end. Instead, think about what kind of value you can provide to people.

As I tried to craft my own marketing message, I brainstormed a lot of variations and eventually settled on this one:

I teach people who are living below their potential how to feel energized and motivated, how to earn lots of money doing what they love, and how to make a real contribution to humanity, so they can finally enjoy the life that deep down they know they were meant to live.

At first I thought that was pretty good. It focuses on some specific benefits, and it has the potential to stimulate the right kind of conversation — where we can discuss the actual value I provide instead of the mediums I use.

A few days later, I had a phone call with Charlie Cook — I like to talk to people one-on-one before I commit to recommending their products — and during our conversation, I shared my marketing message with him. He said it was a good start but that it was too long. He suggested I make it much shorter, on the order of 10-12 words. He said that the goal isn’t to provide a bullet list — that can come later.

Perhaps I should have asked him this before I pasted this marketing message on my home page, Facebook page, Twitter page, etc. :)

What he said made sense to me, so I came up with some shorter variations, but I quickly realized that I’ll never perfect my marketing message sitting at my desk. I have to test these in the field to see how well they work.

For example, I might test some variations like these:

I help people grow.

I help people live more consciously.

I help people overcome their fears.

… and so on.

The key is that good marketing messages go beyond labels. As soon as someone labels you as falling into a particular career bucket, it gives them the opportunity to dismiss you. They tune out and stop listening to what you have to say. But if you present them with something that defies immediate labeling, you make people curious. You present an enigma they have to solve. You open the door to an interesting conversation.

You can also use different marketing messages depending on the circumstances. For example, I might find occasion to say any of the following when someone asks what I do for a living:

I help people quit their jobs so they can fulfill their life’s purpose.

I help people break bad habits and overcome addictions.

I help people take more risks and live more courageously.

I can imagine many situations where these sorts of replies would make people curious and stimulate interesting discussions.

Are you beginning to see the big picture here?

Using Your Marketing Message to Grow Your Business

A good marketing message doesn’t just stimulate fun conversations. It serves a powerful business purpose too. A good marketing message helps people remember who you are because it gives them a reason to care. When people remember you, they’re more likely to do business with you at some point, and they’re more likely to send you referrals. If people don’t remember you, it’s game over.

When I worked in the computer gaming industry, I learned an important lesson. I discovered that the more time people spent playing a particular game, the more referral sales they generated for that game. The longer people play a game, the more they talk about it. More gameplay time means more viral marketing. This is one reason the massively multiplayer online games can generate so many referral sales. When someone spends years playing World of Warcraft, it’s a safe bet they’ve told everyone they know about the game, and they probably helped Blizzard gain new customers. Heck, I’ve never even played the game, and here I am mentioning it as an example. Now contrast that with a single-player game you can finish in a weekend, and a year later you don’t even remember playing it.

Your marketing message serves a similar purpose. The message itself may not be very memorable, but it can lead to a stimulating conversation that is memorable. If you remember the conversation, you’ll remember the person, and that gives you more chances to engage in business with that person or to send referrals to that person. But if your initial marketing message falls flat, that entire chain of referrals suffers an early abortion.

Do you remember all the times someone offered up a common response like, “I’m a hairdresser”? It doesn’t mean anything, so whatever conversation that ensues about hairdressing will likely be forgotten. Your mind won’t retain the details because the conversation fits a pattern you’ve seen many times before, so it just reinforces the general pattern you’ve already stored, and the specifics are lost. We’re far more likely to remember events that violate our expectations because such events trigger our minds to store new patterns.

Now imagine asking someone at a party what she does for a living, and she says to you, “I make people look stunning before special events.” That statement by itself may not be that memorable, but it has a good chance of stimulating an interesting and memorable conversation. This hairdresser is more likely to stand out. If you remember her a little longer, you have more opportunities to utilize her services and more opportunities to refer new clients to her. Pretty soon she’ll be earning double or triple what equally competent hairdressers earn.

Think about the websites and blogs you frequent. Which ones do you remember best? Do they invite immediate generic labeling (like, “oh, another productivity site”), or do they stand out from the crowd in some way? Being harder to label can be a good thing if it makes you more memorable.

Boosting Your Income

If you’re self-employed and provide some type of service for clients, you can increase your income by attracting more clients. But you can also leverage a good marketing message to increase demand for your services. This means you attract so much business that you have to raise your rates. Then you can earn more money even as you work fewer hours.

