Drawing someone in vs getting them to stay

When you’re at the mall and walk by the Gap, you might see a rainbow assortment of colorful t-shirts on the front table. There’s bright coral, lemon yellow, vibrant blue. You decide to go in and take a look.

Most of the time, you’ll walk out with a shirt that’s grey, white, black, navy.

The folks at corporate HQ know this. As an analyst at Gap Inc, it used to be my job to make sure that inventory levels reflected what customers actually bought, not what they thought they wanted to buy.

I think this is a great analogy that applies to marketing, especially for complex and technical startups.

When you talk about your startup, you may feel the urge to give a detailed, technical, comprehensive description of your product right off the bat.

After all, you’re probably doing something different or solving a complicated problem that takes more than one sentence to describe. For example, your product might do ten different things. The competition can only do two of those things. When you have to be concise, it almost feels unfair to not be able to talk about all ten points of differentiation. It seems like a shame to have to hold back.

But sometimes trying to cram too much into a tagline, description, or in-person pitch completely backfires.

If you try to communicate too much too soon, you lose the person’s interest. It’s too complicated, and requires too much thinking to understand. It’s not interesting enough at the moment for the person to want to know more about you or your product. Then they decide to stop listening because you’re bringing difficulty into their lives.

Thinking about this interaction into a two-step approach might be helpful.

(a) We can think of the first step as attracting enough interest for people to want to know more.

(b) Once the other party is at least a little interested, then you can share more details.

You might have an awesome solution to a problem. But if you scare people away before you have a chance to tell them about it, then the solution is null. You want to at least give yourself a shot at winning them over. Once you have a bit more buy-in, you can unveil more features and dive deeper into how you can solve their problems and what you do.

It’s like welcoming a potential customer into the store knowing that they’re drawn to the neon coral, which you have available. Meanwhile, once they’re in the store, you can take your time to show offerings that help and give them what they need.