Inspiration at the Urinal

December 4, 2009

Urinal, what a horrible word. No matter in what context it’s used, it is just an awful word. But like George Washington said to his dad after the whole Cherry Tree incident, “I cannot tell a lie,” which brings me back to the urinal and my source of inspiration.

A few weeks ago we stopped for Pho (pronounced Pha – a Vietnamese noodle soup) and I made a quick visit to “the room”. While standing at the urinal I noticed, in front of my nose, an air freshener/automatic toilet cleaning device called the Sanor System. It wasn’t actually the device that caught my eye, nor was it the pleasant smell of Pine that had my attention. It was the simple, concise messaging this sanitary restroom supply company put on their product: Sanor System: Clean Restrooms. Happy People. Brilliant – in just a few words it accomplishes everything – the name of the product and what it does: it makes restrooms (at least urinals) clean and that makes people happy. I was inspired and the Sanor revelation was the topic at the table, until the soup arrived.

How is it that a sanitation company with, I’m assuming a small or no marketing team, comes up with 4 words that absolutely define it? This is what inspired me. Year after year we work with clients as they endeavor to find, or make-up, the words that will be used as standard company messaging. Most often this is an iterative process that ends when “majority rules” across marketing and the exec ranks. But sometimes the process never ends – usually because one or more of the decision makers feels like the true-essence of the company/product is not being captured. Typically this at the point where filler words are being tossed about like: We’re an end-to-end, multi-layered, on-demand provider with scalable architecture that works across multiple platforms. Huh? Yeah that’s going to be AWESOME in a pitch!

I have somewhat faint memories from my Communications classes at the UW – it was 1988 – but I do recall a professor lecturing about the KISS Principle aka Keep It Simple Stupid. A very simple marketing principle yes, but one that somehow gets overlooked when the task of messaging is at hand. I’m not sure if this messaging paralysis analysis comes from fear of not saying enough, saying too much, or not saying the right thing, or if it’s driven from a competitive stance, ie: our competition messages this way. Whatever the reason I believe companies win when brevity in messaging is embraced and the words used actually describe the nature of the product; for example PR minus the BS. Yes that was a shameless plug.

So next time you’re thinking about messaging maybe it’s time to get your mind in the toilet. Clean Restrooms. Happy People.


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