All posts by Peter Kerr

Brandname as story
Good Natured Garden Services nails its first most important story – its name

The value of starting your business story with a brand/name that resonates with your product or service is priceless.

Conversely, giving a business an obscure name, which in itself requires explaining before you get around to telling people what you do and why you should care is immensely counterproductive.

In today’s attention economy, failing to immediately seize the opportunity to encourage a potential client to ask (in person, by phone, by the internet) “tell me more”, is like starting a 100 meter dash 10 meters behind everyone else.

So, observing a passing small truck emblazoned with “Good Natured Garden Services”, brought forth a mental tick of approval the other day.

It’s a great name on many levels.

Firstly, I know what they do – garden services.

They also answer a why, using a double-acting metaphor – good natured.

Good natured as applied to plants and your physical environment.

Good natured as in their philosophical approach and way of interacting.

You can’t help but feel a warm glow of understanding from their name – simply from getting their first most important story right.

Now, I don’t know GNGS from a bar of soap, or how long it took them to come up with their uplifting brand/name.

But it is a moniker that in four well-crafted words tells me virtually everything I need to know. They’ve nailed their name.

‘Good Natured Garden Services’ is a true Million Dollar Message.

As a value proposition ‘Ours not mine’ is a pretty emotionally powerful set of three words. Its Million Dollar Message is self-evident.

So hats off to the national organisation which also has a great tagline in ‘Giving nature a voice’.

value proposition
A strongly emotive set of three words makes ‘Ours not mine’ an easy to understand Million Dollar Message

The poster lines a design company’s window display I regularly walk past.

It may be a line that Forest & Bird has used a lot…but it is the first time I’ve seen it. (Apparently 50,000 people marched behind a banner with the proclamation in Auckland in 2010, so I am a bit behind the times).

Still, better late than never, and giving praise where it is due…

Resonating key message around its value proposition

Even without necessarily agreeing with the totality of Forest & Bird’s argument, this triplet resonates as a value proposition.

You’ve got to admire the clean simplicity of F&B’s message.

It is easy to remember, difficult to argue against.

It is a reminder of who ultimately owns much of the native forest estate in New Zealand – us.

It has a sense of collectiveness to reinforce the idea that we’re stronger, together.

Whoever thought it up must’ve been delighted when these words came to mind. They would have instantly realised they’d coined a Million Dollar Message.

Has anyone else seen another environmentally-oriented statement that’s as brilliantly effective?



Do all the political parties have a random cliche slogan generator to create their key message? After all, this is their value proposition.

Or, is the brief to be so bland that people are bored into voting for them?

Even ‘at least the election has got more interesting’ Jacinda Ardern has not taken the opportunity to reposition Labour by forsaking “A fresh approach” for “Let’s do this”. Swapping a banality for worn-out words is an opportunity wasted.

All the parties have mostly failed to personalise and also neglected to incorporate a metaphor in their slogan.

Delivery is Domino's value proposition
At least someone can make decent use of a political slogan…and Domino’s does deliver! (Source: Newshub)

Underwhelming Million Dollar Message

They’ve utterly underwhelmed us all in what cries out to be a million dollar message.

Just to recap, here are the (un)inspiring slogans being erected in a neighbourhood near you, along with a comment on what, if anything, it is telling us.

(Arranged in reverse alphabetical order to avoid hints of bias)

United Future – “Working to secure a Better Deal, For Future Generations” (what I hope you’d be doing anyway…a given?)

The Opportunities Party – “Care. Think. Vote” (the best slogan; will appeal to a sizable number of people who feel they’re consigned to voting for the least worst party)

NZ First – “Stand with us” (preaching to the converted)

National – “Delivering for New Zealanders” (delivering what? A perfect time to introduce a meaningful metaphor)

Maori – “Make it Maori” (why? As a pakeha, could be tempted if a reason was also given)

Labour – “Let’s do it” (what? Lessen inequality, have a rational immigration scheme, party)

Greens – “Great Together” (historic now, too cute) . “I love New Zealand” (We all presumably do, at least it is partly personalised)

ACT Party – “Own Your Future” (too big a call for a political party. Your is useful, directing a message to an individual consumer – which is what a vote is)

Why not 2 – 10 words that really resonate?

