Why the one-sentence elevator pitch is probably not for you

27 Oct, 2017 | Career, The Purpose Library

“I help x people do y result, so they can do z.”

Vomit. If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve probably heard someone say this in the online marketing and coaching industry. It’s a formula used by a field that claims to be more human than the corporate world, yet treats its customers the same way: like they’re all dumb as bricks, ready to spend their money if you happen to manipulate them right.

Funny — because when I needed a therapist, I didn’t decide to see her because she sold me a 7 dollar “tripwire” product that convinced me that I could know, like and trust her. When I hired my VA, I didn’t pay her premium rates because she had bribed me for my email address with info I desperately needed. When I booked my favourite hotel in Bali, it wasn’t because they had written a blog post about how much they differ from all their competition.

That’s a thing now, by the way. A technique to weasel you out of your money: talk about how horrible the competition is without mentioning names, and then let people know how different you are. Sort of like the kid who shouts at parties about how special he is. Or like that guy at the bar who calls himself a nice guy and puts down other men- while ignoring you when you ask him to leave.

But I digress.

Apart from the obvious snake-oil charm of the industry — “Anyone can make 6 figures in a few months!” — my issue lies more with how marketing has been dissected and ingested in pieces, instead of looking at it all as a bigger picture. I’m not saying that any of these tried and tested methods are faulty. My issue is that too many people are trying to sell particular styles of marketing as the way to market. For everybody. As though we — and our audiences — are all the same.

So while there are many techniques — some of which I’ve mentioned above — that are often taught as law, I want to share my take on one “rule” that may just be the backbone of most techniques taught online: the elevator pitch.

Now, an elevator pitch is important, sure. Both online and offline. Being able to say what you do in a minute is helpful, especially if you’re trying to sell something. The world thrives on simplicity.

But somehow, the online marketing industry ran with this idea and got a little too excited. Now, branding experts tell you that you need to be able to say what you do in one sentence. In fact, I read recently that if you can’t explain it in words that a 5-year old would understand, then you’re doing it wrong. I helped creative people with branding for some time, and when I read that I remember thinking that that was an amazing test. I wondered why I hadn’t told my clients this.

And then, today, while beating myself up — as you might have often done when your online biz didn’t match another stupid rule — because I couldn’t fit it all in one bloody sentence, I realised something.

What five year old would understand just one sentence about Elizabeth Gilbert, Mike Dooley, Louise Hay, Edgar Cayce, or anyone who involves spirituality/metaphysics in their work? How do any of my biz-woo friends explain what they do in a language toddlers would understand?

In fact, let’s take that question a step further: what five year old would understand one sentence written about Gary Vaynerchuk? Or Richard Branson? Or Tony Roberts?

Now let’s go further! How does my lovely dad, a drilling engineer who specialises in technical stuff, explain what he does to a 5 year old when his 28-year old daughter still doesn’t get it?!

Hopefully my questions have helped you understand that this one-sentence elevator pitch is a limiting idea that’s been imposed as a law – by people who have a limited view of their own industry. It’s as though the people teaching this assume that everyone is like them: so highly specialised in one simple thing, that it can be summarised in one sentence. It completely diminishes true expertise and replaces it with the “authority” that this industry thrives on selling — but while one form of expertise relies on actual knowledge and experience, a large percentage of the people selling services online are looking for gold at the end of the rainbow, a quick fix to their problems, and a shortcut escape from putting in the actual work.

So many people tell you to write a book to create a sense of authority. As a result, there are now hundreds of glorified blog posts being released on Amazon on a daily basis. And about 50 percent of them read like sales pages — and not the kind of sales page that’s any different from the kid who’s screaming at everyone how good he is at something. Now, while I think that there’s room in the service industry for everyone — new and experienced — I also think that the one-sentence elevator pitch is a symptom of an industry that’s telling everyone to build authority through techniques instead of experience.

I don’t believe that anyone with a long-lasting high-quality career could ever limit what they do in just one sentence, leave alone a sentence that spells it out to a 5 year old. Sure, simplifying it into a sentence is great in theory — especially to help you clarify within your own mind how you’re providing value to your audience. But it doesn’t make sense in a grey-area society with human beings who are complex. And it sure as hell doesn’t make sense to diminish your expertise just to suit some branding expert who learned their info from the school of GetRichQuick. Of course they’d tell you to make it snappy — that’s all they know. Quick results, quick phases, quick money. But how long does that last?

I genuinely believe that this phenomenon of the one-sentence elevator pitch is like the symbolic representation of an industry that is all about swiftly making money without thinking about the future. I’ve never met a “confidence coach for busy moms” who struck me as more of a reliable expert on confidence (who I’d work with for years) than, say, someone who worked with different people for years and now has a bio of more than one page. It’s got a temporary and slightly unreliable feeling to it. Like someone grasped at straws and picked one to stay with. I’m sure many people with one-sentence bios are legit, but… many also aren’t.

I once read a book by Susan Anderson called Taming the Outer Child — a book I believe every adult should read — and after reading half of it, I found myself looking back at the industry I was in with shame. Here was a real expert of abandonment issues, a psychotherapist who combines all sorts of disciplines and past experience to help people, writing a book from the heart with examples of past clients — without subtly advertising herself on every page. Without speaking about how she “only helps moms who struggle with their weight”, or “men in their 20s who run a creative online business”. Sure, she specialises in abandonment issues — but she doesn’t explain this in one sentence, or box her audience into one tiny little insulting category. After all, by summarising your craft like this — you’re not only diminishing the value of your work, but your audience too.

So, the next time you find yourself wanting to express what you do, and you try to summarise it — ask yourself if that approach is aligned with the work, time, effort, and expertise you have to offer. And if it’s not, go on express the intricate details of what you offer: your true and loyal audience will thank you for it. Stop limiting yourself just because a limited industry told you to.


A photographer who helps people love themselves, as well as a singer-songwriter who helps people connect with their feelings — but also happens to help people get out of their own way so they can reach the next level of success — but also used to combine photography with brand identity coaching to help creatives reach their audience — but then realised that the online marketing industry was sucking her soul dry. *inhales, then vomits*

Did you like my 5-year old sentence? Or shall we just have, you know… a human conversation? 😉 Note:  I am a writer.  That was a joke.


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