"In 10 words or less—what's the single most important thing you want to say?" I ask a very smart marketing exec. She's trying to sharpen a critical presentation.
"We're dedicated," she says, "to customer-centric, results-driven, streamlined solutions."
"Me too," I say. "Who wouldn't be? But what exactly does it mean?"
"Solve customer problems—fast," she says.
Good. That's a message.
Do you know your main message? If you don't, your audience won't either.
You can develop your message with key points. Example: solve customer problems fast by 1) hiring the best reps, 2) being available 24/7. . . 10) speaking really, really quickly.
But key points are not the main message.
Let's assume your audience is thinking about 1,000 things—for example, food (what to eat; when to eat; with whom & where; what's already been eaten; what else could be eaten; how much food is reasonable for one person to actually consume in a day; is it ever a mistake to skip breakfast?)—and will immediately forget almost everything you say.
What's the one thing you want them to remember?
That's your main message. And while there's no reason for your main message to be a snappy ad slogan, still, we can learn a lot from snappy ad slogans.
1) Use plain English. "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight," promised FedEx.
The "absolutely, positively" part sounds like a real human being, worried about a real package.
FedEx could have used those 10 words from before ("Relax. We're dedicated to customer-centric, results-driven, streamlined solutions").
But that would have caused widespread panic.
2) Focus on one thing. Compare these two slogans from Wal-Mart:
a) "Always the low price. Always."
b) "Save $. Live better."
I like the first. A main message is one thing, not two or three. And I really like the repetitive "always."
For the same reason, "Sheer driving pleasure" (BMW) beats "Power, Beauty and Soul" (Aston Martin). Power, beauty and soul add up to three abstractions—that's a laundry list, not a car.
3) Be concise. The best slogans from the past 100 years are under 10 words. Consider:
Avis: "We try harder."
Wendy's: "Where's the beef?"
Apple: "Think different." And before Apple, the motto at IBM was simply, "Think."
A short message is like Lite Beer from Miller: "Everything you always wanted . . . And less."
Tip: Know your main message. Then, make sure your audience does too.
© Copyright 2012 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.