The Art & Science of writing a powerful point of view
When we do category design work with companies, the key is to use the process to get the leadership team to make hard strategic decisions, and then get the company – and, eventually, the market – aligned behind that new direction.
In order to get that kind of buy-in, we find it’s important to express the strategy clearly and concisely in a motivating story.
As described in the book Play Bigger, we call that story a Point of View, or POV. The POV is a way to capture the category-creating decisions in a simple, straightforward way that anyone can understand. Which is to
say: these POVs should be very different from the usual set of business-school bullet points or some mangled-language mission statement.
To us, a POV must be a story with a beginning, middle and end. Humans latch onto stories. A story can generate emotion and excitement in a way no jargon-filled traditional marketing copy ever will.
There are probably thousands of ways to put together a great POV. But we’ve come up with a way that almost always works – because it’s based on one of the oldest forms of storytelling on the planet: the tale of a hero.
Here’s how we think about POVs, and how we write them.
1. Aim for the gut
A POV is an emotional appeal to the people you most need to convince.
So first, you have to know who you’re talking to. Exactly who has the problem that you propose to solve? Who do you need to convince to buy or adopt your product?
Frame the problem as that person’s problem – the frustration that person feels every day.
Articulate that problem so the person believes you truly understand his or her world.
Tell them how their world will be better if they adopt your solution. Paint a vivid picture.
Push hard to get to this gut-level emotion. Keep asking yourself: Is this the real problem? Dig deep. (For instance, cell phone batteries that don’t last long isn’t the problem most of us feel; not being able to call for an Uber when you badly want to get home late at night is the problem we really feel.)
2. Tell a story
A POV is a narrative, not a pitch deck or brochure or white paper. Make it flow. Give it a beginning, middle and an end.
Start by teeing up the problem. Describe the problem and why it sucks to have it. Maybe give the problem a name. Make it the villain. This is the Joker causing havoc in Gotham City.
Then tell us it’s not hopeless. There’s a new solution in town – a hero that is your new category of product, not your specific product or feature set. Introduce the category as the hero. This is like introducing us to Batman, making us feel there is a way to defeat the Joker.
Tell us how this new category of product can defeat the problem. Paint in broad brush strokes. Don’t get into the weeds. This is showing us Batman’s fighting prowess, his brains, his ability to invent gadgets.
Show us what the world looks like when the product gets solved. How pleasant life is in Gotham City with the Joker gone.
3. Sell the category, not your product
A POV is not a marketing pitch for your product. Its purpose is to clearly and emotionally define the problem and solution to the problem. That’s the category.
You are convincing us that toothpaste will keep our teeth from rotting, not selling the properties of Crest.
Your goal is to create a space your product can fill. Create demand so you can supply the answer.
Refer to your company and product sparingly, and only later in the POV, after you’ve described the problem and introduced the hero/solution.
If you find yourself ticking off product features, pull back and ask whether that’s really the category of the solution (toothpaste) or your twist on the solution (nice minty flavor).
4. Strive for simplicity
Simpler is always more powerful.
No matter how complex you feel your problem and solution are, there is a simple way to state it. If you haven’t gotten to that kind of simplicity, you’re not really understanding the problem your customer feels.
Do. Not. Use. Jargon. Ever. If you wouldn’t use those words with your high school pal in a bar after two drinks, don’t put them in your POV.
Cite statistics rarely. Stats appeal to people’s heads. The POV is aimed at the gut. Instead, make statements about the way things are. “62% of workers surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with their present positions” has less impact than, “Most people hate their jobs.”
5. Make them want more – not hope you’ll shut up
A POV is not designed to say everything you want to say. A great POV makes your audience say: Tell me more!
It’s your movie trailer, not the movie.
It’s not an elevator pitch, either. An elevator pitch plants a seed. You want to create a hunger.
Shoot for around 800 words. It’s long enough to make an emotional argument; it’s not so long that it will lose people’s attention.
Write more, then distill. Making it shorter will force simplicity. Edit hard. Then edit hard again.
Finally, read it aloud. If it sounds clunky when you say it, then fix it and edit some more.