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Creating effective names and taglines that will attract new business
by Robert Middleton

Do you need to create interest in your services to stand out in the crowd? It involves more than just telling people about what you do. You also need to communicate your unique talents and abilities in terms that are meaningful and compelling. Because word-of-mouth is lifeblood, you want to describe your business in ways that are easy to remember and pass along.

You've probably been told that it's a good idea to develop a business name, tagline, elevator speech and headlines. But even after having worked on these things for hours, you may find that they're not bringing you much new business. Read on to learn about techniques you can use to create marketing messages that hit home and expand your reach.

What You Need to Know
In 1976, Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins wrote a book called "The Intelligent Gene" in which he introduced a new concept to the history of culture: memes (rhymes with "seems"). A meme, Dawkins said, is much like its biological cousin, the gene. Like a gene, a meme is self-replicating. However, memes don't replicate biologically; instead, they are passed along in the form of ideas. Dawkins argued that memes are the "basic unit of cultural transmission." He wrote: Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots, or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.

Now jump ahead twenty years and to another book called "Rapid Response Advertising" by Geoff Ayling, an Australian advertising expert. Ayling builds a strong case for the use of memes in marketing and advertising, arguing that the meme is the missing piece of the marketing and advertising puzzle. "A meme," he writes, "operates through the process of chunking complex concepts or ideas down into a simple, easily communicable unit." Likewise, marketing messages can be constructed as memes to communicate the benefits of a product or service more quickly and easily. After reading Ayling's book, I realized that I had long been using a marketing meme to introduce my service: "I help service businesses attract more clients." When I explain my work that way, I frequently get an immediate "Oh! That's what I need!" response. I've used this tagline for years, but I never really understood why it worked so well. The idea of marketing memes gave me the key.

The Meme in Action
A marketing meme always accomplishes four things. It actively transfers specific information. It's immediately and obviously beneficial. It's ultra-simple. And it's easy to remember and pass along to someone else. When all of these elements are in place, marketing memes work like magic.

Imagine this: I'm at a party and I've just used my marketing meme to answer someone's question about what I do for a living. For whatever reason, they don't need my services, but they understand immediately what I'm about. Half an hour later, that same person drags a friend over to me and says, "You should talk to Sarah here -- she needs to attract more clients." Bingo! This has happened to me countless times.This is why it's smart to apply the meme idea to virtually any marketing message -- people will understand you more quickly, and as a result, you'll attract more attention, interest, and response. You don't have to worry about zippy slogans or phrases. Strive for clarity, simplicity, brevity, and a description of benefits -- all wrapped up in a few words (or a combination of words and images). Great marketing memes make a direct and memorable connection.

What a Marketing Meme Is Not
It may be easier to understand a marketing meme by looking at what it is not. A meme is not a goofy slogan, nor a clever play on words. Ever see a headline on a billboard that totally confused you? That's a dead meme -- there's no replication. Memes should never confuse. They should clarify and elucidate. When it's a meme you say, "I get it!" When it's not, you say, "Huh?" Let's look at a recent example, a billboard from IBM: two automobile tires in profile, with two ThinkPad portable computers in profile inside the tires. The headline: "ThinkPad. Road Trip." Huh? Sorry, Big Blue, but that's not a meme. What's the message? It's not immediately obvious or beneficial.

Here's an eTrade billboard that's much better: "This month, someone's going to win the lottery. Just not you. eTrade." Bingo! Without having to figure anything out, you get the message: "I'd better stop wishing and start investing." Like a good joke, it hits home immediately. Headlines, taglines, and other marketing messages aren't necessarily memes. Sometimes they're just clever phrases, or they're so general that they communicate very little useful information. "Overnight Delivery" isn't much of a meme. On the other hand, "When it absolutely, positively, has to be there overnight" helped make FedEx a billion dollar business. Your challenge is to create memes for your business that communicate the benefits of your services just as powerfully.

