Whenever I have a creative exploration to do for a copywriting job, I use a step I call “putting words in baskets.”
Confession: for most of the last 25 years I’ve been calling them “buckets.” I renamed them for broader appeal in the last year when I started sharing my system with others. But, so you know where my head is at, I literally imagined 5 gallon plastic buckets. The kind in which we keep all the random small balls in the garage. The kind they use to mix large batches of beer batter and hot sauce in the best restaurants. The kind you can turn over and play drums on when they’re empty. That’s so Zen.
And, despite my love of brewed, fermented and distilled things, I avoided barrels, because those are too big. We’re NOT waiting months or even weeks to decide on this tagline, just so you know.
My virtual baskets are actually three pages of paper, or three columns on a page, depending on the project. Each one is labelled to hold a certain collection of words, phrases, ideas and images pertaining to what that basket is gathering.
For naming and taglining, the baskets have become the heart of the system. There are only a couple of other steps you need to perform to successfully write a great tagline, and since the baskets are where the brainstorming happens, they tend to be the fun part for most people.
But you can also get lost in all the junk you put in these things. So here is a quick tutorial on the coolest part of writing, with a contained approach for you to avoid its dangers and distractions. I give you: “The Word Basket Method.”
1. Look for Holes in Your Name
If you don’t understand the best purpose and highest potential for your tagline yet, please read the first two parts in this series. You should be writing your tagline knowing that it is there serve as an ally to your name. You need to understand its job description.
We’ll be setting up baskets in order to hold whatever falls through the cracks related to your name. If your name, for example, doesn’t differentiate you, or makes it hard to understand what you provide, these sorts of “holes” can be addressed in your tagline.
Also, know a bit about the type of tagline you might end up with according to the voice you will use for your brand, and what will benefit you in your market space. In some industries, it pays to be more commanding, or inspirational, or matter-of-fact.
2. Set Up & Label 3 Word Baskets
As mentioned, the baskets are pieces of paper or columns on a piece of paper. For your tagline, I recommend columns on a page turned landscape/on its side. We don’t want you to go on with this process for too long. Tighter deadline = smaller baskets.
Now label them (column or page headers), so you know what sorts of things to put in them:
Basket A) What you give; descriptions of results
You, your product or services, deliver a promise of something. What does it mean or do for the user? How does it work or feel? What changes for them? What do you provide?
Basket B) What they do; actionable opportunities
Your customers will have the chance to make a change. They acquire something that helps them in some way–how will they use it? What actions take place? How are they equipped?
Basket C) The cool concepts; the aha ideas
There are special thoughts, visions, memories and possibilities related to using your product or service, or working with you/your business. What’s awesome, witty, abstract, perfect?
When I write for clients, I use more specific labels to guide the exploration based on the clients’ project and intention for it. I don’t have your details–you do. So start with these labels, and drill down to more specific labels if you can.
About being more specific: For pen to Zen, I might have labelled A) Pro Copywriting Help
B) Projects Done Well & Fast and C) Stress Free
#3 Fill the Baskets
At the start of this Tutorial, I described the baskets, saying each is labelled to hold a collection of words, phrases, ideas and images pertaining to what that basket is gathering.
That about covers it, except to remember that this is a creative exploration–you are brainstorming. Not deciding whether it is good enough, or if it makes any sense, or even if it belongs in your tagline. The baskets will produce plenty of nothing, most likely, but there will be a few gems. You’ll dig through them in the next step.
For my own stream-of-consciousness, I tend to turn to song titles and lyrics (no big surprise there), places I’ve been, food and drink (or any highly sensory items or experiences), and common catch phrases or quotes.
I also write things in little clusters when it applies, so I won’t fill my page too soon with one stream of ideas. For example, Stress-Free could lead to meditate, breathe, calm, and without distress in one cluster; vacation, beach, fresh air, relax in another.
#4 Sift Through the Baskets
This is my favorite step. It’s like going through family pictures to make a display. You can’t use them all, and you discovered some unexpected ones, too. What you need to do now is edit.
Return to your notes on Step #1. Remind yourself what your intentions for your tagline are in regard to supporting your name and making a first impression on screen and in print.
Take any items out of your baskets that don’t immediately register as truly useful for constructing your tagline (strikeout but save; you might want to use these for post topics or merchandise ideas later). Realize: if you have an abstract name, nothing from Basket C) might make the cut. It’s okay. No hole to fill there.
With all that is left, create a new, small basket (single shorter list) of words, phrases, and ideas that can be formed into tagline concepts. At this stage, some people have actually written their tagline already. One of those small statements you brainstormed at will can turn out to be exactly what you need to tag your brand!
#5 Get Taglining
It’s time to actually write. Use your short list and tweak your favorites. If you work like me, you’ll begin wordsmashing and phrasesmashing. You’ll take half of one and a third of another and then flip it backwards to see if it sounds better.
Your goal: come up with 3 – 5 versions MAX that fill the holes you identified in step #1.
Like a zipline, your tagline should take your name from here to there: here is where you are now, strapped in and ready to go, there is where everyone is anxious to learn more about you.
#6 Get Testy
Pick a favorite, but don’t fall in love with it just yet. Get some opinions. Please don’t take every detail of each opinion to heart, but ask a decent bunch of people, based on your intentions for your business and your name, what they think of your favorite, and your alternate versions.
You might get a perspective you hadn’t considered. Use the feedback to firm up your decision, then look around for a free and clear ability to use this phrase. A little trademark search online never hurt anyone. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a good start. And so is searching on your own, checking the competition, social media, and so on.
Don’t go crazy, but be on the safe side.
Then pick the one, and consider yourself tagged.
EPILOGUE: Break Out of That Basket!
If you’re stuck (it happens all the time; this sounds a lot easier than it is for some folks), let me know. Ask a question below.
Or, to have the perfect tag to last a lifetime, we can do it with pen to Zen in 3 Days or less, depending on how far you have gotten on your own. How good would it feel to be done tomorrow?
Keep an eye out for our next Tutorial, also. We’ll be dissecting great, good and terrible taglines, so you can see inside the guts of how they work — and don’t — to make or break a name and first impression. I’m putting my own tag on the table, too, and the results might surprise you!