Rise to the Challenge of Writing an Elevator Speech [Updated for 2022]

Andrew Stanten


The term “elevator speech” vaulted into business jargon years ago and still hasn’t lost favor. For those of you who managed to miss being bombarded with it, an “elevator speech” is a short, compelling description of who your company is, what it does, and why anyone should care–all laid out in the amount of time it takes an elevator to go from the lobby to the top floor of a (short) building.

In other words, it’s the top tier of your brand messaging.

Overused as the term may be, there’s a reason for its longevity. In practical terms, our company’s elevator speech found its way into our website, press release boilerplate, brochures, advertising, sales presentations–you name it. Heck, it should even infiltrate telephone “hold” messages and business cards.

Writing an elevator speech sounds deceptively simple: Just answer the questions, “who, what and why.” But I guarantee that whether your business is a sole proprietorship or a large corporation with a bulging C-level management tier, it will almost certainly take weeks or months, dozens of revisions and plenty of spilled blood (metaphorically, I hope) to get it right.

But this column isn’t about how to write an elevator speech. This column is about why the process is so damn difficult–and how you can avoid making the same mistakes others have made.

The short answer is that every person views the same business or product through a different lens. These differences are essentially communication gaps. They may be small or large, glaringly obvious or completely invisible. They occur everywhere throughout the human chain, from leaders and employees to customers and prospects. Identifying and addressing these communication gaps is the first step in developing your company’s elevator speech. Skip it at your peril.

But before you gather your team in front of a whiteboard with some pitchers of water and donuts to start the creative process, take the time to bridge the gaps first. Let’s look at some honest-to-john real-life examples of these communication gaps in action. Names have been omitted to protect the innocent.

The Company Leadership Gap

The CEO of a company with a patented technology in the commercial construction space touted the widget’s 20-25% energy cost savings as the primary benefit, with very little about it being an easy retrofit to older systems. At the same time, the head of sales was leading with the easy retrofit angle, following up with energy-cost savings in the 10% range. This gap led to ever-widening inconsistency in presentations, sales calls, press releases and customer expectations. Imagine listening to those two give their elevator speeches side by side!

The Employee/Leadership Gap

A company with two decades in the information technology space had carved out a nice niche but was flying under the radar of big corporate clients. When a facility expansion necessitated a significant ramp-up in new business acquisition, the founder/CEO stepped in to help with sales efforts. In his presentation he consistently called the company “a 20-year-old start-up,” thinking of it as a positive statement about the company’s whatever-it-takes attitude. But the message was killing sales and driving the salespeople crazy. Clients didn’t want to entrust their critical IT needs to a “start-up.” They wanted confidence, longevity and a proven track record.

The Company/Customer Gap

The dean and each of the department chairs at a leading university were in complete agreement that the school’s focus on “interdisciplinary education” made them unique. No gap among leadership. However, a quick search of U.S. World and News Report annual college rankings revealed that the 10 schools immediately ahead of them in the rankings all touted their focus on…interdisciplinary education. A survey of potential customers–high school student and their parents–showed that 6 out of 10 either didn’t understand the concept of interdisciplinary education or didn’t place a high value on it. What’s more, the three attributes that customers found MOST valuable were ranked at the bottom of the school leaders’ ranking list.

Andrew Stanten

Andrew Stanten co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. As CEO, he ensures the right people are on board, delivering world-class marketing services to Altitude’s global client base, and staying true to Altitude’s mission, vision and values.
Andrew possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking. This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company quickly—and develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.
Andrew graduated from Syracuse University and earned his MBA from Lehigh University.