"What's your tagline?"
If you dread this question as much as I do, read on.
Summing up our purpose in a tagline, labeling ourselves, our activities, and our creations with words that feel accurate and resonate with our audience, can be a tall order.
And that stands to reason. You can't see your own face without a mirror, because that's where your eyes are. Likewise, you can't see your own essence, because you're steeped in it.
You are your own blindspot. And so are we all.
A tagline is like a subtitle. The title is just there to grab your attention. It's the subtitle that actually outlines the value proposition, the reason why you need this now.
I have no problem coming up with clever titles for my creations. Book title ideas often accost me unbidden when I'm in the shower or out for a walk. But coming up with a subtitle that clearly describes how the book actually takes the reader from where they're stuck to where they want to be? That's a whole different ball of wall spaghetti.
I was really struggling, for example, with the subtitle for Release Your Masterpiece, until my wonderful book launch team at Red Thread Publishing suggested a brainstorming call. It took the three of us all of 15 minutes to come up with "a powerful guide to discover your authentic gifts and put them to good use."
After that, I was convinced: the trick to effective subtitling is to get an outside perspective.
And yet, when it came time to come up with a brand-defining tagline, it didn't occur to me to ask for help.
"I'm great at coming up with tag lines!" I told myself. "I do it for my clients all the time. This should be no problem."
But, as we all know, should be and is are two different things. So not only did I struggle for months to see my own essence without a mirror, I judged myself harshly for failing at this impossible task.
I even began to doubt my own gifts. "If I can't do this for myself," I despaired,"maybe I'm not so good at it after all. And if I'm no good at this, maybe I'm no good at all the other things I think I'm good at."
So now not only was I no closer to summing up my gifts in a clever catchphrase, I wasn't even sure what my gifts were, or indeed if I even had any.
Luckily, I've learned well over the years that the best way to pull myself out of a funk is to help someone else get out of theirs. So when I saw my husband David looking just as defeated as I felt, I lured him out for a walk-and-talk, and started asking him questions about what he had already tried, and what the results had been.
Hearing the defensiveness and frustration in his voice, I realized he was feeling judged by me, which is the exact opposite of what I was going for. And suddenly, I knew what I needed to do to help him.
I needed to use my gift.
I physically stopped him, turned him toward me, held both his hands, looked him straight in the eye, and said:
“Hey. Listen: this isn’t on you, okay? It’s my job to get you unstuck, because that’s my gift. It’s your job to innovate, because that’s your gift: coming up with out-of-the-box ideas to try, and running experiments to find out what works and what doesn’t. And you’re doing that beautifully. Now it’s my turn. Please just relax and let me do what I do best.”
The lines on his forehead softened, his fists unclenched, and he released the breath he’d been holding. “Wow. Thank you. What a relief. I can just…”
“Do only what only you can do?”
“Exactly! And you’re right, I’m doing a hell of a job experimenting and finding out what doesn’t work. I’ve crossed so many things off the list by now, pretty soon all that’s left will be what works.”
“Right?” I laughed, “I mean, that’s just statistics.”
And with that, the breakdown dam was broken, and he was rushing toward a tide-turning breakthrough. By the time we returned home, he wasn’t walking anymore, he was running for his computer, and spent the rest of the evening mapping out his next plan of attack.
Meanwhile, I stood in front of the white board, staring at that blank space where my tagline should be, and judging myself harshly for not being able to articulate what I actually do.
That’s when it occurred to me how hypocritical I was being. Here I was telling him “it’s not on you” and to accept the gifts of others, while telling myself, “it’s up to me to figure this out on my own.”
“Fuck that!” I decided, right then and there. Humans aren’t designed to work alone. And I am no exception.
I waited for David to come up for air, then called over, “Hey luv, can I ask you something?”
“If you had to sum up what I do in just a few words, what would you say?”
“You spark genius,” he told me, without a moment’s hesitation.
Stunned, I grabbed my marker and wrote at the very center: SPARK GENIUS.
And there it was: the heart and soul of my personal brand.
Stephen Sondheim was right: it takes two.
Thanks to David’s insight, I now have the perfect Marie Kondo question to ask myself when deciding what does and doesn’t belong—in my life, on my website, in my offerings: “Does it spark genius?” If not, it’s gotta go.
If you're struggling to articulate the essence of your offering, please stop. This is just not something we can effectively do for ourselves.
Check your insecurities at the door and ask your network:
What specific value have I given you?
What do you count on me / come to me for?
What would you say is my greatest gift?
Then, sign up for a free consultation with me so I can put my gift to good use helping you articulate yours!