Marketing

You need to focus on why, not what and how in your elevator pitch

- September 12, 2022 3 MIN READ

You get less than a minute to grab your audience’s buy-in during your elevator pitch, write Anthony Caruana and Kathryn Van Kuyk, co-CEO’s Media-Wize. So always start with your why.

Simon Sinek’s Start With Why is one of the most popular Ted Talks and has inspired the elevator pitch of many businesses trying to stand out.

In his talk and book, Sinek highlights that why you do what you do is the most powerful question to engage and resonate with your audience. It’s far more powerful than what you do and how you do it.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Sinek. Groups such as Millennials and Gen Z will swap brands to support a cause – the why matters to them immensely.


Being able to clearly articulate your why will differentiate you from others that only talk about their what and how.

Your why is what inspires

One of the most common mistakes we hear in our media training sessions comes when we ask spokespeople to give us their elevator pitch. More often than not we hear the company description – a factual and often robotic statement that sounds like it is being regurgitated from marketing copy. What the company does and how it does it is important, but there’s rarely any mention of why the company does it.

The inspiration that galvanises your purpose is far more engaging and powerful. If your why includes a mission to help improve the planet or benefit people’s lives then it has even more impact. The reason you do what you do is often to overcome a problem or fill a gap in the market.

At first glance you might feel your small business or startup doesn’t have a strong why, but it is in there. If you ask the founder why they set up the business and what the initial inspiration was, you’ll find it. Even if you are years down the track and many things have changed it will still be there. It’s the thing that gets you up and into work every day.


Perhaps it is to delight your customers by providing access to products that would otherwise be hard to come by. Or maybe it’s to bring local designers’ and artisans’ work to the market. Maybe you’re inspired to provide ethically sourced products. Or to offer services and consulting expertise at a price point smaller businesses can afford. It might even be to run a small food retail business where staff are treated fairly, enjoy coming to work each day and the food is prepared with care.

The importance of getting it right

Elevator pitches are important for a variety of reasons. If you’re trying to secure media coverage you get under a minute to persuade and interest a journalist. That’s a less than a minute to encourage them to want to find out more. If you get your elevator pitch right, their next question will drill into the what and how. That’s the moment you can take the audience deeper into the details.

It works the same regardless of your audience. Whether that’s investors, customers or new recruits. Everyone needs an elevator pitch – a pithy summary of why you do it, what benefit it brings to your customers and how you’re different.

The common pitfall is thinking an elevator pitch must be a summary of everything you do, with lots of technical details. Elevator pitches should be easy to understand, jargon-free and highly accessible… Think of the movie Philadelphia and tell me about it like I’m a three-year-old.

Remember, you might only get 30 seconds to be memorable, so be ready to make the first impression count.


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