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The Impossible Job of a Product Pitch: Using a Zebra to Describe a Horse (Or Elephant)

The Impossible Job of a Product Pitch: Using a Zebra to Describe a Horse (Or Elephant)

One of the most difficult parts in launching a product is explaining what it does.

If you've never done it before you may scoff at this idea and think pshh how hard could it be?

Well I'm here to tell you it's not easy.

The problem being there's a dozen different use cases depending on who you are and what you do.

Take Uber or Airbnb for example.

If you're a driver or a host you have a much different experience than a rider or guest.

This is the dilemma every product team faces.

How do we create a one-size-fits all, thirty-second elevator pitch that will resonate no matter who we're talking to?

Sounds difficult, right?

As the poem below demonstrates, every user is going to say something different about the product. And that's a truth that builders and marketers need to accept.


It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me!—but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: "Ho!—what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 't is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'T is clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

If your product is the elephant and your users are the six blind men then how do you explain to them what an elephant actually is?

The answer: you use a zebra.

If you were in Africa and you saw a zebra for the first time — how would you describe it to someone who hadn't?

You would tell them it's a horse with stripes.

Even though that doesn't fully diverge into the intricacies of what a zebra is, it's close enough.

And close enough is what you have to be okay with if you want users to decide for themselves what the product does for them.

Sure, you take their descriptions and mash them together and put it on the website, but you're not married to it.

The product pitch is going to be different for everyone  — find out what their horse is and go from there.

This is how we help ordinary people pitch extraordinary products.