Explaining products, services and ideas is at the heart of marketing work. So, why are so many marketers poor at explanation? Since Capulet began in the early 2000's, we've worked with high-tech start-ups. A challenge in this kind of work is helping companies explain brand new, often complicated technology products to potential buyers. Too often, we get distracted writing about business benefits and product features before getting at the heart of what these tech products actually do. That's because explanation is hard. Lee LeFever is half of the duo behind Common Craft, the explanation company well known for animated videos that use paper cut-outs to explain complicated ideas. Some uber-popular videos you may have seen include "What is RSS" and "Copyright and Creative Commons". Common Craft videos have accumulated millions of views for a reason—they’re picture-perfect explanations of complex ideas.
LeFever’s recent book, The Art of Explanation, is a how-to guide to making ideas, products and services easier to understand. The first thing you'll learn is the difference between explanations and the marketing jargon we often fall back on when we don't do the hard work of thinking of audience first and empathizing with them. The book guides the reader through the stages of planning, packaging and presenting successful explanations. It's peppered with real-world case studies and lessons learned that help bring LeFever's theories to life.
I found the chapter on storytelling especially interesting. Using storytelling as a marketing tool is all the rage, but understanding how to implement it in professional communications is tricky. LeFever recommends which storytelling elements work best in explanations, such as introducing characters your audience can care about. He also thoughtfully points out situations where storytelling doesn't work very well.
Another tip I love is to make connections between something the audience already understands and your product or service. LeFever uses a great story to illustrate this point. How did the filmmaking team of Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusset pitch their Oscar winning movie, Alien? With three simple words: "Jaws in Space." A solid example of this concept in practice is the description of Instagram—it’s Twitter for photos, of course.
Whether you're new to explanation or are looking for better ways to educate students, colleagues and customers this book delivers solid takeaways. If customers understand what our products and services do, they'll be primed and far more receptive to the rest of our marketing messages. You can find The Art of Explanation on Amazon.