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Five Practical Tips for Dominating your Market with a Killer Motif

Not long ago, I gave you the lowdown on how to create marketing that makes you rich and famous. The short of the long: unique selling propositions don’t work any more. You need what I call a motif instead.

‘Motif marketing’ is a big topic, and I didn’t have time to give you any practical ideas last time. I know from experience that people really struggle with developing a motif, so today I’m going to do two things:

  1. I’m gonna give you three easy ideas for finding a basis for your motif
  2. And I’m gonna give you two pointers for refining that base into a Motif Proper that’ll set you apart as the most outstanding kid on the block. The one who all the other kids want to buy lemonade from

Let’s dig right in.

Three Places to Look For a Motif

1. Personality

Question: if two kids set up lemonade stands, and both their lemonade is pretty much the same, which one do you think will get more customers?

If you’re thinking there’s no way to tell, maybe you didn’t go to school! The correct answer is: the more popular kid.

Now, the Internet ain’t exactly like school. Lucky thing too, or I’d never have made it in business. But some things apply universally, and personality is one of ’em. The more appealing you are to others, the more likely they are to buy your stuff.

Remember, as a small business owner, you’re selling yourself as much as any product or service. Any number of people can provide the same services I do, for instance. Many of them could probably do it faster, cheaper…maybe even better! How can I compete with that? By just being so gosh-darned dashing that ladies swoon and grown men weep in my presence, that’s how!

Don’t be afraid to use your personality as the basis for your motif. If you’re in any way interesting, it’s probably the easiest, most genuine way to connect with your prospects.

Here’s an example you might well be familiar with: Naomi Dunford. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Naomi is how she reminds me of Billy Connolly in her affection and aptitude for using expletives to get her point across. Most entrepreneurs would shrivel up and die rather than present themselves to prospects like Naomi does—even if that’s how they naturally are.

This shriveling terror allows Naomi to set herself apart extremely effectively. It also attracts exactly the kinds of clients she wants…while making the ones she doesn’t want run for the hills. And I’d wager her clients are attracted to her too. They don’t hire her because she’s better than her competitors—but because she’s the no-bullshit, straight-talking, keepin’-it-real kinda gal they want.

In other words, her personality is more desirable to them than the personalities of her competitors.

Coming up with a personality

It might sound kind of funny to have to think about how you’ll come up with a personality. After all, don’t you already have one?

The fact is, though, that generally it’s most effective to concentrate on just one or two elements. Like a stage-actor in ancient Greece, you need to wear a mask that exaggerates the primary personality traits you want to convey…while concealing the others. You have to become a sort of archetype. Remember—motifs are simple; but personalities are complex.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be yourself. Quite the contrary. What you should do is pick the parts of yourself that you can play to strongly, and which resonate with others, and then build a persona around them. The persona isn’t exactly you—it’s more like a ‘superhero alter-ego’.

Anyone—even the most retiring wallflower—can do this, because we all have multi-faceted personalities. If you’re stuck, though, here’s a simple suggestion: think of characters that you really identify with in movies or books. Pick some, and base your persona around them. For my own part, I took a dash of Han Solo, a bit of the tenth Doctor, and threw in a liberal dose of Mal Reynolds for good measure.

2. Pictures

Personality is great if you’re selling yourself, but it’s not always so useful if you’re trying to find a motif for a specific product or service. Enter pictures.

Here’s a great example from Gene Schwartz, one of the genuine masters of direct-response advertising in the twentieth century. He wrote a promotion for a weight-loss product—a topic for which I’d personally struggle to come up with an interesting angle. Here’s the motif he used, captured succinctly in his headline:

Turns up your ‘Digestive Furnace’ and burns flab right out of your body!

With the hindsight of decades of those sorts of claims in the weight-loss industry, this might not seem like such a great angle. But then, the same can be said about Star Wars—and look how successful that was when it came out. It was something truly special in its own time.

A “digestive furnace” that “burns flab”—do you see the word picture being created in your mind? You’re not just understanding that this is a weight-loss product. You’re seeing the product in action, “melting” your flab away.

Visual metaphors like this are immensely powerful because they not only help your prospects to understand your product by comparing it to something they ‘get’, but because by going straight to the visual part of the brain you’re actually bypassing that pesky prefrontal cortex. Which means you engage your prospects at a deeper level than plain old rational decision-making.

And lemme quickly say something about that. It sounds kind of sneaky and manipulative on first blush—but I think it’s actually the opposite. (Provided, that is, you’re offering something just as good as anyone else.) The reason I think this is because people don’t actually want to just make cold, logical decisions about the things they buy. Because people don’t buy for cold, logical reasons. On the contrary, they buy things because they want to enjoy them.

So just as using personality appeals to people’s natural relational instinct and makes them like you, so pictures appeal to their imaginations and makes them like your product.

Coming up with a picture

How do you come up with a picture? Well, that’s a little tricky. If something doesn’t immediately jump out at you, then it’s time to get brainstorming. Ask yourself what your product is like. If you had to explain it using an analogy, how might you do that?

