Flatten the curve

A well-thought mantra or a well-designed visual may have many uses.

Today’s Twitter feed presented me with an inspiring variant of the ‘flatten the curve’ chart. The double bell curve, which is known by almost everyone today, visualizes the key rationale for keeping social distance in tough corona times. The chart explains why slowing the spread of the infection is nearly as important as stopping it and imposes a country’s health care capacity as the target upper limit for the epidemic’s growth.

The graphic I stumbled upon was attributed to the Sustainable Fashion Forum and promotes a new way of doing business that contains climate change risks by limiting natural resource consumption and carbon emission to the earth’s capacity.

The sustainable business curve does not only hold a clear message, but from a marketer’s perspective it also shows an effective way of capitalizing on a hot and widely discussed topic. What else could a casual blogger wish for writing a new post about, while staying at home to help flatten the COVID-19 curve?

Don’t spread the jam

Some time ago, I went shopping for a new wristwatch. Although I am working in the digital industry, for this kind of stuff I’m still pretty much into analog, and I don’t have the intention to buy a smartwatch anytime soon – at least not as long as the device’s battery life is comparable to my smartphone’s.

Trying to convince me about the superiority of his merchandise, the jeweler tried to explain me that the oscillator in a quartz clock functions as a small tuning fork, and is laser-trimmed to vibrate at 32,768 Hz. Huh?  Didn’t I enter his boutique for simply buying a new timepiece? Why did I need to know about all the internal mechanism of a watch? And was this guy really that smart that he knew all these nitty-gritty detail, or did he just try to impress, persuade or mislead me by dropping numbers and citing trivia?

Actually, this incident reminded me of the so-called jam principle:

The less you have of something ― expertise, knowledge, culture, or just marmalade ― the more you are tempted to spread it out.

Here’s some advice for the jeweler. As well as for every sales person, or anyone delivering a product presentation:

  • Not every person is interested in the nitty-gritty of your product. Keep your presentation short, sweet and to the point. Limit your content to the essential.
  • Even if you are the expert in the room, you don’t have to overload your audience with all your explicit knowledge. Don’t pump up the jam with superfluous details!
  • Try to stay within your comfort zone. Don’t introduce topics that you hardly know anything about. If your public has a bad day, they might start asking you more difficult questions  for which you may not have a detailed answer ready.
  • Don’t present everything you know about a single topic. As a rule of thumb, make sure that for every minute you talk, you have about three minutes of ‘backup material’ (more information, related topics, anecdotes,) available.
  • Always be prepared for detailed questions and discussions. And if you don’t have the right answer on hand, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “let me look this up and get back to you.”
  • Know your audience. Be able to change your style, your presentation flow and your level of detail. With the right tone of voice and a good story, you will certainly convince them that you’re a person of interest, that you are an authority on the topic you present, and that you have the “right to speak” (or to sell quartz wristwatches).


Even if you’re not dealing in clocks (or marmalade), you may still read these other posts on my blog:

Master of the house

If you want to present in harmony with the seven C’s, then a message house is a great and simple tool for defining and structuring your messages, synchronizing them with others and making them remembered by your audience. A proper message house ensures that everyone in your company or community communicates with one single voice, tells the same story and emphasizes on the same key messages.

I am aware that there are different methods for building a house, such as the one promoted by messagehouse.org, but personally I stick to the Burson-Marsteller one.


It has a three-layered architecture, and looks more like an ancient Greek temple than the homes in the street where I live.

  • The roof of the house contains your overarching message (also called the “umbrella statement”) or the big picture of what the whole story is about.
  • The pillars of the temple stand for your key messages that support the umbrella message (following the rule of three, there should be no more than 3 key messages to push for).
  • The foundation of the building contains value statements and proof points that may be useful for justifying your key messages: market trends, statistics, facts & figures, quotes, anecdotes, best practices, customer references, …

When properly constructed, it is almost straightforward to transform this message house into a skeleton for your presentation. The umbrella statement translates to an opening statement that will trigger interest for your key messages. Use the foundation to add evidence to your story or and prepare for Q&A.

