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You and Your Audience

📄 Contents

  1. What's in It for You?
  2. The Danger of the Wrong "You"
  3. The Absolute Minimum
This chapter is from the book

The Danger of the Wrong "You"

One seemingly obvious aspect of the WIIFY principle that proves to be a stumbling block for many business people is the danger of the wrong you. Let me demonstrate:

One of my clients (I'll 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 was coaching him through a rehearsal of his IPO roadshow by role-playing, as I usually do, a high-powered fund manager at Fidelity.

Mark eloquently presented the strengths of his company, focusing in particular on the high quality of its 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!" He had the wrong you.

"Hmm," said Mark. He smiled, thought for a moment, and 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 right 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 wrong 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 might stop listening to you and start thinking.

Don't make them think! Consider those words a guideline for Audience Advocacy. Make it easy for your audience to follow, and your audience will.

Suppose the audience does 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 toward Point B.

This problem of the wrong 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's WIIFY.

Case Study: Getting to the Right You

Reed Hastings is the CEO of Netflix, an online DVD subscription company that went public in the spring of 2002. I worked with Reed 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 roadshow for Netflix, one of the first slides in the presentation described his core business as shown in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1Figure 3.1 The wrong you.

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. That can be handled by your sales force."

Reed smiled, and said, "What are you suggesting?"

On the computer, I made two changes and revised Reed's slide to read as it does in Figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2Figure 3.2 The right you.

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 roadshow. One month later, when Netflix went public, it offered 5.5 million shares for sale. It received orders for 50 million shares: oversubscribed by nearly ten times.

On their own, the members of the investor audience could have readily deduced that "All the DVDs You Want" really referred to the many millions of potential Netflix customers, but then the audience would have been doing the work 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. You always need 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.


You always need 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.

The problem of the wrong 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 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. Wrong! The same story that excites and inspires your own employees might bore your customers and actually alienate and anger your suppliers, or vice versa. The same story that persuades technical customers to buy your product might confound your potential investors.

A perfect case in point comes from Alex Naqvi, the CEO of Luminous Networks, whom you met in the previous chapter. Luminous, which had started in 1998, planned to eventually 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. But despite the climate, we did it because we found the right you.

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