Once you get some ideas flowing, you’d be surprised how quickly you can come up with some interesting pictures that can capture the imagination. Then your only problem is figuring out which one to use! And for more on that, see the final point of this article.

3. Propositions

Propositions are simply ideas, concepts, statements. If you’re having a hard time finding good ideas using personality or pictures, then try thinking of compelling propositions you can use to get your motif going. When you hit on one, you can often bring in pictures or personality on top of it, for added oomph.

For example, The Wall Street Journal has been running a sales letter since 1974 that’s netted over $2 BILLION smackaroos so far. It’s based around this simple proposition:

The difference between successful people and ordinary people is simply knowledge, properly applied.

The letter tells the story of two college graduates, “very much alike”, who go on to work at the same company. One becomes a manager; one becomes its president. The punchline: that the president had the kind of knowledge contained in The Wall Street Journal; the manager didn’t.

They use a story to build a picture, yes—but it’s all in support of that proposition: that success depends on the right knowledge. Or, put another way: knowledge is power.

Finding the right proposition

That leads me to some quick advice regarding how to find a good proposition for your own motif: look at clichés, truisms, proverbs. Adages and even stereotypes can be useful too. There’s just bucketloads of fodder in our cultural memes that you can exploit by making the right connection. All you gotta do is find one that you can relate to your offering in a clear, logical way.

Two Pointers for Refining Your Idea Into a True Motif

1. It’s not a motif until you can state it in one sentence

A motif is, above all things, simple. Once you have your initial idea, try to explain it to yourself in as few words as possible. Write it down.

You’ll probably use several sentences. This is okay. But your goal is to keep refining that explanation until you can capture your idea in a single sentence. Once it’s that simple, anyone will be able to instantly grasp it—and only then is it a genuine motif that’ll set you apart and pull in prospects.

The great thing about the process of refining your idea down into a single sentence is that you usually end up with something much better and more compelling than what you started with. In the beginning, you have only a raw idea, like a raw rock. But a motif is like a polished jewel.

For example, one of my early clients was a data recovery company. They ‘bring data back from the dead’. Here’s an excerpt from the web copy I wrote for them—the motif is the heading smack-bam in the center:

You’ve talked to computer stores and repair shops, but they can’t help. They’re just computer doctors, and like real doctors they can only heal the sick. Your data has passed on, kicked the bucket, bought the farm—gone to the great hard drive in the sky.

What you need is someone who can recover data from the dead…

We specialise in revivifying hard drives, summoning lost files, and conjuring data back from the great beyond.

See how the motif itself can be summed up in a single sentence—but it provides the basis for a whole set of copy?

2. It has to get the nod

I’m a direct-response marketer by training. And the first rule of direct-response marketing is test everything.

Sometimes, you’ll come up with an idea for a motif that just seems like pure genius. You can’t wait to use it—but then, when you eagerly (and prematurely) roll it out, it flops.

A motif is something that has a broad appeal—as broad, that is, as your ideal prospect base. So before you go off half-cocked with an idea that seems good to you, make sure it seems good to the people it’s aimed at. This seems like obvious advice, but it’s a terribly common mistake (especially among more creative types). You should be enthusiastic, and you should be champing at the bit to see your great idea put to work. But you should also be dispassionate and cautious.

Always run your ideas past a few people who have a bit of perspective. If they don’t get it, ‘it’s not them—it’s you!’ Accept that your idea doesn’t have the mass appeal you thought it did, and move on. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.

I believe this is what wives (and husbands) were invented for.

The data recovery motif above is actually a great example. You see, I originally conceived of it as ‘digital necromancy’. (Necromancy, of course, is the art of communicating—and, in popular games, also resurrecting—the dead.)

The client loved it. He’s a bit of a gamer and sci-fi geek. But when we tested the idea against the sorts of people who would be his typical clients, they didn’t understand it. Actually…some of them thought we were talking about necrophilia. So we dropped the necromancy angle in a hurry, and went with a simpler version.

Summing Up

Now is the time to get started on your motif. Look at your personality—is there something about you which you can exaggerate or play off? Look at your product—is there a compelling metaphor in there you can use to create a picture? Look at the benefits you’re offering—is there a strong cultural meme you can connect them with to create a compelling proposition? Once you find something, pare it down until you can state it in a single sentence. And then run it by your significant other to be sure it’s good.

About the Author: D Bnonn Tennant is known in the boroughs as Information Highwayman—the dashing & debonair copywriting ace and attention-thief for hire. He’s also the author of the free special report ‘How to get more conversions with your existing web copy.’

  1. Patrick Garmoe Oct 21, 2010 at 6:07 am

    Thanks for the great post.

    Would you have the same personality advice, if you were blogging on behalf of a company though? Where people got to know you and your picture, but at the end of the day, were buying from others in the company?

    I noticed that you consider motif different from a unique selling proposition, and that makes sense. But is a company tag line and motif the same thing?


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