​How to explain what you do when what you do is complicated: Candice Paton

Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

Innovators often struggle to communicate the value of highly technical propositions to their audiences. Challenges we face today are complex and the solutions to those challenges are often also very complex.

When innovators attempt to clarify their value proposition, the results often go one of two ways: the expert team goes overboard in providing detailed technical information; or, the marketing team has simplified the technical content so drastically that the substance of the solution is obscured.

The team has lost the compelling narrative that will garner support for their work in either case.

Communicate your value proposition in a way that allows potential supporters to understand the opportunity, your approach, and the impact you will have if successful.

The following structure allows you to develop a compelling story to communicate complex technical content:

Step 1: Define the Opportunity

Step 2: Describe the Approach

Step 3: Connect to Impacts

When your message is organized in this way, your audience will understand it. You will have an easier time translating your technology into a strong value proposition without losing the details that are important to solving the problem.

Define the Opportunity

The first step is to clearly state the opportunities, challenges or gaps you are positioned to address when developing your narrative. Identify the problem and the barriers preventing people from addressing it. Think about what is important to your audience – what are their needs, their fears, their risks? Outlining the opportunities and challenges allows you to fame the context with your audience and indicates that you understand the landscape.

Describe the Approach

It is time to provide details around your technology and solution now that you have described the opportunity. This is never about diminution of the science – it is always about clarifying the message.

Your audience is becoming increasingly savvy to deep tech and wants to understand your approach. They want relevant results that indicate your solution is feasible and credible.

Find someone who has subject matter expertise to help you interpret and elevate your most critical technical information. The important part of your story is to provide the relevant technical information that connects your approach to the opportunity you have defined. 

Connect to Impacts

The results you have provided support how your technology can contribute to significant change. Consider the economic, environmental and social benefits that will be realized if you are successful. Think about the opportunities, challenges and gaps that you defined previously - how will your work provide relief to your audience’s needs, fears and risks?

You unlock the ability for your audience to make decisions if you describe the impacts of your technology well. Drawing connections between the opportunities you identified earlier and the impacts you are describing here is important. These should be balanced and related. 

Using this framework is the first step that you should take every time you need to create good technical content. It does not replace the need for additional development work in your messaging, nor does it diminish the need for good marketing strategies.

The effort that you put in to describing your work pays off when you start to connect with other parts of your team: the future supporters or potential end-users of your solutions; senior leadership who need to prioritize efforts and resources; or your communications and branding personnel who will better understand what they need to convey to secure your value proposition.

For small companies and start-ups, doing this well means creating better business plans and content for pitches. For larger companies, it means providing your technical staff with the tools they need to communicate effectively with senior leadership and internal communications teams.

Start with defining the opportunity, describing your approach, and close the loop with the impact you will have when successful. You grow the opportunity to create clear value propositions that are meaningful to your audience when you can cut through the confusion.

Candice Paton is the Executive Director – Clean Technology at Alberta Innovates. She and her team partner with industry, academia and entrepreneurs to accelerate the development, demonstration and adoption of innovative cleantech solutions that will benefit Alberta.

Candice is passionate about energy technologies and environmental performance. She holds a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering and a M.Sc. in Chemical Engineering. She is registered as a Professional Engineer with APEGA, a Fellow with the Energy Futures Lab and the founder of Tech Interpreted Inc.. 

She has recently been recognized as an honorary leading female innovator as part of the Alberta Chapter of SHEInnovates.

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