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How to Sell New Innovations Without Killing the Excitement

So you've got a great innovation on your hands—a new product or service that is going to change everything. Well, soon you'll face your first battle: How to explain the thing. If it's new, it's going to take some explaining, but long explanations make for lousy marketing. So how do you talk about your innovation without killing the excitement?

The first thing you've got to do is anchor in what people already know. So let's say I had to explain Netflix to somebody who'd never heard of it. Well, I could start by saying, Netflix is like Blockbuster. Now at least you're in the right mental space—okay, I get it, it's a movie rental business. But then I can add to it: Netflix is like Blockbuster—but it's by mail. Or it's Blockbuster with no late fees, or Blockbuster that actually has the movies you want in stock.

So Blockbuster is the "anchor" here—it gives you very quick intuition about what Netflix is. As another example, think about the first generation of cars—how are you going to explain a "car" to someone who's never seen one. Well, they were called "horseless carriages." "Carriage" is the anchor—people understood what that was.

Notice that an anchor alone isn't enough. An anchor is about creating similarity—Netflix is like Blockbuster, a car is like a carriage. But the whole point of innovation is that it's something new, something different. So you're anchoring to help people understand, but you also need a twist. A twist is what gets them excited.

It's not a carriage, it's a horseless carriage. "Horseless" is the twist. It's not Blockbuster, it's Blockbuster by mail. Tivo is like a VCR that lets you pause and rewind live TV. LaserWash is a car wash where nothing actually touches your car but the sprays of water. You get the idea. To sell an innovation, you need an anchor and a twist.  Thanks for watching.

For more on the "anchor & twist" concept, see our Fast Company column on the topic. If you're interested in learning more about how the automobile was introduced to a skeptical American public, read this book, Market Rebels. Also note that Hollywood high-concept pitches (e.g., Alien is "Jaws on a spaceship") often use this same "anchor & twist" format.