Research Highlights

Pitch Perfect: Match the Message to the Idea's Newness, Study Finds

Gino Cattani Headshot

Entrepreneurs should tweak their pitches based on how innovative their idea is, researchers from the NYU Stern School of Business, Bayes Business School (formerly Cass) and George Washington University School of Business have found.

In a paper entitled, “Radically Concrete or Incrementally Abstract? The Contingent Role of Abstract and Concrete Framing in Pitching Novel Ideas,” NYU Stern Professor Gino Cattani, Professor Simone Ferriani (Bayes) and Professor Denise Falchetti (George Washington University) found that pitches promoting radical ideas are better received when framed in concrete and explanatory ‘how’ terms, while progressive ideas do better with abstract ‘why’ style of pitches.

Previous research found that professional audiences, like investors, prefer concrete pitches with how-style explanations, while lay audiences such as students and crowdfunders respond better to ‘why’ style pitches for abstract ideas.  

“We wanted to identify the best way for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to get audiences’ attention and investment,” said Ferriani. “Could the way they pitch affect their success? What if they had great ideas but were pitching them in the wrong way? We wanted to explore which styles of pitching work best with differing types of ideas.”

To test this, academics conducted two experiments using an online survey with business students evaluating pitch decks, to see when new ideas were more likely to be viewed positively. The study used entrepreneurial pitches and varied the ideas’ originality and the style of abstract ‘why’ the idea works versus concrete ‘how’ the idea works. They looked at how these factors influenced people's reception of the idea and their willingness to support it. 

The results indicate that the pitching strategy should match the idea's novelty to make it more appealing and likely to attract investment.

Professor Ferriani added: “Imagine a tech startup introducing a groundbreaking new virtual reality (VR) gaming platform that revolutionises the gaming experience. Our findings suggest that in their pitch to potential users, they should emphasise concrete usability details such as the advanced feedback technology, the immersive 360-degree visuals and the seamless integration with existing gaming consoles. When ideas have the potential to disrupt the status quo, this explanatory approach is key to offset the puzzlement that novel ideas can cause. Conversely, when ideas are less of a leap and more of a step forward, such as with incremental innovations, abstract language that paints the 'why' can be more effective.”

“This strategy taps into the audience's existing knowledge and expectations, connecting the new idea to familiar concepts and emphasizing its place within a broader vision or goal,” noted Falchetti.

“The research advises a tailored approach: for groundbreaking innovations, detail the practicalities; for incremental improvements, focus on the overarching vision,” concluded Professor Cattani. “As the language of entrepreneurship continues to evolve, this study offers a compass for navigating the intricate dance of persuasion and influence, providing a linguistic toolkit for turning novel concepts into embraced innovations.”

The paper was recently published in Innovation: Organization & Management.

This article was adapted from a piece written by the Bayes Business School (formerly Cass), City, University of London. See the original publication here