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The Goldfish Pitch

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

Engage your Audience with Compelling Brevity


Unfortunately, it's true. Humans have evolved (or devolved?) to now have an attention span that is shorter than a goldfish. According to Microsoft research, the average person can focus for 8 seconds, while a goldfish can stay engaged for 9. I’m not here to argue for or against our ever-shortening attention spans and the factors influencing them (cough, cough – social media), but knowing that people are preparing to disengage almost as soon as they are introduced to something must frame the way we communicate. No longer can we pull someone in with 8 seconds for them to want to learn more, we have to communicate everything they need to know in under 8 seconds.


This challenge translates to the need for what we call a goldfish pitch – one statement, less than 7 words, to be placed in 55+ font as the first thing site visitors see on the home page of your site. The goldfish pitch needs to explain, or at least allude to:

  1. what you do

  2. the benefit from working with you

If you’re a globally recognized brand and everyone knows what you do already, you can just focus on the benefit visitors receive. For example, Nike’s “Just Do It” doesn’t tell you they sell sports performance gear, it tells you that you will receive the benefit of motivation and empowerment to do what needs to be done. However, if you saw the “Just Do It” slogan on a website for a company you’ve never heard of before, “It” could be anything, and such a vague Goldfish Pitch could create intrigue to learn more, but it could also create frustration that you have to scroll, read more, or just in general exert more brain power to understand what the company does, so that you can determine the value you will receive from working with them.


So, unless you’re a globally recognized brand, crafting both elements of the Goldfish Pitch together is important because when we can start with a big picture understanding of what the site does and how it helps, it is easier to understand the site’s details and how they fit into the big picture as we scroll down.


Simplicity and clarity is the goal here. You may be thinking, what I do is too complex to summarize in one phrase, or If I dumb down what I do, I won’t sound like an expert, and I want people to be impressed with my knowledge. These are common misconceptions. However, in the words of Mark Twain, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” And as Albert Einstein once said:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.”

It is far better to have site visitors leave your site and understand from a simple perspective what it is that you do, instead of them leaving the site after being overwhelmed with information and think you’re smart. We tend to think that the more we explain something, the more people will understand. But we all know from experience of listening to others that the opposite is true. The less that is said, the more that is remembered and understood. Guy Kawasaki suggested in his book The Art of the Start to imagine you were paid $100 for every word you took out of your pitch. This is a helpful guideline to consider as we craft our Goldfish Pitch.


The goal of a site is for users to take action, and people are less inclined to take action on things they don’t understand. Your company is not too complex to summarize in one phrase, I guarantee it. Let’s briefly break down how to incorporate both what you do and the benefit from working with you into your Goldfish Pitch.


// The Value you Bring //

Try to explain what you do to a 5-year old, and that will probably suffice for the value you bring. I’m not trying to insult the intelligence of your site’s audience or disrespect the expertise required to do what you do. But working within the parameters of your audience’s limited attention span forces us to keep it simple. We want site visitors to leave our site and be able to mentally categorize us into a general category of products or services for future reference. If we’re too specific or vague with what we do, we won’t be memorable.


What does Ford Motor Company do? They make motor-powered vehicles. Of course, there’s a lot to that, they have to make production facilities, R&D departments, sales teams, marketing initiatives, logistics programs, etc, but basically everything they do centers around creating motor-powered vehicles. It’s a whole lot easier to remember Ford as motor-powered vehicles instead of a global design and production conglomerate specializing in transportation vehicles. The specificity is accurate, but forgettable, and relevance is the currency of the 21st century. To be relevant, we must be memorable, and to be memorable, we must be simple.


// The Benefit from Working with You //

People derive benefit from problems that are solved. If you don’t solve a problem for a target audience, it’s going to be difficult to be successful. But it’s important to understand what problem site visitors really want solved by visiting your website. No one wants your product, service, or information just for the sake of having it, they want it because of how it will make them look or feel. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but no one cares about your company or cause. They care about how associating themselves with your brand, how investing their time on your site, will impact them. Even if you’re a non-profit, people support your cause over another equally-worthy non-profit because your cause makes them feel more fulfilled.


Of course, to know what site visitors really want, you must know who you’re targeting as your ideal customer. If you’re not sure who to target, pick a group, and if you’re not sure of their motivations, ask them. Let’s not overcomplicate entrepreneurship. Of course, you can do preliminary research and make logical assumptions based on what you know of certain demographics, but the beauty of entrepreneurship is that customers will tell you how to run your business, if only you’ll ask and listen.


So, when you have a target audience, take the time to ask them why they’re really buying your product. Put yourself in their shoes. If you’re selling a hammer to a middle-aged, white-collar man, will he be more motivated by having a great ergonomic grip, or to have his spouse stop nagging him about the family photo he was supposed to hang up two weeks ago? Even if your ideal customer is a construction foreman, do they want a quality hammer, or do they really want whatever it takes to get their construction project done on time – or even early? If you’re targeting the white-collar husband, then your Goldfish Pitch could be something like “Tools for creating family environments”, and if you’re targeting the foreman, you could say “Finish early with reliable construction gear”. Keep it simple with what you do and the benefit you bring.


// Example //

To put both parts together, defining what you do and the benefit of working with you, let’s look at a few examples:

WheatiesBreakfast of Champions

  • What do they do? Make breakfast food

  • What’s the benefit? Champions eat it, so you feel like a champion by association with the same cereal

SubwayEat Fresh

  • What do they do? Provide something to eat

  • What’s the benefit? The food is healthy, so you can feel good about yourself for eating it

BMWDesigned for driving pleasure

  • What do they do? Design things you can drive

  • What’s the benefit? It is specifically engineered so that you feel good when you drive it


// Review //

  • The goal of your website is for users to take action. To do that, they must first understand what you do.

  • Create a Goldfish Pitch that summarizes in 7 words or less what you do and the value you bring.

  • The value you bring is based on the problem you solve for your ideal audience.

  • Complexity and longevity is forgetful, not impressive. Simplicity and clarity is impactful.


// Application //

  • Interview at least 10 strangers from a specific demographic to begin to understand the real problems they’re facing related to whatever your website is about.

  • Create a Goldfish Pitch, ask for feedback from 10 more strangers in that demographic

Don’t worry, talking to strangers and asking their opinion isn’t as intimidating as it may sound. If you phrase the conversation as an opportunity to learn from them since you consider them an expert or spokesperson for their demographic, most people will be willing to give a quick opinion. It also doesn’t hurt if you can offer something in return, whether it be the chance to win a gift card, lunch, or a discounted rate/exclusive access to something on your website.


Looking to refine your goldfish pitch? We can help.

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