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Explaining Minto’s Pyramid Principle

Joe at Intellexo This is Intellexo 0 Comments

In the latest issue of B2B Marketing magazine, I write about a business book I really value: The Pyramid Principle, by Barbara Minto.

As I write in the article:

The Pyramid Principle is a guide to thinking and communicating in a logical way… How do you structure a presentation for the CEO? How do you make your emails succinct but comprehensive? How do you respond when your boss asks you in passing how a project’s going? Minto’s book runs through an approach that can help you in all of these situations.

But how do you use the pyramid principle?

Imagine that every situation can be broken down into a problem and an answer.

Minto’s book proposes that communicating a problem is best achieved as follows:

  1. Situation: Outline the current situation, based on information that is not debateable.
  2. Complication: Give a brief summary of the problem.
  3. Resolution: What is the answer? Or if you haven’t got the answer, what are the outstanding questions?

The book then proposes that the answer, or ‘resolution’, is structured as a pyramid:

  1. Start with the answer
  2. Provide supporting arguments, grouped into, say, three, categories
  3. Expand on each argument in turn

In fact the pyramid can be applied to all three levels: the situation, complication and resolution.

Putting this into practice

To give an example of how this might work in practice, imagine you are a marketing manager struggling to win new customers. You might explain your situation like this:

  1. SITUATION: The company has invested £10k in new business marketing activity this month.
  2. COMPLICATION: However, the number and value of new customers has fallen short of targets, as most of the budget was committed to a digital display campaign that was ineffective.
  3. RESOLUTION: Next month we will shift all of our spend to search advertising and focus on the most effective messaging.

This is a good and simple summary of the current situation – the type of summary you could put in an email or use as the structure for a conversation, but it still begs a few questions. Now, let’s apply the pyramid principle to flesh out each section:

  1. SITUATION: The company has invested £10k in new business marketing activity this month.
    • Most of this amount – £8k – was committed to display advertising to raise brand awareness.
    • £2k was spent on search advertising (e.g. alongside Google search results).
    • We used a series of messages for both sets of campaigns.
  2. COMPLICATION: However, the number and value of new customers has fallen short of targets, as most of the budget was committed to a digital campaign that was ineffective.
    • The display advertising campaign achieved 20% of target customers.
    • The search campaign achieved 120% of target customers.
    • ‘Click to purchase’ messages were more effective than ‘Find out more’ messages.
  3. RESOLUTION: Next month we will shift all of our spend to search advertising and focus on the most effective messaging.
    • We will no longer use display advertising, given poor results.
    • We will focus all messaging on ‘Click to purchase’ type messages

This is a good, detailed summary of the current situation and would be a good, comprehensive way to communicate to a manager by email or as the opening point for a conversation or presentation. I hope with this example you can see how most things can be broken down into a problem and answer.

(Of course, you wouldn’t use the situation, complication, resolution labels I’ve used here – this is simply for illustration.)

Further reading

This is just a very brief introduction though. You can find the book on Amazon or more detailed outlines on Medium. Timm Richter and Ameet Ranadive cover it well here and here.

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