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Grow: Mia Wedgbury

Does your mother get it? Add to ...

I recently met with an interesting technology startup company. The founder has a great story and he quickly wowed me with his product, but he had a problem that, as a PR professional, I see time and again: an inability to clearly and effectively communicate the value of his product to his intended audience.

It wasn't for lack of substance. The founder is talented, experienced and carries himself well. He has already generated some decent online buzz with his technology, and he even managed to snag some high-profile press coverage.

The problem is that nothing on the website or in the marketing material clearly explains what the product does or why people need it. Prospective customers are greeted with lots of proof points – glowing client testimonials, links to coverage, great images, bios – but no meat.

Some small-business owners have it easy. I only need to hear someone tell me they're a roofer or car mechanic to understand instantly what they do and the value they bring. For others it's not that simple. How often have you met someone who has to explain several times what it is they do? The number of niche consultants or specialized service providers is growing every day. For them, education about their product or service is just as important as awareness. One without the other is of little use.

It's a lesson the makers of TV product-pitch commercials know well. Telling people you have a revolutionary new mop is hardly likely to resonate with the average consumer. Showing them how it instantly soaks up everything from wine to spilled paint is much more powerful. It brings the product to life, and it demonstrates to people why they need it in the first place. This is the kind of thinking business owners must apply when it comes to their brand.

If you struggle to explain to laypeople what your business does, or if you can't understand why competitors with inferior products are consistently winning new clients, you may not be explaining your value as well as you should.

Here are some easy ways to get started:

• Create your elevator pitch. Lay out your entire value statement on paper, then keep trimming it until you have a concise and easy-to-understand explanation of your product. Keep it to one minute. Then practice it on people who are not in your industry. If they get it, you got it.

• Spread the word. It's time to let others know. If your product is visual in nature, create a quick video outlining step-by-step how to get started and realize value. If not, work your new pitch into a snappy Q&A format using the kinds of questions people unfamiliar with your product will likely ask.

• Case studies. Generally speaking, it's always better to get a customer to talk about the value of your product, so solicit some short testimonials from customers that include specific benefits.

• Sometimes it's not the best product that wins the battle, it's the one that speaks the loudest. Make sure that when it comes to promoting your product or service, you're making more than just noise, and that your intended audience truly understands what it is you have to offer.

• Make sure your mother knows too.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Mia Wedgbury, president and co-founder of High Road Communications, operates Canada's largest public relations agency focused on technology and digital lifestyle. The company, which has been recognized as one of the best workplaces in Canada for two years running, has offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and San Francisco. A seasoned PR expert with more than 18 years of experience, Ms. Wedgbury has directed global brand positioning programs, handled crisis communications, managed international product launches and developed PR strategy for companies across the entire tech and lifestyle spectrum. In 2006, she also helped the agency launch the High Road Connect practice – a social media, Web 2.0 and marketing services group – to help companies transcend conventional communications. Ms. Wedgbury's clients include Microsoft Canada, MSN, Canon Canada, Disney and LG Electronics.

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