Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blockbusters Versus Bombs: Perfecting the Product Pitch

(I temporarily digress from my usual posting about the mobile industry to blog about a topic near and dear to my heart: Product Management.)

Product Managers at technology-driven companies are challenged to evangelize their exciting new product ideas. Effective product managers need to paint the big picture first and foremost - whether to management or to their peers. To this point, there are some amazing parallels between the making of a blockbuster movie and the making of a blockbuster product. I'd like to draw your attention to three of these points: (1) The Pitch, (2) The Storyboard, and (3) The Pilot.

This blog post is all about The Pitch. Future posts will expound upon the other two.

Technology products are ... well ... technical. Technical products require technical explanations. Or maybe not. Psychologists tell us that the human mind needs context before it can grasp detail. To be an effective product manager, you must be a Master Storyteller.

Imagine that you're sitting in the Brown Derby making your pitch to a movie studio exec. You only have ten minutes - fifteen at the most - to get him interested enough in your idea to give the go ahead and proceed to the next step. Are you going to start talking about camera angles and special effects details and who is going to play what part? Of course not. What are you going to do? You're going to tell the big picture story, a summary, an overview. But not just any overview. You're need to present a summary that is so compelling that in fifteen minutes or less, the exec is willing to commit millions of dollars to making it happen. Can't be done? Dude. It's Hollywood. It happens all the time.

How do you tell your story? Movie plots always have three elements: (1) the hero, (2) the villian, (3) the resolution. Here's an example of a movie plot overview. See if you can spot the hero, the villian, and the resolution:
A Mumbai teen who grew up in the slums, becomes a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" He is arrested under suspicion of cheating, and while being interrogated, events from his life history are shown which explain why he knows the answers.
Recognize the story line? It's Slumdog Millionaire, this year's Academy Awards Best Picture winner.

As a Product Manager, you are the evangelist for new product ideas. Work the three elements of the story plot into your pitch. Naturally, your idea is the hero. What's the villian? Is it an unserved need? Is it a rival company? What's the resolution? What's so gosh-darned exciting about your idea that makes it the perfect solution? It is absolutely essential that you perfect your story in three sentences or less. If people don't get it, or they aren't as excited as you are, then keep working at it.

Can't be done you say? Your products are too technical to get people excited in three sentences or less? Au contraire. Which of these two product descriptions gets you the more excited:
A new portable MP3 player combining a small 5GB hard drive, a FireWire port, and a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack in an ultrasleek white and stainless steel case with a 2-inch white backlit LCD display and an estimated 10 hour battery life.
A thousand songs in your pocket.
Anyone who attended Macworld when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod will recall that single memorable sentense that brought the house down.

The Pitch is absolutely essential in order to establish crystal clear product vision within your company. Above all, the perfect pitch minimizes scope creep and scope dilution. It helps keeps everyone focused with a clear understanding of WHAT they are all working towards, and WHY they are doing it. There's an old saying, "Without vision, the people wander aimlessly". Likewise, without The Pitch establishing the clear product vision, the product wanders aimlessly in development, in marketing, in sales, and in the marketplace.

Finally, every good product just like any good movie needs a memorable tagline.

"A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." - Star Wars

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water..." - Jaws 2

"The Last Man On Earth Is Not Alone" - I Am Legend

"A Thousand Songs in Your Pocket" - iPod

"The World's Thinnest Notebook" - MacBook Air

"Can You Hear Me Now?" - Verizon

What's the tagline to your product? What is the one sentence that sticks in peoples minds and brings instant connection with your idea? Be creative. Be imaginative. Make it memorable.

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