Alex Booker

One-sentence product descriptions

Back in 2017, David Bailey wrote about the art of writing one-sentence product descriptions.

I guess David was studying the language used by successful founders when he observed a satisfying similarity between how Mark Zuckenberg and Travis Kalanick spoke about their respective companies, Facebook and Uber.

In the video below, with its shots of murals and kegs, 21-year-old Mark describes Facebook as,

“Something where you can type someone’s name and find out a bunch of information about them.”

https://youtu.be/giFquFdyc84

In 2011, Travis Kalanick described Uber as a mobile app where,

“You push a button and in five minutes a Mercedes picks you up and takes you where you want to go.”

https://youtu.be/jT_1cxbM098

The format of both descriptions is the same: You do X and Y happens.

David notes that this input-output pair matches our intuition about how software works, and I agree! Moreover, describing your product in this way constrains you to pitch at the customer's level - communicating in terms they can appreciate and hopefully repeat.

A thoughtfully refined, one-sentence product description can make it easy for customers to understand your product and spread the word however, writing a succinct one-sentence product description that resonates is not trivial. This is the "art" part David mentioned in the heading. Distilling your entire, probably multi-faceted, product into one, punchy sentence requires you to identify a lead feature - that is, the first unique feature that's highly desirable to your customer. Once you've identified your lead feature, you can then endeavor to describe it in terms of inputs and outputs. But remember, you don't have to.

Remember, the best pitchers adapt to their audience and use all available context to their companies' advantage. Whilst Mark may have described Facebook as, “Something where you can type someone’s name and find out a bunch of information about them” in an interview, I doubt that same message ever appeared in prose, much less on Facebook's homepage. Lest we forget, Mark's one-sentence description would mean nothing to advertisers (Facebook's real customer).

The pattern David identified is helpful to remember - generally, I like it - but as I'm sure David will agree, it's not a silver bullet. If anything, this pattern exemplifies how there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to copy or pitching. In both Mark and Travis's examples, they're selling features, not benefits and while it made sense for Facebook and Uber within the context of these videos, this approach may not be suitable for all products in all places. Some products just need more emphasis on the benefits. Ultimately, there is no universal one-liner or pitch.

If you're struggling to compose a one-sentence pitch, that might be a symptom of an imprecise product strategy. David warns that it's “easy to mistake a one-line description as just another communications tactic however, crafting this sentence is one of the most strategic decisions a founder can make”. How can an advocate describe your product succinctly if you yourself cannot? Hell, how can your own team gain traction if there's no clear focus?

If you cannot distill your product in one-sentence (using the “you do X and Y happens” pattern or otherwise), your strategy might be unfocused. If your product requires you to overly-emphasize benefits, perhaps you don't have a compelling lead feature. Perhaps you just haven't identified your lead feature yet. In any case, exercising one-sentence descriptions can identify gaps in your offering to the market - gaps that may inhibit your ability to find product-market fit. It may be that you're intentionally competing in a competitive red ocean, trying to convince customers your product is better than the competition by more prominently stating the benefits. In that case, good luck and goodbye!