• Merrell McGinness

The one who communicates best wins

Updated: May 7, 2021

It’s not always fair, but true. You can be extremely talented and still not successful. Your product can be superior but still not sell. The secret to success? Clear communication.

The companies who communicate their value in the clearest, most concise way will win in business. It’s sad to think that there are loads of talented people and superior products not getting their due.

But it’s also an opportunity. If you are the best in the business and you’re NOT experiencing the success you deserve, call me! More importantly, contact me before you invest in a fancy new website or ad campaign.

Too often people focus so much on the vehicle for their message, they forget no one is driving the car. It’s so, so critical to nail messaging first. Then promotion.

So, how do you do it?

I wish I could say it’s simple but it’s not. Well, it’s simple to understand; difficult to execute. You must connect with your customer. Don’t tell them your story. Invite them into it.

To help clients do that, I use the proven Storybrand framework. For a detailed breakdown of how that works, see this post.

But if you’re looking to do one simple thing TODAY to improve your marketing, then you need to develop your one-liner. I bet you’ve heard of an elevator pitch. But did you know there’s a proven formula?

The problem + Your solution = Success/Happy Ending


This one feels awkward at first. When someone says “What do you do?” you want to answer their question, right? If you have a straightforward job you’ve probably gotten used to a straightforward answer like, I’m a dentist.

Things get a little murkier if you’re a data visualization expert specializing in Tableau and Power BI. My husband has worked in industrial real estate for 15 years and I still can’t clearly explain what he does. If this sounds like you, you’ve probably gotten used to stumbling over your answer and ending with, “it’s complicated.” When that happens, you’ve lost your audience.

The Storybrand approach is to answer the question with a question. Lead with the problem. Take the dentist for example. She could say, “You know how some people are really afraid of going to the dentist? I specialize in sedation dentistry so people of all ages can get the dental care they need without any of the anxiety.”

The listener very likely knows someone who is terrified of going to the dentist. What are the chances they would then get the contact information of the dentist to pass it along to their friend? I’d say pretty high.

Now let’s look at the data visualization expert. This was an actual client. Here’s the written one-liner we developed. (A spoken response would be more conversational).

Most businesses collect tons of data but only use a fraction of it. I create customized dashboards that display key metrics, so leaders have the information they need to confidently run their companies.

Everyone knows we live in a data-driven culture. You don’t have to understand HOW he does it, but you can immediately understand the benefit of having a beautifully designed dashboard to instantly know the health of your business. If you’ve ever tried to decipher rows of data in Google analytics (which his customer has) you’re hooked even more.

The idea is to open a story loop in the listener’s brain. When you do that, they want to know more. In order to do that, start with the problem.

Just be sure to:

  1. Get specific

  2. Make sure its a pain point

  3. Keep it as short as possible


Humans are natural problem solvers. Tell someone a problem, they’ll immediately feel compelled to solve it. It’s why people say “Everything happens for a reason” when you’re struggling with something hard. They want to solve the problem. (Which isn’t actually helpful but that’s another story).

In business, it IS helpful to present your plan to solve a problem. People are drawn to it. Here’s where you can introduce your product or service and how it’s unique. BUT, resist the urge to give too much detail.

This is really difficult for most people. But this is a one-liner, not a thesis. You don’t need to present three ways you help. Pick one. I think it always helps to imagine yourself at a cocktail party. At what point will someone’s eyes glaze over and they start inching away?

Remember, a one-liner is your opportunity to keep the conversation going. Leave them wanting more. The dentist doesn’t need to tell you the type of sedation she uses, clinical trials on it safety or efficacy, or any other minutia about the process. You don’t need to know how many years she’s been in practice or how many employees she has. That comes later. For the purpose of a one-liner, keep it to the bare minimum.


The most important part of the one-liner is the successful ending. You’re going to want to think big. What is the controlling idea of your business? When trying to decide the ending of your one-liner, ask yourself “How am I making people’s lives better?” It should be something they really want. And that usually taps into how your product or service makes them feel.

For example, the data visualization expert isn’t just providing dashboards. He’s helping leaders confidently run their companies.

I didn’t realize that large companies can generate 3 BILLION rows of data every day. And that data analysts are often tasked with copying and pasting this data from four or five different databases just so their boss can get one “simple” question answered. Some companies waste hundreds of hours trying to get a snapshot of how their business is really doing.

Through data visualization, he can automatically pull data from multiple locations and automate the process. He also makes it visually appealing and easy to scan. It’s fascinating, but it also just took me 100+ words to explain that.

I know your business is complex. I know you solve lots of problems. But what is the strongest, most positive result of working with you? THAT is what you put in your one-liner. Get into the details later.


So you have a one-liner. Congratulations! What’s next?

Try it out on people. Tweak whatever feels awkward or uninteresting. Once you feel like you’ve nailed it, memorize it. Write it on an index card and carry it around with you. Use it on your business card, website, proposals, speeches. Teach it to your team.

The one-liner that you say will be slightly different than the written version. It will need to be even shorter for a business card. Be sure to include it in the explanatory paragraph of your website, but it might not fit in the headline. It will take different forms, but a one-liner should be a part of ALL your marketing materials.

Remember: it's more than words on a page. It’s the rallying cry for your company.

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