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Mottoes and Slogans: Creating a Catchphrase that Promotes Your Business

by Marcia Yudkin

"Reach out and touch someone."
"The ultimate driving machine."
"Finger lickiní good."

Chances are, you not only know immediately that those slogans come from AT&T, BMW and KFC, in that order. Those catchphrases may also very well have persuaded someone you know to place more long-distance calls, purchase a particular brand of car and decide where to stop for supper.

Such slogans truly influence customers, and thatís why you want one for your own company.

First, Make Them Up

Begin by brainstorming a lot of words related to your business Ė at least 50 of them. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases Ė just keep going and going until you have a long, disorganized list.

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Next think in general terms about what you want to say Ė the motivating message you want to get across to current and potential customers. Focus, so that itís something specific rather than something any competitor might say. Note that the BMW slogan works as well as it does because itís not a statement Toyota or Ford wants to make. Likewise, a burger place that caters to parents and children probably wouldnít want to use the idea of licking fingers in its motto.

Now combine the words and refine the combinations until they sing and dance on the page. Donít stop when you get one slogan that feels really catchy Ė keep on going. Play around with the wording so some are funny, some are serious, some are weird or edgy and some are homey.

Second, Choose the Best

Look through your catchphrase candidates and identify up to five that seem most promising. Weíll now run them through a few crucial tests. 

Is the slogan fresh and original? Donít poach phrases that have already been used, like American Expressís "Membership has its privileges" or Nikeís "Just do it." That diminishes your business and might even land you in legal trouble.

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Does the slogan pass the telephone test? That is, if someone heard it without seeing it, would they understand what it means? Will people understand what you mean without a whole lot of context or a long story? If seen on a truck whizzing by at 70 miles per hour, would it make sense? Your answer to all these questions should be yes. If not, cross out that candidate or tinker to improve it.

Is the tone right? Think about your customer base, and make sure the personality of the slogan matches what they expect from your company. A bank that wants to appear solid and traditional normally wouldnít use slang or a sing-song rhythm, while a club for twenty-something singles probably wants wording that hops and excites rather than cool, understated elegance.

Is the message clear and unambiguous? Test your favorites on people who havenít heard them yet, who resemble your customers and who may not know much about your business. Ask them what each slogan conveys to them. If they donít get it, or if they get a negative message or one you werenít intending, thatís a big minus for that slogan. 

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Sometimes we have to nix options that almost make it but have something tricky or wrong about them. If one of your candidates communicates positively and clearly to all your testers, you have a winner.

Third, Use It!

Now itís time to use your chosen catchphrase everywhere. Put it on your web site, on T-shirts, on pens, in ads, on invoices, on sales material, on shop windows, even on the walls of your rest rooms. If youíve chosen well, your catchphrase sticks in peopleís minds and reminds them over and over again why youíre the one they want to buy from.

Copyright 2010 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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