If you don’t like visualizing your message map as a house: a tree-like or a matrix-like representation with a similar, three-layered structure will also do the job. Have a look at Carmine Gallo’s video on “how to pitch anything in 15 seconds.”

Here’s an example of a message house I built for a communication campaign that was promoting an “Economic Response Services Package” (ERSP), which bundled a set of professional services to provide a response to the financial crisis that started hitting telecom operators in 2008.


  • Umbrella statement:

“Our services package lets telecom operators RESPOND to the global financial crisis and PREPARE for new business after the economy recovers.”

  • Key messages:

“We ASSESS your current operations and ADVISE you on how to optimize your network assets, services portfolio and related costs”.

“We ADDRESS your challenges, through a comprehensive offer of network & system integration services.”

“We ANTICIPATE economic recovery, and let you strike the right balance between saving costs, satisfying market demand and preparing for new business.”

  • Foundation (examples):

“The global economic picture remains bleak. Many operators have reduced spending. While new devices and applications push network capacity constraints.”

“We’re all trying to conserve cash, and I think now is a perfect time to look at energy costs.” – quote by a VP of Operator X

“We have already carried out more than 3,000 network optimization and design projects for over 100 service providers and 1,000 for enterprises.”

Operator Y had low budget and no dedicated team to address their network issues. We provided them services to assess their network quality and gave them implementation advice. Our implementation lead to a %% capacity gain and a bottom-line increase of $$$.”

Finally, we made the ERSP messaging different by presenting our services as a set of instruments, medicines and remedies that we put at our customers’ disposal for the purpose of treating these exceptional market conditions. And consequently, we built our visual campaign around medical metaphors …


Five lessons from B2C

It is often assumed that B2B and B2C are two different worlds. This is based upon the observation that people who buy goods for themselves are acting in a different way than people who purchase products or services for their company. Hence, marketing and sales people need a different skill mix.

This is (at least partly) true – but there’s also a lot that B2B storytellers can learn from their B2C peers…

  1. Segment your audience. There’s no one-size-fits-all presentation pitch that will suit all possible listeners. You won’t sell the same products to a 76 and a 16 year-old consumer. Neither can you charm an engineer and a company purchaser with exactly the same value proposition.
    Always make sure you know your target audience and its needs before you start preparing your story and your visuals.
  2. The one you address is not always the one who buys. There are many examples in B2C marketing, such as selling mobile minutes to teenagers (Dad pays…) or advertising the unique features of a car (Mom decides…).
    The most attentive listeners (or the most active question askers) in the room are often not always the ones who own the budget. Try to identify upfront who has the real decision power and draw a power-map of your audience.
  1. Decision making is often emotion-based. Another misconception is that business people behave rationally and pragmatic, and that –unlike consumers, who (sometimes) tend to make buying decisions based upon impulse, emotion, or even the love for a certain brand– they (always) go for the highest-tech or lowest-price proposition. Quoting Seth Godin’s blog: some of them “might be willing to look at the specs, but they really don’t understand them enough to care.
    A 2012 Upshot study shows the role and the value of emotion in B2B marketing. You can influence decision-making by creating an emotional connection with your audience. Use inspiring visuals, stories, anecdotes and real-life examples… it can make a difference.
  2. Value is in the eyes of the beholder. Two persons may have a completely different perception about the ‘value’ of a hamburger menu or a Michelin-rated restaurant. It’s not always the price/quality ratio that makes the difference.
    De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum (there’s no arguing about tastes and colors). Know and understand the WIIFM for your audience members and try to fit your value proposition to their expectations.
  1. The medium supports the message.  Consumer marketers use repetition and imagery to capture the public’s attention, create interest for their products and reinforce their brands.
    In your business presentations, apply pause-and-repeat techniques and frequently summarize your key points. And in this era of transmedia storytelling, don’t stick to static imagery: use sound bites, video clips and live demonstrations to add pizzazz to your message.

So, next time you present to a group of business people, take a step back and think of them as a collection of everyday consumers. You may get some surprisingly positive reactions…