The Danger of the Incorrect "You"
One seemingly obvious aspect of the WIIFY principle that proves to be a stumbling block for many businesspeople is the danger of the incorrect "you." Let me demonstrate:
One of my clients (let's call him Mark) was the CEO of a company that manufactured dental instruments, wonderful tools of exceptional quality and precision to perform root canal procedures. Mark's prior experience had been as a top salesman for another dental instrument company. Now, as CEO, Mark was preparing to take his new company public. I coached him through a rehearsal of his IPO road show by role-playing, as I usually do, a high-powered fund manager at Fidelity.
Mark eloquently presented his company's strengths, focusing in particular on the high quality of their products. As an example, he described the special features of the new dental instrument his company had developed. Mark held up the actual instrument, looked at me, and said, "With this instrument, you can do better root canal procedures, more quickly and with less pain."
I stopped him. "That's fine," I said. "But I'm an investor, remember? I don't do root canals!"
"Hmm," said Mark. He smiled, thought for a moment, then held up the instrument again, and said, "So you can see that the tens of thousands of endodontists across this country and thousands more around the world who want to do better root canals need instruments like this one, and they'll have to buy them from us!"
Now that's the correct you!
You can see Mark's problem: In trying to formulate the WIIFY, he'd lost sight of his audience, the "you" of the question "What's in it for you?" Instead, he devised a WIIFY that referred to the ultimate end user of his product, the endodontists, to whom he'd previously been selling. To hone his appeal to the investors who were now his audience, it was necessary for Mark to carefully focus on their concerns, which related to the size of the market for his instruments.
Can you get away with the incorrect you? Will your audience be able to translate the benefit to another party into terms that are meaningful to them? Of course they can. But if they do, they will have to make a split-second interpolation to adjust to the correct you. During that interval, they may stop listening to you and start thinking.
Don't make them think!
Consider those words as a guideline for Audience Advocacy. Make it easy for your audience to follow, and your audience will follow your lead.
What if the audience did make the leap themselves, translating the WIIFY into terms that are meaningful to them? In Mark's case, he would still be missing a golden opportunity to manage his audience's mind to Point B.
This problem of the incorrect you is a surprisingly common one. Many of us in business have to sell ourselves and our stories to multiple constituencies, each with different biases, goals, preferences, interests, and needs. It's easy to lose sight of today's audience and address another audience's WIIFY.
Here's another example of the problem of the incorrect you:
Reed Hastings is the CEO of Netflix, an online DVD subscription company that went public in the spring of 2002. I had worked with Reed back in 1996, when he headed another company called Pure/Atria Software. At that time, I taught Reed, as I do all my clients, the subtle but important difference of addressing the correct you. Nonetheless, when Reed emailed me the draft of his road show for Netflix, one of the first slides in the presentation described his core business as shown in Figure 2.1.
Figure 2.1 Netflix business description slide, first draft.
When Reed arrived for our coaching session, I assumed my usual role as a potential investor in Netflix's stock offering. I said, "Reed, this presentation makes me really eager to sign up and become a loyal subscriber of Netflix . . . but you didn't come here today to get me to subscribe. I can sign up on the Internet. Treat me as an investor."
Reed smiled and said, "What do you suggest?"
On the computer, I revised Reed's slide to read as it does in Figure 2.2.
Figure 2.2 Netflix business description slide, second draft.
Suddenly, the entire frame of reference changed from the attractiveness of Netflix's consumer offering to how large the market opportunity was . . . a much more important consideration for Reed's investor audience.
Reed smiled broadly and said, "How about tens of millions of movie lovers?"
"Great!" I concurred. "How about 'tens of millions in the U.S. alone'?"
Reed accepted the revision, polished his presentation, and then left to begin his IPO road show. One month later, when Netflix went public, they offered 5.5 million shares for sale. They received orders for 50 million shares . . . oversubscribed by nearly 10 times.
On their own, the members of the investor audience could have readily deduced that "Rent All the DVDs You Want" really referred to the many millions of potential Netflix customers, but then the audience would have been doing the math for themselves. By providing the logic for them, Reed led them to a conclusion and, in doing so, built their confidence. Reed seized his opportunity.
Never take the "you" in the WIIFY for granted. It's always necessary to give deliberate thought to who your audience is and what they want. If your WIIFY is designed for the wrong ears, it can fall flat.
Also note this: The problem of the incorrect you is a major reason to resist the temptation to create a generic presentation about yourself, your company, or your products. The generic presentation, or "the company pitch," as it is frequently called, assumes that the same presentation can be used with few or no changes for a variety of audiences. However, the same story that excites and inspires your own employees may bore your customers and actually alienate and anger your suppliers, or vice versa. The same story that persuades technical customers to buy your product may confound your potential investors.
A perfect case in point comes from Alex Naqvi, the former CEO of Luminous Networks, whom we met in the previous chapter. Luminous, which had started in business in 1998, planned eventually to go public, but given the challenging market conditions in 2001, Alex and his team decided to take their show on the private, rather than the public, road to seek additional financing.
- Before we presented to the investors, we also did due diligence on them and their professional backgrounds. If they were from the technology industry or had worked for one of the carriers, I would tell the story differently; I'd use technology buzzwords that I knew they would understand. But if the investors had formerly been investment bankers, I'd explain our business differently. The key is that everyone in the audience should be able to relate to what I'm talking about.
- We did a total of about 60 presentations. It was a very tough environment, a poor financial market. But in the end, the presentation helped us raise the money we needed . . . 80 million dollars. When I tell people about it, they don't believe that we were able to achieve that given the tough climate we were operating in.
Although the title of this chapter is "The Power of the WIIFY," it could also be considered "The Power of 'You.'" "You" generates innumerable potent benefits, all of them targeted at persuading your audience. "You" is so powerful that I have developed a simple rule I apply to everything I write: books, articles, letters, and emails. Before dispatching any document, I do one final review to see if I can insert additional instances of "you." In this chapter alone, "you" has occurred 76 times thus far, not counting its variations of "your," "yours," and "yourself."
For example, if I met someone at a business function, I might send that person a follow-up email:
- It was good that we met at the conference. I look forward to future meetings.
With the "you" rule applied, it would read as follows:
- It was good to have met you at the conference. I look forward to meeting you again in the future.
Try the "you" rule yourself. It will personalize the tone and heighten the impact of any book, article, letter, or email you write.