Catch More Customers with a Simple Catch-phrase

by Geoff on December 15, 2009

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus for small businesses, and it’s called ‘the catch-phrase.’”

I think most businesses don’t realize just how valuable a good catch-phrase can be.

There’s a reason why big companies sometimes spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with just the right catch-phrase. And there’s a reason why some phrases have been around for years or even decades. Catch-phrases work! A good one can help any business catch more customers.

When you can get your whole selling message boiled down to one, short, very memorable phrase, and then etch that phrase in the minds of your target audience, you’re doing something powerful that will support and strengthen all your marketing efforts.

But not any phrase will do. So how do you find the right phrase? Start by figuring out the one thing you want your product or service to be known for. Then, translate the one thing you want to be known for into a consumer catch-phrase that will encourage people to think about your product or service in that way. And build your advertising around that phrase.

Nike wanted people to think of them as the leader in selling sporting apparel and sporting equipment that helps people gear up and get ready to perform or compete. So they translated that idea into a catch-phrase that captures the essence of what it feels like to get ready to perform or compete: “Just do it.”

Glad trash bags wanted people to think of their product as the trash bag that wouldn’t break and create a mess. They translated that into the phrase: “Don’t get mad, get Glad.” This got the name of the product—and the reason for buying it—embedded in people’s brains in a catchy way.

Heritage Plumbing and Heating wanted people to think of their service as the one they would need to call to get any problem taken care of. So I translated that into the phrase: “Honey, just call Heritage.” We put that phrase on their trucks, yellow page ads, website, and most of their marketing materials. Again, it embedded the name in peoples’ minds.

Hodess Building Company wanted people to think of them as the contractor that could be trusted to give honest, straightforward answers. So they translated that idea into the phrase: “Straight Answers.” I created a Straight Answers newsletter for them and even a Straight Answers book, which helped build their reputation as the company that wrote the book on giving straight answers.

In all of these cases—and hundreds of others we could mention—a simple phrase became the fulcrum or center of the marketing campaign.

Any business of any size can benefit from this idea. But here’s what’s critical: knowing how to make the transition—and translation—from “the one thing you want to be known for” to the “consumer catch-phrase.”

A Few Good Words

The Marine Corps is a good example. Years ago, the Marines, in their recruiting, decided that the one idea they wanted to be known for was “Elite Warriors.” They wanted to use the idea of “Elite Warriors” to guide all of their marketing, recruiting and communications.

However, the words “Elite Warriors” are not especially catchy or compelling for their young audience. That’s why you’ll never see the words “elite warriors” in any of the Marines’ advertising or recruiting materials.

Instead, they translated the idea of Elite Warriors into the consumer line, “A Few Good Men.” Later, to include women, they changed it to “The Few, The Proud, The Marines.” This line was simple, memorable, and visceral. It appealed to the gut. It’s the translation of “Elite Warriors” into language that connects with 18-year olds.

You may have seen the TV spot where a blacksmith is pounding on a piece of metal over a hot fire to shape a sword. These scenes are intercut with scenes of a newly recruited Marine going through the fires of training. At the end of the spot, this Marine stands in full dress uniform, draws his sword and salutes—and we hear the line: “Do you have the mettle to be a Marine?” It’s the same idea: Elite Warriors. And the spot ends on the line: The Few. The Proud. The Marines.

Because the Marines have so sharply focused all of their communications with this single, powerful idea and phrase, they have been able to recruit young people at double the rate per marketing dollar spent of any other military service.

The point I’m making here is that your catch-phrase should not simply be a clever line that comes off the top of your head. Instead, it should be a line that has been carefully chosen, a line that captures the essence of your branding idea in a powerful way—the one big idea you want to be known for. Your catch-phrase should capture the spirit of what you stand for as a business. It should be a rallying cry people instantly relate to.

And this is especially important for small businesses with small marketing budgets. It may be that all you have to do—and all you can afford to do—is come up with just the right catch-phrase and then find ways to get that phrase in front of your target audience over and over again. And that may be enough!

In the next few posts, we’ll focus on ways to make your catch-phrase more catchy.