The Elevator Story: In Four Floors…

Kathy Burnham, Senior Vice President and leader of the
PSB Manufacturing practice

First Floor: So What Do You Do?

The elevator story concisely summarizes the most important messages about your company, product or service, illustrated through a story told in 20 to 30 seconds — the length of an average elevator ride. It's a compact yet effective opportunity to answer the pivotal question: "So what do you do?" It provides enough details to enable your employees to relay a consistent message, regardless of audience or environment. The essence of a good elevator story is knowing what to tell and when to tell it.

Second Floor: The Formula

The basic elevator story formula is stage setting, conflict, resolution and outcome. For example, the elevator story for this column might read: The stage setting explains the current situation. Success for communicators goes beyond delivering the right message to the right audience. It must also stand out from the crowd. That's because audiences are continuously overwhelmed with information. The conflict explains the problem. In order for communicators to achieve their goals, they must be knowledge masters of their audience and their unique selling point; however, they must also comprehend the latest communication techniques. Such demands hinder communicators from staying informed on the latest tactics. The resolution explains how your company solves the problem. A well written elevator story succinctly summarizes key value propositions in a manner that differentiates you from competitors. The outcome is what the customer gets from selecting your company's product or service. By cutting through the clutter with well written and differentiated messages, companies have a better chance of reaching key audiences important to their success.

Third Floor: Know Which Button to Push

Understand the elevator story's function. Elevators have buttons for each floor. Your message strategy should have message formats that prioritize information based on the amount of time an audience is exposed to your company — either through written or spoken communication. Picture the message strategy as a pyramid. At the top level of the pyramid is the company's name and tagline, which you can quickly drop into a conversation when time is extremely limited. In the middle of the pyramid is the elevator story. You can use this when you have enough time to explain what you do, but have no time for specifics. Key messages — answers to specific customer needs — and proof statements comprise the lower levels of the pyramid. The more time you have, the lower in the pyramid (and more detail) you can cover.

Fourth Floor: Being Specific Without Too Many Specifics

Craft your elevator story to speak as specific to your customers as possible, but avoid excessive product and benefit descriptions. Use customer research to identify your audience and their needs. Then write the story to answer why these customers should pick you over another company. Make your elevator story so specific that exchanging your company with a competitor within the story changes the context. Create an elevator story that enables you to say, "This is me" as you reach your floor, and truly mean it.

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