What You Need to Do
A meme can be used any time you need to effectively communicate what your business does. Remember, a meme communicates quickly and easily, it highlights customer benefits, and it prompts a response -- either immediately or sometime in the future -- because it's so easy to recall.

Find Your Inner Meme
A recent client, a personal organizer, was struggling to position her business. I asked her to explain what was special about her talent -- what made her different from everyone else. She said that, unlike most organizers who simply help people throw out their junk, she had an eye for valuable items that could be sold for tidy sums. Together, we developed a wonderful tagline that said it all: "We find treasures in your clutter." This meme has immediate appeal for anyone who wants to get rid of clutter because it promises an added bonus -- finding a valuable treasure or two that might actually pay for her services.

There are several ways to use memes in your marketing. You can use them in your business name. They're effective in taglines, or in the audio logo (a short version of an elevator speech) that you say out loud when someone asks what you do. They're useful in the headlines of ads, flyers, or letters, and in the titles of presentations or articles. You might express each of these memes in a slightly different way, but they all should communicate a similar message with clarity and impact.

Cooking Up Your Meme
So how do you create a powerful meme for your business? It's a bit of an art, but here are some guidelines. First, ask the key question: "What do my clients get as a result of using my services?"

Don't worry about the wording yet -- just brainstorm to develop a number of sentences that capture the gist of your key benefit. To broaden your thinking, you might consider doing this with a group of friends and former clients who are familiar with your work. You might come up with something along the lines of: "Our clients have problems with employee conflict, and our services help reduce that conflict while building cooperation and trust." There's a core idea in there, but the expression is pretty long. Start breaking it down to get at the essential ideas you want to communicate.

The next cut might go: "We reduce conflict while building cooperation." This is better, but it seems a little vague. The next attempt yields: "Reducing conflict and building cooperation within organizations." This is a bit snappier, but are we now trying to say too much? The message here is about both solving a problem and offering a solution. Maybe we should go with one or the other. How about this as a tagline: "Building cooperation within organizations." It's simple, benefit-oriented, and easy to remember. You've got a meme!

Take Your Meme for a Test Drive
Once you've developed a meme, you need to take it out for a field test to see if it effectively communicates your core message. How can you tell? You know it works when it elicits a favorable response -- when people ask the right follow-up questions, and want to know more. Here's the best way to try this out. When someone asks what you do, say something like, "I have a company called Working Diplomacy. We help build cooperation within organizations." If people say, "That's interesting! More companies need that," or "You ought to talk to our HR director," there's a good chance you have a winner. If, on the other hand, people say, "What do you mean?" or "Why do companies need that?" you're probably off track. If that happens, then it's back to the drawing board.

Roll Out Your Meme
A meme isn't just a nice thing to have. It's the core expression of your business. That's why you want to use it everywhere you possibly can. Make it the tagline for your business cards and stationery. Put it in your email sig file. Answer the phone with it: Prospect: "Hello, I hear you folks do conflict management"

You: "Yes, we help build cooperation within organizations. Is that what you're looking for?" Remember: the whole idea of a meme is to help prospective clients understand how you can help them. With a little work, anyone can create a powerful meme for their business. It all starts with a core question: What are the results you produce for your clients? Next, hone it down to a memorable phrase. (Make it as simple as possible.) Finally, apply it to all your marketing messages.

Quick Take-away
The most effective marketing messages describe the benefits of your services in ways that are simple, straightforward, and easy to remember. There's an art to developing good business names and taglines. Begin by writing down a few sentences that describe the core benefits your business provides. Break down those sentences to capture the bare essentials. Once you've got it, flaunt it! Incorporate your name and tagline into your business cards, stationery, and email sig file. When people ask what you do, answer with a conversational version of your core marketing message.

By Robert Middleton of Action Plan Marketing. Please visit Robert's web site at http://www.actionplan.com for additional marketing articles and resources on marketing for professional service businesses.


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