Writer and creative consultant
Writer and creative consultant
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All hail the one-liner

Most people stumble when it comes to talking (or writing) about their brand.

That’s where the one-liner comes in. It’s a firm favourite of storybrand kingpin Don Miller. It’s a simple sentence or two that explains what you do or what you offer in such a way that you capture people’s attention.

It comes from the film industry where it’s also called a logline - that sentence or two you read in a listing to decide whether you’re going to invest your time and emotions into a movie or a series.

Brands and businesses need a one-liner to convince people to give them their attention, time and emotions. Instead they ramble on and on about how the company was started by their grandfather 75 years ago and yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

Or worse when people ask them what they do they say, ‘oh you know, it’s complicated. Which people hear as, ‘oh you know, it’s going to take a lot of math in your head to figure out and it’s probably not going to be worth your time.’

You want to say something that attracts people right away. Something that makes them interested in what you’re offering.

It’s a three-part sentence - or it could be multiple sentences - but it’s a single one-liner. It’s something you can say really quickly when anyone asks you what you do.

1. First, identify your customers’ most pressing problem. Open with the problem because that’s what starts a story. By definition, a story is a character with a problem. Open with, ‘most people struggle with,’ or ‘do you know how a lot of people feel about this,’ or ‘a lot of people are afraid of this.’ Get emotions into the first part of your one-liner.

2. Second, explain your plan or product and how it solves the problem. 

3. Third, give them a successful ending to their story.

‘Most people struggle with this but we created this thing so they don’t have to struggle anymore and now they enjoy life. It looks like this for them.’

Your one-liner is the summary of a story. But it’s the summary of a story you’re inviting them into.

You walk them down a path they now want to walk themselves. That’s the essence of a one-liner.

The controlling idea is the resolution, the happy ending to their story. That’s the business you’re really in, not selling product. It’s the happy ending. That’s what people are buying.

Three successful one-liners

Example #1 - Pet store

‘Pet owners are concerned about what their pets are really eating so we source our food from trusted local vendors which ensures your pet stays happy and healthy.’

Example #2 - Financial advisor

‘Most people can’t get their heads around their financial future so we created a financial map that puts all your info on a weekly dashboard giving you peace of mind about your finances.’

Example #3 - Used car sales

‘Nobody likes to haggle with a car salesman so we remove the salesman entirely. You can choose and test drive a car hassle-free. So you have a peaceful experience getting the car that you want.’

You have to repeat the one-liner hundreds of times before people actually hear it. That means you use the exact same language over and over.

Put it on index cards, new business cards, email signature panels, keynote presentation openers, any and all collateral. There’s even a specific place on your website homepage where your one-liner opens the explanatory paragraph.

You need to break the habit of rambling when somebody asks what you do. Your one-liner is how you’re going to brand your company with the exact same language, over and over.

Imagine branding a cow with a ranch’s brand. But what if you took a brand from another ranch and you put it over the top of that brand, and then you put some other ranch’s brand over the top of that brand, and then put a different ranch’s brand over top of that brand. Does anyone know whose cow that is after a little while? It’s exactly what your salespeople are doing to your brand, talking about it 25 different ways. 

You need the same language, same words over and over. It’s your competitive advantage in the marketplace.


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