Do people buy your premise?

Johnny Carson was one of the pioneers of the live TV skit (he was doing it when Lorne Michaels was still in diapers), and he had a famous phrase about putting on a successful skit: “If you buy the premise, you buy the bit.”

Any screenwriter or playwright also know this, because if people buy into your premise, no matter how crazy or farfetched it is, they will suspend disbelief and follow you on your storytelling path (or until you start boring them or the see another shiny bauble that they find more enticing).

But this also applies to your business … do people buy the premise of your business? Some business premises are easy to buy – say plumbers, mechanics, teachers. Pipes need to be fixed, cars need to be repaired, another generation of kids needs to learn their multiplication tables. Those premises are pretty straightforward.

The thing is, none of them are really very compelling, are they? Those professions are like reruns of time-honored TV shows (think Seinfeld, MASH, etc.) … you know the premise and the players and most of the plots, but there’s nothing new you will learn from them. For businesses like these, your premise is so well understood and common that your bit will need to set you apart from all the cookie-cutter competitors.

But, if you’re doing something a bit different … say create a new online business application or run a graphic design shop or develop mobile apps – well, your premise might be a bit tougher to buy. You see, most people see what you do, and they understand it, but their first question in their head is “What the hell would I need that for? I don’t readily see the value in spending money on that.” This is why people will create their own logo with clipart, or why people will cobble together six free (but moderately useful) apps instead of taking a risk in paying for one that could be better.

For businesses where people can’t readily see the value, you need to make sure your premise is iron clad. This means you may have to show justification for it (testimonials, case studies, etc.), position yourself in a niche category, come up with a phrase that makes people question their assumptions, create a tagline that jolts people or is a bit controversial. The goal is to make the premise enticing and credible.

When people start buying your premise, it opens them up to hearing your whole story and eventually buying into your bit.