Granny was in a hurry. I followed her into the utility room, where she snatched a jar of her home-canned bread and butter pickles from the storage shelf. Dashing to the sink, where she’d been washing pans, she began to rinse the dusty jar.
Suddenly, the jar shattered in her hands. The hot water had reacted with the cool glass. There, at the bottom of the porcelain sink, a mass of pickles and glass lay sparkling in the summer sunlight.
Granny shot me a rueful look. “Haste makes waste,” she said.
Speed Versus Efficiency
As Granny showed all those years ago, speed is sometimes at odds with efficiency. This particularly plays out whenever a professional services marketer picks up a new service line. By the time a service gets marketing support, internal demand has built up to its explosive limit. The pressure’s on to provide all the things—a marketing plan, an awareness campaign, a revamped website, and so forth—right away.
Don’t do it.
Before launching any kind of marketing initiative, there’s one step you have to take. It’s a simple (though not easy) task that, done right, will efficiently explain your service in a way that interests potential clients. Skip it, and you’ll probably end up doing a lot of rework.
You need to create a logline.
What Loglines Look Like
“Logline” is a term borrowed from the entertainment industry. It’s a single sentence that tells people what a story is about. More importantly, it’s the hook that gets people interested. Without a logline, agents and producers won’t read your script.
Have you seen loglines before? If you’ve ever looked at a movie guide, then yes, you have. Here are some examples:
A bored and sheltered princess escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American newsman in Rome. (Roman Holiday)
A television network cynically exploits a deranged former anchor’s ravings and revelations about the news media for its own profit. (Network)
A skilled extractor is offered a chance to regain his old life as payment for a task considered to be impossible. (Inception)
If you’re like most people, loglines help you decide which movie to see.
A logline can similarly help busy clients decide whether they’re interested in your service. After all, consultants have a story to tell too. Think of your service as a script, and find a concise way to summarize it.
Take the Time to Be Brief
I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
As Mark Twain astutely observed, elegance takes a lot of effort. The reason you don’t see many loglines outside of the media industry is because they’re hard to write. Doing so is considered an art form, and some people make their living at it.
A screenplay can be complex, with plot twists and subtexts that pursue multiple themes. Boiling all this down to just one sentence seems like misrepresentation. It’s natural to think you’re shortchanging the work by leaving out so much of what’s interesting. But if you want to reach an audience, you need to get good at this.
B2B services are similar. Typically, a service addresses interrelated issues and can yield a number of positive outcomes. Providers worry that any omission of information will cause prospective clients to look elsewhere. As a result, they pack as much as they can into a description, rendering it all but incoherent to prospective buyers.
Remember, a service logline isn’t intended to catalogue every task or benefit. Neither must it be so airtight it could hold up in court. It just needs to convey, simply and directly, what your offering is about.
Let’s Write a Logline
Now that you know about loglines, try writing one.
Think about the service you want to promote. Who’s the typical buyer? What’s the primary business issue your solution is designed to address? What kind of outcome does the buyer want?
Write all this down. Never mind if it’s ugly; you’ll fix it later. All you need right now is something to work with.
Here’s a draft logline:
Our service is used by organizations to help reduce the costs and risks associated with workplace injuries and accidents through the use of rigorous statistical techniques to identify their causes and contributing factors and the development of proven targeted interventions to reduce their frequency and severity.
That’s one sentence, but it requires too many reads to understand. So let’s make it better. We’ll begin with something easy: removing the subjective modifiers.
Our service is used by organizations to help reduce the costs and risks associated with workplace injuries and accidents through the use of
rigorous statistical techniques to identify their causes and contributing factors and the development of proven targeted interventions to reduce their frequency and severity.
Hyperbole doesn’t help clients understand what you do. And forget what you’ve been told about subliminal advertising; telling clients what to think about you doesn’t work in enterprise B2B. For better or for worse, buyers draw their own conclusions about your capabilities, based on the evidence you provide.
We should also be clearer about our intended audience:
Our service is used by
organizations manufacturing plants to help reduce the costs and risks associated with workplace injuries and accidents through the use of statistical techniques to identify their causes and contributing factors and the development of targeted interventions to reduce their frequency and severity.
Next, let’s trim some detail:
Our service is used by manufacturing plants to help reduce
the costs and risks associated with workplace injuries and accidents by through the use of statistical techniques to identifying their causes and contributing factors and the development of targeted interventions to reduce their frequency and severity setting up ways to prevent them.
Folks understand the problems workplace accidents cause; you don’t need to get too pedantic about it. Neither is this the place to get into technologies, tools and techniques. A logline is focused on what you do. Leave the specifics of how for another statement.
Finally, let’s lose the passive voice:
Our service is used by We help manufacturing plants to help reduce workplace accidents by identifying their causes and setting up ways to prevent them.
Now it’s clearer just who is taking the action. And here’s the final version:
We help manufacturing plants reduce workplace accidents by identifying their causes and setting up ways to prevent them.
A Logline Rule of Thumb
There are no particular rules for structuring a logline. That said, I’ve found the following template helpful:
We help [a category of client] [achieve a result] by [taking a course of action].
We help CMOs increase margins or market share by improving the way they set and enforce prices.
We help auto dealers lower the cost of sales leads by predicting which prospects are likeliest to buy.
We help retailers reduce losses due to shrinkage by improving their ability to detect theft, fraud and administrative errors.
Go ahead and experiment a little. For example, some services have multiple outcomes that really should be given equal weight. That’s okay, so long as the logline stays clear and concise:
We help banks manage credit risk by enabling them to gauge risk versus reward, protect themselves against customers who are liable to default and intervene in time to mitigate losses when they do happen.
Once you’ve got this down, go ahead and fiddle with the structure if you think it makes more sense.
The Linchpin of Your Marketing Initiatives
Corporate decision-makers are looking for help with their specific objectives. At the same time, they’re inundated with vendor messaging. A lot of them won’t read, or listen, past the first sentence. If you don’t grab them then, you won’t have any chance to show them the range of your capabilities.
Remember, your only goal is to explain—briefly and in plain language—what the service is for. Until you do that, you don’t have a practice; you’re just doing stuff for money. Take the time to get your logline right, and you’ll have a solid basis for all the rest of your marketing efforts.