CLP Beacon - Business Issues and Solutions

Monday, August 1, 2016

7 Keys to Make Complex Technology Simple to Understand

Have you ever listened to a company pitch their service or product and your eyes glazed over? I have, and it happened again this morning. I am both a consultant and angel investor and have listened to hundreds of company CEOs extolling the virtues of their company and product. In many cases when I have listened to a start-up pitch I have had to ask the presenter – normally a smart, technically adept founder and CEO – what the company or product really did. Being a techie myself, I can normally “get it.” However, sometimes the explanation is so obtuse and so long that I space out and don’t pay attention. And then, of course, if it is a presentation to an angel group, the presenter has lost his or her audience as well as the ability to raise funds.

Clearly, there are several ways to explain your product. To that end, I was reading an article on cloud computing and the author explained "For geeks cloud computing has been used to mean grid computing, utility computing, Software as a Service, virtualization, Internet-based applications, autonomic computing, peer-to-peer computing and remote processing -- and various combinations of these terms. For non-geeks, cloud computing is simply a platform where individuals and companies use the Internet to access endless hardware, software and data resources for most of their computing needs and people-to-people interactions, leaving the mess to third-party suppliers."  (From: by Andy Mulholland, Jon Pyke and Peter Fingar.)   

That led me to investigate further and ask the question: How does one explain complex technology and make it simple to understand? To find that out, I had the luxury of moderating a Technology Panel on Eye On Business (watch ) and with four technology executives discussed how to communicate complicated technology to investors and potential customers. The discussion is equally applicable to companies introducing a new product or service as well as ones that have technologies in the market.

Based on the thoughts of the panelists and some of my own thinking, I developed a list of 7 elements that should be considered when explaining complex technology.

  1. Customer Context. The consensus of the panel was that you need to understand the customer, their frame of reference and talk to them in their terms. Put yourself in the shoes of the listener. If the listener is a VP, Engineering you can talk techie. If it is a businessperson, talk benefits and applications and solutions. I have extolled the virtues of a concept called “customer jujitsu” wherein you use terms similar to what customers say in a way and context they understand to make it easy for them to grasp what you are selling.
  2. Use visual imagery. People learn and absorb information in different ways. Most are visual and therefore visual words such as imagine, see, view, picture are used in their pitches. If the listener is more aural, then use words reflecting sounds.
  3.  Animate. As a corollary to using visual imagery, if you have the right marketing material on your website, develop the visual imagery into a story or animation to show what the product is or does. In the video from the technology panel, note the animation by ICS Software to explain one of their cyber products.
  4. Naming/subbrand. Tying a new concept to a current concept or brand may make it easier to understand. People normally get the concept of better, faster and cheaper. Additionally, the words used to describe a concept hints at the benefit or application. For example, my colleague Vince Ferraro was GM for one of the HP laser printing groups and his team came up with the name Vivera ink to reflect the new technology of ink they developed. Without understanding the technology behind the ink or how the printer uses the cartridges, the name itself connotes brightness and vibrancy. It gets the point across very well. The biotech/pharma market in the way they name their products has been a master at explaining their products in this way.
  5. Competitive Comparison. There is always a danger in raising a competitive name as the listener may question why you are better. But that also gives you the opportunity to discuss the virtues of your product or offering. The way to explain your product or service uses the following structure. “We developed a unique thermometer using technology x. This enables the thermometer to do a, b and c. Unlike competitors such as Thermometer Giant, Inc, our product does it better by x, y and z.” By using this system you show what you do, how you do it with an underlying technology while at the same time putting it in a competitive category by reference.
  6. Analogy/metaphor. Metaphors and similes are used to explain the analogy. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. I have heard many pitches for cloud and Internet of Things companies that say they are the “Uber of x.” I get the gig economy but sometimes that reference is overblown. The concept though, is to make a complex product simple by the analogy. I was working for a company, Narus, which used a complex technology to manage cyber security risks. To explain it we developed the analogy that Narus’s software monitored the digital DNA of the network by looking at the bits and bytes running across the network. Even the least technical reporter understood the concept.
  7. Application/benefit. This is commonly used, in conjunction with functional descriptors to make it easy for the listener to understand the input and the output of the product. In explaining a product or service, the presenter uses concepts the audience knows or is interested in and presents the product, service or company in terms of the problems it solves or the benefits granted. Think about explaining a piece of hardware called a firewall – also uses a nice descriptor in the name to give an indication what it does. The benefit of using a firewall is to prevent things you don’t want from accessing your computer. Simple and easy to understand.

We trust that some of these ideas can help you. And we would be glad to discuss how you can explain complex technologies and products to generate top line revenue growth.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article David. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us.