One of the nicest things you can do for other people is make yourself easy to remember. Instead of burning their brains trying to recall who you are and what you stand for, a personal catchphrase is a elegant anchor to the rest of you. It serves as a compact memory assistant that melts mental blocks. You don’t need to be a celebrity, but you do need to have personality.
Ever heard of Rodney Dangerfield? The man said:
“I don’t get no respect!”
thousands of times (are you seeing him in your head as you read this?), and he literally built a prosperous and durable comedy career based on that catchphrase. Let’s make no mistake, he was a versatile performer who chillingly portrayed an abusive father in Natural Born Killers, but to many, his sheer lack of received respect coupled with mannerisms like tie-tugging helped him be recognized and succeed.
Whether you love, hate them — or otherwise — Donald Trump’s “You’re fired” and Paris Hilton’s “That’s hot” are unlikely to leave your head anytime soon. And you can’t get much briefer than 2 words. As a type of meme, catchphrases’ brethren include LOLCATS and other Internet phenomena like the many parodies of 300’s “This… is… Sparta!” which are immediately accessible, and thus, spread easily. As Internet marketing guru Seth Godin (who’s coined catchphrases) sez:
“Ideas that spread, win.”
My catchphrase is “Friendly greetings!”, and I use it to introduce my Second Life video tutorials (with almost 3 million views) and other public activities. If you google for it in quotation marks right now, you’ll find I’m the #2 match with this image:
Without quotes, I’m still in the Top 10. This didn’t happen all at once, but in waves. Here’s my advice on popularizing yourself through a personal catchphrase so you can reap the rewards:
Your catchphrase must be natural
Don’t hunt for the obscure: just about all catchphrases consist of simple words that are easy to remember. And even alien quips like “Klaatu barada nikto” have a singsong quality which is pleasant, especially if you’ve not just read, but heard the original. If you have an opportunity, record yourself saying your catchphrase. It adds a dimension that’s impossible in text alone, and almost all catchphrases originated from being said out loud.
I stress that being creative doesn’t mean being alien — by appropriating words already familiar to other people, you’re well on your way. In fact, I’d hedge on “go for a catchphrase that sounds like it couldn’t be any more obvious”. Most people psychologically make the mistake of thinking “obvious = bad” when it can clearly be the opposite; my “Friendly greetings!” is certainly a fine example. And obviously, you need a catchphrase you’d say without sounding forced and artificial. It should connect with the surrounding conversation. This is why “Friendly greetings!” is such a strong lead to the rest of a discussion.
You can’t overuse your catchphrase
Family and friends may get tired of seeing your catchphrase, but the world has over 6.6 billion people and you’ll never, ever reach everyone who could possibly be interested in you and what you have to offer.
Note that I mentioned “personal catchphrases”, because while there are a lot of similarities to advertising slogans, your catchphrase is dependent on your delivery, not an inanimate object’s. If someone else says it, they’re likely either parodying or paying homage, thus spreading it further.
Also consider if others can be proud of sharing your catchphrase with their friends, bringing them in on you. You, first and foremost, must be willing to commence that fun.
You must often hear your catchphrase being said back to you
I feel sorry for Wayne Knight because of how Seinfeld typecast him with “Newman!”, but it’s better to be known than forgotten.
One of the simplest ways to tell if a catchphrase is working is if you put it out there and hear it echo back. I get awesome people saying “Friendly greetings!” back to me everyday, and one of the reasons it works so well is it’s an icebreaker and it’s comfortable to say.
Target audience matters too: Beavis (Butt-head’s buddy) may have had an affinity for proclaiming “I am Cornholio”, but it’s unlikely buttoned-up academics will be chanting that phrase too (unless they have a wild, secret, subversive streak).
Take 3-4 seconds and think about whether your catchphrase is something the people you target (whether it’s kinds of friends you want to make or a market niche you’re aiming for) will be able to relate to. If it works for you, it’ll attract like-minded people, I guarantee.
And be brave to throw away dead-end catchphrases (yes, you can have more than one — I’m working on boosting “Yayzerama!”); it’s pretty easy to tell in weeks if they’re starting to work or not, so drop the weight.
Your catchphrase must have a purpose
Even if your catchphrase doesn’t state the purpose, it’s pointless to have popularity without followup results. Is your catchphrase a hook to help you move product, get you gigs playing at parties (and hot dates afterwards), or simply to make you smile?
They can sound nonsensical and stupid, but catchphrases absolutely must do something good for you, and desirably, your fellow humans. Otherwise, why bother?
Share your catchphrase just about everywhere
If you can put your catchphrase in a blog post title and make it flow, more power to you — numerous SEO strategies observe that Google and other search engines weigh titles heavily. Flickr picture titles (as the one I showed you) and other opportunities to get your catchphrase seen matter, too. From experience, I’ve found this to be true.
If you’re self-employed or otherwise have creative control, your catchphrase should be on your business cards. This gives you a fab opportunity to create rapport by saying your catchphrase out loud as you give your card to a fresh acquaintance. (Alas, if you work for a company that already has strong branding and isn’t in the business of letting your personality help boost them, your individuality can’t shine as much.)
Remember the above steps and keep it terse yet memorable. All the best being catchy, and let me know your catchphrases in the comments!