How Simple Sells
Presentations are ubiquitous; they exist in many mediums, across every size of business. You can often find inspiration from what works and lessons from what doesn’t in unexpected places. For example, there’s a tiny fitness facility in a strip mall near my house. For some time, I’ve been amused by its dense hand painted window signs describing an elaborate formula for getting in shape.
The panes displayed bulleted lists of things like “customized meal planning systems, exercise programming, accountability and motivation, psycho-emotional coaching, and structured progress assessment.” Intricate diagrams drawn on butcher paper were taped up alongside, attempting to show the powerful cause-and-effect relationships. On several occasions, I pressed my nose curiously against the smudged glass to decipher the charts and their detailed captions–probably because the treatment always reminded me of bad slides.
Perhaps most disturbing to my inner capitalist mentality, however, was that there never seemed to be anyone actually using the equipment inside–no matter what time of day and despite a great location. I couldn’t help but wonder how they paid the rent. The owner looked credible, in fact he was really buff. But heck, with few clients he had plenty of time to work out.
Earlier this week, indulging a late night craving for frozen yogurt in the shop next door, I noticed something was dramatically different. The little gym was going off. Lines of patrons waited around each weight machine. The glass was fogged opaque by body heat. What had changed? Gone were the detailed lists of essential disciplines, and in their place were a simple statement and graphic image. Three words “LOOK BETTER NAKED,” and an illustration showing an empty lounge chair with abandoned clothing commanded the attention of the entire parking lot.
No doubt, for a message to resonate, it needs to be distilled. But it also needs to impact the audience on a visceral level. In this context, “Look better naked,” is transcendent. It’s a more compelling emotional proposition than an equally succinct “eat less, exercise more,” which is the purest formula for weight loss. The naked phrase is a cut-to-the-chase benefit about being slimmer and sexier. It’s understandable, memorable, and thought-changing because it violates expectations. It’s all about what’s in it for the audience. And–judging from the enthusiastic new clientele–a great example of how strong messaging can actually drive tangible business results.
Curious about the source of this elegant messaging, I asked the owner who came up with it. Turns out, it was a young sign painter attempting to create a summer job for himself. He had done the work on spec. That’s a story unto itself, but bottom line, this kid’s fresh perspective turned the business around. Seems like pretty good leverage on an unplanned $60 investment. Now, granted the phrase is not entirely original, but it fit the need perfectly.
Never underestimate the power of simple, or the value of objectivity. Finding the key to an apparently complex messaging problem can have intense aesthetic values that enable a clear and unique perception by the audience. (Admittedly, a little sexual innuendo never hurts sales, either.) It’s a classic reminder that to harness a truly compelling value proposition, one must omit all nonessential elements and details. Great presentation design focuses on what is left out, rather than trying to include everything, while still maintaining the deliberate balance between visual and verbal cues. The secret is knowing when to stop.
So what’s left after you strip bare?