Imagine a pharmaceutical company releasing a new miracle medication. You know the drill — billboards, television ads, multi-page magazine ads. Big deal.

And the big promise they’ve chosen to put in the bold, all caps header at the top of each ad:

“IT HELPS YOU BE BETTER!”

That sends you running to the phone to schedule your appointment with your health care provider, doesn’t it?

No, of course it doesn’t.

If anything, it catches your attention to notice what a poor choice of tagline it is, because it says absolutely nothing about the miracle medication it’s promoting.

Who’s supposed to be grabbed by that tagline? Who is the drug company hoping will talk to their health care provider about the new drug? Seniors? Women? Concerned parents? Middle-aged men?

Confused shrug.

And what does it DO, anyway? Make your joints less achy? Put some pep back into the lives of people struggling with depression? Help little Tommy’s ADHD symptoms? Help you be more patient with little Tommy’s ADHD symptoms?

Ambivalent shrug.

“It helps you be better” is a bad tagline, because it excludes no one.

It tells you nothing.

It is so broad, so vague, that its audience could be, really, anybody. This is the number one rookie marketing mistake that leads to incredibly boring, ambivalence-inducing, appeals-to-almost-no-one branding: believing that the less exclusionary your marketing material is, the better, because it will let you attract more customers. Right?

WRONG.

Here’s the truth:

If your marketing material is potentially of interest to absolutely anyone, it will actually interest absolutely no one.

When you try to make your product or brand as appealing as possible to as many as possible, you wind up watering it down. You take away the most powerful and salient points — also known as its most marketable benefits that your target audience is most wanting — because those don’t speak to absolutely everyone.

Your marketing material loses the selling points that make it the most appealing to the people who need or want it the most. It turns out wishy-washy, bland.

It sounds… nice.

But it also sounds… generic.

It sounds like it might “help you be better.”

Cue the ambivalent shrug.

In other words, in an attempt to “not exclude” anyone, you succeed only in making your product appealing to… well, really no one at all. *sad trombone*

Novice marketers fear exclusion. Expert marketers use exclusion to their advantage, to more precisely, specifically & astutely attract the right customers.

Exclusion is a necessary and positive part of pro-level branding and marketing. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

Alexandra Franzen: Creative Minx

Example of Good Branding: Alexandra Franzen When you land on Alexandra Franzen‘s website, this is one of the most prominent elements. She could have just as easily left her description as “writer, teacher and author,” all of which is accurate.

But by adding in “creative minx,” she does more than add flair to the description. She gives a taste of who she’s for–and who she isn’t for. She’s got raving fans a-plenty who love her creative minx title (and how further down the page she invites you to sign up for her newsletter–the “technicolor rave” inside her mind). Brilliant.

It’s not brilliant just because the right people adore it though. It’s brilliant also because there are plenty of people who don’t — those are inherently exclusionary phrases.

PRO TIP: The more a phrase (or a tagline) makes your most ideal client or right person sing with delight, the more likely it is to feel exclusionary to someone who’s not in your ideal client or right person pool.

Hiro Boga: Energy Alchemy & Everyday Miracles for Creative Entrepreneurs

Example of Good Branding: Hiro Boga

There are heaps of entrepreneurs out there seeking help in their businesses. Hiro Boga has the skills and experience to toss up a tagline that says “Helps Make Entrepreneurs’ Businesses Better,” and she’d be telling the truth.

She’d also be unlikely to attract many clients she’d be really excited to work with, or that would be genuinely excited to work with her. By now, I suspect you see why–that tagline wouldn’t exclude anyone (other than non-entrepreneurs or ‘treps who didn’t want to make their businesses better).

But when she offers “energy alchemy” and “everyday miracles” — do you think that might start excluding some folks? You bet. Let’s start with everyone who doesn’t know what “alchemy” means and is too spooked of the unknown to venture any further. 😉

But do you also think that for people who want business assistance that dives deeply into the soul, spirit, and intuition, as well as the pragmatic, they just about come out of their chair with glee when they see that tagline? Hell yes they do. And they wouldn’t feel that powerful “Hell yes, I’m in the right place” feeling if Hiro was using the “I make businesses better” ambivalent-shrug-inducing-but-excludes-no-one tagline.

PRO TIP: Even if you managed to turn a few of the ambivalent shruggers into paying customers, they’d be temporary and/or problematic. The come-out-of-their-chair-with-glee customers, on the other hand, will stick you with you for life, usually with zero to minimal turbulence. Which would you rather attract?

Ambivalent shrugs, be gone: how to uncover your effective (and exclusionary) branding

Yes, you could settle for the tagline that you help someone live better, or you help people have better businesses, or you help parents parent better, or you help relationships get better… but nice, generic, ambivalent shrugs aren’t the kind of reactions that land you long-term profitable customers.

What you have to do is get specific about who it is you’re talking to, and tailor your marketing message so that it speaks to those folks (and does not speak to people who fall outside that circle of “just right” clients), just like Alexandra and Hiro did in the examples above.

So let’s re-imagine that miracle medicine we discussed above… but let’s replace it with the “medicine” you offer the world*.

*Hat tip to Pam Slim for the metaphor of each of us being a Medicine Man or Medicine Woman, and our gifts, skills, and talents being our own unique “medicine” with which we bless the world.

To uncover the qualities that make your Miracle Medicine stand out, stand apart, and leap off the page to your target market (which are also the qualities that will likely exclude your not-so-ideal folks), grab a notepad & pen, use the questions below, and get to brainstorming. You should have several pages of SPECIFICS about your medicine by the time you reach the end!

Your 9-Step Treasure Map to Your Medicine’s Most Unique, Potent, Make-Your-Ideal-Client-Jump-Out-Of-Her-Chair-With-Glee Selling Points*

* Also known as — you guessed it — the points most likely to be the most exclusionary!

  1. What exactly is your medicine? Don’t get complicated or long-winded; how would you explain it to an 8-year-old?
  2. Who is your medicine for? Who does it help?
  3. What symptoms do those people have? What help are they looking for that you’re ready to provide?
  4. Who ISN’T your medicine for? [Note: If you can’t answer this, your medicine isn’t ready for market. Period.]
  5. What are some “side effects” of your medicine? “Side effects” in this context would be obstacles that might come up, or unexpected challenges. Might these side effects further differentiate who is most right or ready for your medicine and who is not?
  6. What makes your medicine different than the next guy’s?
  7. What’s missing from the options that are already available? What are the others doing wrong or incompletely?
  8. What might people not expect from your medicine? What might they not be able to tell just by looking?
  9. This last question is tough. DO NOT SKIP IT. It will yield valuable insights, I guarantee! What criticisms is your medicine likely to receive? In what ways are those criticisms valid? Why is your medicine valuable in spite of — or because of — those criticisms?
    (How is your medicine valuable precisely because it is delivered in a new, fresh way that connects to people who don’t relate to the traditional delivery?)

Now that you’ve got your specifics, USE ‘EM! Go back to your existing marketing materials and look for ways you can speak more directly to your ideal clients, and less generically to the ambivalent shrugging general population. Don’t be afraid of using phrases that might exclude less-than-ideal clients, but that will make your oh-so-ideal clients think, “Whoa, that is meant exactly for me.”

To your potent, exclusionary, highly effective marketing,
Marissa