If you have accidentally listened to poetry on the radio, you're not alone.
Listeners of NPR recognize the baritone voice of Garrison Keillor reciting poems as part of his longstanding Writer's Almanac feature. It's one of the few times in our modern lives when we're likely to accidentally encounter poetry, thanks in part to the Poetry Foundation, which supports his segments. At the end of each segment, a short message of thanks is played, along with a reminder that the Foundation is "committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in American culture."
Poetry celebrates individual words. They matter more than in any other form of art. So when the Poetry Foundation is dedicated to a "vigorous" presence for poetry, that word choice is deliberate. It stands out. Why does that matter for your small business? The next time you hear or read the word "vigorous," you'll know why it matters. The Poetry Foundation is associated with the word. And it's using a trick that some of the largest brands in the world have known for years.
- Apple is "insanely great."
- BMW has the "ultimate driving machine."
- Coca-Cola wants you to "open happiness."
- Disney offers you a "magical" experience.
It's the last brand on this list that we can learn the most from. In his book Brand Sense, marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom refers to a market research firm that looked at the links between the words "magic" and "kingdom" and Disney. Over 80 percent of the people surveyed immediately thought of Disney when hearing those words. Even more interesting, the Disney brand was also associated with the words fantasy, creativity, smiles and generations.
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Of course, you don't have the same marketing budget as Disney. So can this kind of word association really be possible for a small brand with limited marketing resources? Yes, but it means you need to think bigger. If you commit a robbery to become famous, you won't—you'll just land in jail. If, however, you call it a heist, then people pay attention. A heist is significant, a robbery isn't, yet they're the same thing. See how that works?
I'm not telling you to turn to a life of crime—but you do need to think beyond the obvious. The words you choose to describe what you do can make the difference between building a memorable brand or fading into the background. Here are three techniques that might help:
1. Unexpected Pairings
The description for the Poetry Foundation is memorable because it's an unexpected word. There are plenty of words like that in the English language, though you may need a good thesaurus nearby to think them up. The ideal pairing of words is opposite of what people expect. Own an automotive dealership? How about trying to be "the body shop that listens." In any situation, there are the usual qualities people are looking for: fair price, good expertise, etc. But then there are the qualities that put you above the competition, the extras that no one expects. That's the kind of word you need to look for.
2. Play On Words
Sometimes being clever works, because people make the connections for you. When the viral Dollar Shave Club, a mail order razor blade company, was describing its value proposition, its tagline was: "Shave Time. Shave Money." It's a little quirky yet on brand, and we get the joke.
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For a continuous stream of examples of how the best in the world do this, all you need to do is look at how Hollywood films are marketed. The second Alvin and the Chipmunks film, for example, was called the "squeakquel." Using this play on words can take some time (and talent!) to do well, but it's a way to describe your business that people will remember.
3. Word Mashups
This is a technique I'm clearly a big fan of, as I used it to title my second book, Likeonomics. The idea is simple. By putting two different words together (in my case, likeability and economics), you can create a description of an idea in someone's mind that may be easier to make sticky than just using the words you might have used individually. Sometimes these mashups create nonsensical brands, like Firefox. But in other cases, it can work perfectly. For example, SoundSlice is a startup that has a revolutionary new way for anyone to learn to play guitar by syncing "tabs" (visuals of where you put your fingers on the strings to create certain chords) with videos of guitarists playing. By "slicing" the sound into these chunks, they make it possible for anyone to learn any riff by watching a video and using the same tabs.
Ultimately, there are plenty of other ways to identify the perfect words to describe your business to the world. The most important lesson is the one that any of us should take from the world of poetry. Words matter a lot—and finding the right ones can make all the difference between being remembered and being forgotten.
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Rohit Bhargava believes in bringing more humanity back to business. His is a bestselling author and award-winning marketing consultant to brands of all sizes, and speaks frequently at marketing events around the world. Before writing business books, his first writing passions were playwriting and poetry.
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