Given that a billboard will be the sole piece of election collateral that many people will see, you’d think the party experts would put more effort into capturing our hearts and minds with 2 – 10 words that really resonate with potential voters.

The only slogan that even remotely rings the right bells is TOP’s Care. Think. Vote.

You are forced to what the heck it is they’re trying to say.

Meanwhile Labour has missed a golden opportunity to tap Britain’s Labour playbook, who almost pulled off a recent, historic come-from-behind election win on the back of its slogan, “For the many, not the few”.

The simmering sense of inequality that is part of our economic landscape is surely the jugular vein that NZ Labour needs to tap.

You have to assume that none of the parties have consulted more widely than their own congregations when they’re dreaming up insipid ‘inspiration’.

There are certainly no Million Dollar Messages opening a door to my mind, beating a pathway to my heart. I’m unmoved.

As underwhelming utterances, these political slogans are hardly worth the billboard they’re printed on.


Never, ever, believe anyone who says that creating a tagline or slogan or positioning statement is easy.

It can’t be since it is a massive challenge to condense your message to a succinct 2 – 10 words that express your heart and soul and value proposition.

Crafting a what, how and why proclamation takes mental sweat.

So, it is extremely honest of PledgeMe founder Anna Guenther to state it took three years for the crowdfunding platform to nail its own slogan. She was speaking at a recent Deloitte Private after work function.

PledgeMe’s tagline is:

‘Helping Kiwis fund the things they care about’

There’s no big fancy words here. It is original (won’t be confused with with anyone else’s expression), natural and clear-cut.

A simple, emotional and appealing tagline

The tagline obeys the requirements of being simple, emotional and appealing. If Anna uses the expression, people immediately understand what PledgeMe is about and follow up with a question.

They ask ‘tell me more’, rather than screwing their face up and going ‘what?’.

I’d like to think that Punchline’s co-design process, working in the trenches with the client, rather than sitting on a cloud and dreaming something up, would have come up with something similar…and taken days rather than years.

Punchline leads with question-storming, and understands you’re trying to start your story as cleanly and empathetically and metaphorically as possible. This removes the temptation to create a waffly and generic phrase that could equally apply to an IT company or widget-maker.

Now businesses can carry out their own trial-and-error slogan-creation process, but it is almost invariably quicker and cheaper to have it facilitated by an outsider.

Someone from without rather than within is more likely to sort the wood from the trees, to be able to see the big picture.

That’s because too much knowledge, too much intimacy with a product or service removes the detachment required to give what you do a name and description.

However, PledgeMe has, eventually, collared its own million dollar message.

‘Helping Kiwis fund the things they care about’ works equally well as a barbeque ‘what do you do?’ question, and as the first thing you read on their website.

Having a statement that your own people are more than happy to use in a social setting is the ultimate truth test for an organisation.

PledgeMe passes the inspection with flying colours.

Mevo, a pay-by-the-hour electric car startup (though pretty well-funded) based in Wellington’s Biz Dojo, has excellent messaging – I can’t fault it.

Its message starts with its name – Mevo. This looks both novel and familiar – and is in fact the word move, with the ‘e’ and ‘o’ reversed…hence Mevo.

In eight words it describes exactly what it is, what it provides.

‘App-based, on-demand access to electric vehicles’.

Mevo’s created a million dollar message (in fact a number of them)…now to prove its business model

Emotion-based message

Finally (among admittedly many messages), Mevo has an emotion-based reminder of what’s in it for their customers.

‘Own the journey, not the machine’.

You can easily imagine one, or all, of these expressions being effortlessly and unashamedly being said at a BBQ. Just as importantly they can roll off the tongue at a business function (both of which are spot-on indicators that a message is on point).

As well as tapping into the zeitgeist of the moment as we head to a world of non-car ownership, Mevo has nailed their million dollar messages.

The private company expects to have six cars in two pods (for pick up) around Wellington by the end of March. It is looking to prove its business model with 50 vehicles dotted around the city by the end of the year.

One thing that won’t let it down as it seeks (loads of) customers is its messaging.

Its choice of words are simple, emotional and appealing – three criteria vital to telling your story as persuasively as possible.

Excuse the pun; but Mevo has messaging that moves people to action.

