by Marcia Yudkin
Drama gets attention. The unexpected gets attention. Bold gets attention. But how can you tell if you’ve come up with a sound bite that has undeniable promotional punch yet goes over the top into hype or outright falsehood?
First, pay attention to the little voice in your head that worries or holds back when you think about using a certain phrase about yourself. After all, if you can’t wholeheartedly embrace it and say or hear it without embarrassment, others tune into your hesitation and won’t accept it, either.
Then stop and think about whether your sound bite is just harmless fun, like dressing up in a costume. Who’s to say you are not “The God of Organic Gardening” or “The Priestess of Pain Relief”? It’s perfectly valid to crown yourself with a moniker like that. No one runs a pageant for such titles, with only the official winner having the right to use the phrase. As long as you do have expertise in organic gardening, pain relief or the subject matter of your amusing nickname, go for it.
On the other hand, watch out for phrases that make a factual claim. Perhaps your little voice is warning that what you’ve said isn’t quite true. In that case, toss the sound bite or tweak it until it’s something that would stand up in a court of law.
For instance, a client once told me a branding expert advised her to say she’d gone from homelessness to a seat on the stock exchange in less than a year. In truth, it took almost three years for that journey, and people could quibble over whether she’d actually been homeless. (She had been living in her brother’s basement and occasionally sleeping in his car.) I told her it was just as impressive to know she’d gone from near-homelessness to a seat on the stock exchange in less than three years.
Superlatives in sound bites are tricky. When you say you’re the first dentist to have had a website or you own the largest accounting firm in Louisiana, you’d better not have made that up out of thin air. But if you’ve researched your claim and are 98 percent sure or better, that’s something you should be able to stand behind. Deploy it with confidence if a third party like a well-known expert, industry association or media outlet has bestowed the superlative on you.
Sheer wordplay is almost always a plus. A clever verbal twist can dance in the minds of readers and in the mouths of commentators. That might consist of a triple, like Superman’s “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” a contrast, like “Our food is fresh. Our customers are spoiled,” from online grocer FreshDirect, a rhyme, such as Muhammed Ali’s “I outwit them and then I out-hit them” or a play on a popular culture reference, such as “Building community deep in the hearts of Texans,” from Texas Nonprofits.
Keep in mind that our culture allows even the most serious and dignified organizations and individuals, from Supreme Court justices to CEOs and companies we trust with our retirement savings, to take an ordinary idea and make it memorable. Listen to your intuition when it whispers concern about a sound bite. Yet except for the scruples outlined above, give yourself the same kind of permission.
Marcia Yudkin is a copywriting and branding expert and the author of 6 Steps to Free Publicity, now in its third edition, along with 15 other books. Her ebook No-Hype Copywriting: The Keys to Lively, Appealing and Truthful Sales Writing, is available on Kindle, Nook and Smashwords. Learn more about how to describe yourself and your work both honestly and dramatically at the upcoming FREE No-Hype Copywriting Telesummit.