Despite blaming the economy for slowdowns, it’s clear that these days we’re all busy—all the time. We don’t have many minutes left for meetings, even less for full-scale presentations. As a result, our ability to introduce our services and products to others relies more than ever on the elevator speech (a phrase that seems oddly 20th Century but that is still applicable).

Supposedly, we all should be able to describe our company and its offerings to someone with whom we are sharing an elevator in the time it takes for us to rise from the lobby to our office
floor. Thirty years ago, that may have given us a solid two minutes to talk about everything we do. With today’s predilection for two-story suburban campuses instead of 70-story downtown skyscrapers, however— and our market’s abbreviated attention span—we’re confined to maybe 30 seconds.

How do we tell our story in 30 seconds? The key is to focus on brand differentiation in a strategic manner. What do we do that no one else can do? What can we provide that no one else can? Defining what makes us distinctive is different from describing the features of our product or the availability of our service. Explaining how we differ requires some thought and understanding.

First, we need to understand the competitive landscape. While we may believe we are different, we may only be uninformed about an up-and-coming competitor. Netflix was unique for a while, until streaming video made next-day videos by mail seem slow and obsolete.

Second, we must understand the marketplace and where it’s headed, rather than focusing heads-down in our own product. So our cool new mobile app that automatically organizes email by subject matter is distinctive, but its market is using social media and texting for messaging, rather than e-mail, so its potential is meager.

Finally we must understand the truly distinctive nature of our own product or service from the consumer’s standpoint. What we believe to be its most attractive benefit may not be the feature that the market most favors. For example, who would have predicted that we’d buy phones, not for their audio quality, but for their texting and multimedia capabilities? Your local newspaper may have redesigned the Sunday feature sections of its print editions to be more attractive and easier to
read, but chances are that a substantial portion of the market still is buying that paper only for the coupons.

A good elevator speech, then, is compact in length, precise in its definition of the offering and reflective of its market. For example, an elevator speech for Airfoil Public Relations executive training programs might be: “We help you intensify the impact of your speaking engagements. We can write your speech, coach you on delivering it powerfully, prepare you to meet with news media afterward, and extend your message’s reach by drafting articles based on the content of your speech.”

Don’t let short elevator rides intimidate you anymore. Examine your brand strategically and your message can soar to the top.

Steve Friedman is the director of marketing communications at Airfoil Public Relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.