Erin has been improving her marketing message over time, so she can attract better clients who will strongly benefit from her services. At first she promoted herself as a psychic medium, but then she started calling herself an intuitive counselor. That’s still a label, but it’s a less common one, so it was a step in the right direction. This helped her avoid bad clients who were looking for lottery numbers and casual entertainment and helped her attract better clients who wanted help making important life decisions. Eventually she began attracting so much business that she had to raise her rates several times. A 30-minute phone reading with her currently costs $497, and she has no shortage of clients because she’s very good at attracting clients who will receive tons of value from her service.

After going through 15 Second Marketing, Erin and I worked on her marketing message as well. The version we came up with is still too long, but it’s a step in the right direction. We’ll have to field-test some variations to see how well they work. If you’re curious, here’s the first draft we came up with:

I help people who are feeling uncertain about their lives determine the best course of action so they can enjoy a fulfilling career, earn more money, and attract loving relationships.

We might try shortening it to this and see how well that works:

I help people who are feeling uncertain about their lives determine the best course of action.

Again, the marketing message itself may not be super-memorable. But the idea is that it can stimulate an interesting conversation about the work you do, such that the other person really cares to hear what you have to say.

Suppose someone asks Erin what she does for a living, and she replies, “I help people who are feeling uncertain about their lives determine the best course of action.” That might lead the other person to say something like, “Okay… how do you do that?” Later in the conversation, the person might throw out, “By the way, my sister is stuck in a bad relationship, but she can’t figure out what to do about it. Are you able to help people like her?” This gives Erin the opportunity to ask follow-up questions, share some success stories, and continue the conversation. It should be fairly clear how this can lead to a potential new client — no selling required.

Such an opener also gives Erin the opportunity to ask qualifying questions of the other person, again without trying to sell herself. For example, after she gets a reply to the opener, she could follow up with, “Are you currently feeling blocked in any areas of your life?” This gives Erin the opportunity to provide some value and advice right on the spot, helping the other person with something that really matters. Erin never has to sell herself because if the person is really interested in her service, eventually they’ll ask something like, “So how much do you charge for a session?” or “If I booked a session with you, do you think you could help me figure out my career path?”

Think of your marketing message as your conversational opening move. If you use a bad opener, you can stunt the whole conversation. A good opener is no guarantee of success, but it can surely boost your long-term performance.

A good marketing message isn’t all-or-nothing. There’s a whole spectrum from terrible to mediocre to incredible. If your current message isn’t working for you, try something else. Keep tweaking it until you’re able to generate good conversations and create a steady flow of leads and referrals.

You can also use your marketing message on your website, your Facebook page, your email signature, and so on. Even when you aren’t physically present, your marketing message serves as an invitation for people to learn more about you.

Providing Genuine Value

I find Charlie Cook’s advice very refreshing because he offers a way of thinking about marketing that is honest, authentic, and non-manipulative. You’re never trying to sell people something they don’t need. You’re never trying to get people to buy from you. Instead, you’re inviting a discussion about the real work you do and how you can help people. You’re opening conversations at the level of life purpose. This is an awesome way to generate leads for your business and build contacts for your career because it works so organically. The approach meets with zero resistance because it fits our natural conversation patterns.

When your marketing message doesn’t convey any real value, that’s when you have to struggle to sell yourself. That’s when you end up throwing money away on ineffective advertising and promotion. That’s a downhill battle because you’re trying to make people care, and you’re going to meet with resistance because people don’t like being sold.

Once you get into tweaking your marketing message, I think you’ll find that it’s actually a lot of fun to field-test it. The next time someone asks what you do for a living, try out different marketing messages to see what kinds of conversations they stimulate. Do you feel like the conversation is stunted, or did you just open the door to a wonderful discussion about a subject you’re passionate about? Passion makes you stand out. Passion makes you more memorable. It makes people want to work with you. It encourages people to refer others to you. And passion flows naturally when your marketing message is aligned with your life purpose… when you come from a place of abundance instead of scarcity.

In this article I’ve only scratched the surface of how to craft an effective marketing message. If you find value in this topic, I encourage you to get a copy of Charlie Cook’s Insider Secrets to 15 Second Marketing. It’s very inexpensive relative to the value it provides, especially since it can pay for itself many times over by helping you boost your income. It comes with a 90-day money back guarantee, so there’s no risk to try it. I think you’ll get a lot of value from it whether you’re self-employed or not.

Steve Recommends
Here are my recommendations for products and services I've reviewed that can improve your results. This is a short list since it only includes my top picks.

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The Journal - Record your life lessons in a secure private journal
Sedona Method (FREE audios) - Release your blocks in a few minutes

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