The billboard I walk past often first got me interested when The Good Taste Company’s dips, endorsed by chef Michael van de Elzen, used the term “My great tasting dips are good from scratch”.

Originally, it was the ‘good from scratch component that took my fancy

Good from scratch is very close to, though obviously different to made from scratch. It also ties in too with the company name Good Taste.

But it gives that strong impression they’re doing what I’d do at home myself, starting with vegetables and taking it from there.

The image too is wonderfully reinforcing. It is as if Michael’s chopped up all the ingredients himself and is handmaking these dips, just for me.

Whoever came up with the line and just as important the reinforcing image, deserves a truffle dip, specially made by Michael.

This is because a simple message is really hard to craft in the first instance. Throw in that message also needs to be simple and persuasive, then this mini-story has an even more difficult task.

This is a million dollar message. It is deceptively engaging and believable.

Somebody, literally started with scratch – realised that making a claim ‘made from scratch’ is a harder sell. There’s a danger in its ambiguity of meaning.

There’s an interesting blog here from Robin Shreeves in the Mother Nature Network that asks some interesting questions – around what does the term actually mean.

(Check out from scratch too at the English Language and Usage Exchange – a very interesting read).

The image and words of this advertisement allude to how we’d like to think we’d do it ourselves – we use self-persuasion – that reinforces and reminds ourselves of the superiority of these dips.

It is a million dollar message.



But a process is a boring explain, and in the spirit of a picture being worth a thousand words, Punchline’s created a new explanatory diagram.

As seen above, it outlines the process of unearthing a message essence for proposals, presentations, campaigns, copy and taglines. The message arrow, seen below, was put together by Punchline’s collaborative designers,

Creating a million dollar message cannot be rushed

It illustrates why you can’t or shouldn’t rush to develop the two to 10 words that reflect the essence of who and what your company is.

A process of framed creativity means working within the constraints of the industry you operate in, the expectations of your clients and the value proposition of your own product or service.

Just as you are unlikely to find gold nuggets lying on top of the ground, so it takes a bit of digging and fossicking to reveal your own novel yet familiar term to describe your own heart and soul.

The process of unearthing a million dollar message invariably provides other story gems – to be used later in other contexts. This is not the purpose of the exercise, but is a valuable piece of collateral benefit.

There is also a large degree of tacit knowledge that Punchline brings to such messages that matter.

Business knowledge, life experience, understanding of the dynamics of persuasive messages, appreciating the power of metaphors, being a storyteller and realising why words work (or don’t work) are just as important as the process outlined in the diagram.

Ironically, the million dollar message process will invariably change. As Chris Jackson of Northwards Design said after a Brainstrust design facilitation programme he ran earlier this year, “we’re all in permanent beta”.

Which means the Punchline message making process will, and does modify.

Equally, even the million dollar messaging process isn’t as straight-lined as the arrow implies

There is one common factor in all messaging workshops, for all clients – they’re all different.

Now advertising agencies are good at imagination and creation, at mocking-up and perfecting collateral associated with a brand. But, and at the risk of being hung out to dry, those skills don’t cross-credit for your first, most important story – (or tagline). These two to 10 words are a real challenge to uncover no matter how big or small a company.

And it’s precisely because a tagline has to do such a lot of heavy lifting from a communications point of view, that fact’s way way better than fantasy, that a writer’s far more likely to nail it than a ‘creative’.

Let me explain why the process of unearthing a tagline isn’t about creativity or imagination.

Creativity’s a birdseye view of the landscape. It’s an idealised interpretation which often has no relevance at ground level. This is why an ad agency-created tagline commonly fails to resonate…because it unsuccessfully represents the business’s value proposition.

It’s why an organisation’s tagline has to be unearthed in the business trenches, WITH its owners and managers.

Rather than floating out a glamorised but unrealistic set of advertising and brand words, tagline wrangling requires a storyteller, a writer with the ability to listen, intently, to take the lead in the task.

Tagline wrangling also requires a sound understanding of business. Therefore, before any crafting of words, everyone needs to understand what makes the product or service offering faster, cheaper and better for a customer (i.e. smarter).

Once you fathom what makes the company smarter (in the eyes of customers) then other questioning spotlights can be applied. By deeply asking the different, desirable and deliverable elements around a company’s product or service, you distill the One Central Truth of their message.

