How NOT to Write Your Company’s One-Liner
This past week I was coaching a startup founder on his pitch, and he opened with a line that got me confused a bit.
“We are the rocket engine of enterprise AI,” he said.
I decided to probe a little more. Were they in space tech? Did they help rocket companies deploy AI? Did their technology resemble rockets or engines in either form or function?
The answer was NO on all counts. So why did he decide to go with the “rocket engine” analogy?
“Someone suggested it to me, and I thought it sounded good.”
This is a mistake that both startups and mature companies often make with their one-liners: they pick words that sound flashy, but don’t convey anything meaningful about what they do and why it’s special.
A waste of space and time, in other words.
Your company’s one-liner has an important job to do — in a world of million startups and no attention span, your one-liner needs to both intrigue and inform, and do so in seconds.
Let’s look at some common mistakes in writing company one-liners, then in a later post, I’ll share some practical tips on how to write better ones.
Mistake 1: Flashy but meaningless
The “rocket engine” case above is one of these, as are the following:
A revolutionary advance in telemedicine.
We’re pioneering the future of self-driving.
We’ve created a [insert mainstream product] that doesn’t suck.
These may be okay marketing slogans, but they suffer from a couple of problems when used with more savvy audiences:
- They’re so general, anyone can use them — your competitors, non-competitors in other industries, and your grandma’s dogs and their furry mates can all lay claim to these.
- They convey ZERO information — After reading it, I still know nothing about your company (other than your vertical). If this was your blurb in a giant tech conference with thousands of startups, I’d pass your company right by.
Yes, I get it. Steve Jobs did the same thing—he called products “amazing”, “revolutionary”, or “best ever!” all the time.
But he used these words to amplify demos that showcased clearly what Apple’s products did that others couldn’t. (And let’s face it, most of us aren’t Steve Jobs, and can’t pull off the speaking pyrotechnics he can)
Mistake 2: Buzzword soup
Check out this beauty of a line:
We provide Internet of Things, cloud, data analysis, and automation to help companies attain industry 4.0.
Or this, if you’re in the medical realm:
We improve the lives of patients by addressing unmet medical needs in precision medicine.
If you think I made these up to prove a point, I’m sorry to tell you: these are actual examples from companies I’ve coached.
The problem with these lines are:
- Again, too many companies in your competitive space can mash the same buzzwords together.
- They don’t tell me how you’re different, just that you’re going after the hot stuff that everyone else is trying to.
If they don’t see anything special, they hit NEXT.
Mistake 3: Painting a BIG but general dream
Startup founders are supposed to dream. But paradoxically, some of these dreams can make for bad one-liners:
We improve the lives of millions of patients by making hospitals smarter and more efficient.
Ok… I like the ambition, but all I know is the high-level dream, and nothing about the ground-level how.
Are you a software company or a hardware company? Both? Or are you a consultancy selling know-how rather than tech? What sets you apart from the thousands of companies helping to make hospitals run better?
Consider another example:
We use AI to create products and services designed to enhance your business processes.
Again, I sort of kind of have a somewhat general idea what you’d like to achieve — enhance business processes. But I have no clue what unique tech or approach you have to do it.
All the other words you use are pretty much a waste of space. I know you’re trying to sell me products or services, so why even include them?
And “AI” used to be special, but now everyone says they’re using it, so it’s just another buzzword.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably sussed out some Dos from this list of Don’ts. But I won’t go there yet.
Next week, I’ll dive into some examples of awesome company one-liners, and look at specific tips about how to write them for your own company.