This One Central Truth may form a tagline in its own right, or could need two to 10 fresh words reflecting the value proposition being expressed.

Crafting these words is likely to be a tangled, fun and challenging process, but what you end up with is a draft tagline. It will very likely be the stage where a thesaurus comes in really handy!

Like any piece of art though, the draft may need refinement and modification. Sometimes a word won’t feel right, and a subtle change makes a tagline much more fit for purpose.

At this stage the draft tagline can be tested outside the firm – and just as importantly inside it.

The tagline and its informal variations needs to be a comfortable expression which rings true across many locales; including a BBQ for example when someone asks “what do you do?”

As your first, most important story – the one popping up in Google search’s brief two line explanation of your company, a tagline is much much more than fanciful words.

A tagline forms the tip of your communications arrow across all formats.

A tagline reinforces and is reinforced by all company messages.

As a story, it is a promise grounded in truth, not a statement floating in the ether.

As a story, your shortest story, along with business managers, your tagline is best discovered and uncovered by a writer.

You might think there would be a degree of angst in blog ghostwriting – creating original social media content in helping business people tell their stories.

After all, the egos of many writers are attached to seeing their own names in print.

But, in my case anyway, it is the opposite.

Blog ghostwriting is the art of translating disparate ideas into a thoughtful story

Blog ghostwriting, on behalf of someone else allows everyone to win – the client, the reader (and potential customer) and me.

The ‘art’ of translation

Now, putting another person’s idea, in their own words and language is both tricky and rewarding.

Particularly if someone is trying to tell a story that has a technical bent, then simplifying without losing meaning can be a challenge.

However, ultimately I’m articulating someone else’s thinking.

The story is their’s – I am merely its translator.

(In that regard, ask yourself the question, do you ever see a translator’s name mentioned in the credits?)

Why I enjoy being an organisation’s unnamed storyteller (a ghostwriter) is:

  • It helps solve a problem (many companies start off a blog, but find it difficult to maintain)
  • The challenge of simply telling what are often technical stories, is a fantastic one to have
  • It helps me improve my own writing – which benefits both my clients and my own novel writing

At the same time, I’ve seen my name in print enough times that, while the thrill hasn’t gone, it isn’t the same as it was over 25 years ago.

Equally, having interviewed thousands of people over that time, many of them experts in their field – the opportunity for me to learn by tapping into their wisdom is tremendously valuable. The number of times I (mentally) go, ‘that’s a very good point’ while ghostwriting occurs quite often.

Sometimes I almost feel as if I should be paying for picking up such new knowledge.

In those cases in particular, if it is a new point to me, there’s a good chance it will be to a reader as well.

Not maintaining a business website’s blog and news makes it appear as if no one is at home.

Put another way, there’s nothing worse than checking out the news or blog part of a site and seeing that the last entry was July 2013.

As colleague, Fraser Carson of Flightdec says, people can spend a lot of money designing a fantastic looking website. However, looks don’t reflect thinking, or the deep thinking that people within an organisation always have, and that can and should be expressed.

So, if content isn’t regularly updated, preferably with original news or views, then a website is regarded as being static. What does it mean?

  • Google’s search algorithm is dependent on new content
  • Original content shows clients that you’re in their game too
  • Original content shows someone is peddling the bike


Given that the above points are negative reasons to regularly update content, why else should businesses regularly blog?

  • Establish and maintain thought leadership
  • Maintain contact with shareholders
  • Provide a means for staff to express their own original thinking around the business’s products and services


This is why content is king.

At the same time, creating such content can be problematic for many organisations.

While there is no shortage of ideas to write about, getting them into a written form is often the challenge.

People are often too busy doing their own job within an organisation, and, as even experienced writers sometimes find, a blank canvas is a tricky beast at the best of times.

What’s the solution in this case?

Hire a writer; get him or her to interview and draft up a story, and publish under the interviewee’s name.



A confession. I’ve been guilty of not maintaining content on my own website. Call it the plumber with leaky taps syndrome, or the mechanic with a smokey car.

Seeing as I’ve been suggesting to clients and potential clients that static content is a no no, and to partly avoid being labeled as a hypocrite…note to self; maintain my own original content!