Hey, What’s the Big Idea?

Every summer, my daughter participates in a local youth theater company.

As much as it thrills me to talk about this, I’m guessing your reaction is something like this: *yawn*.

Why? Because the idea of local youth theater is commonplace. Nothing to capture your imagination. Nothing to get you thinking. Nothing to make you go “huh?”

There’s no Big Idea in that first sentence.

But wait – because I haven’t told you the whole story. And I’m not going to either. Instead, I’ll share the Big Idea of the theater company:

All-girl Shakespeare.

That’s much better, isn’t it? In just three words, you get the Big Idea. 

Now I can go on and tell you all the details. How it started 10 years ago. How no adults are involved, except as drivers. How it’s grown and flourished, and how it’s provided an amazing leadership and teamwork experience for dozens of local girls over the years, ranging in age from 7 to 18…

But if you’re interested at all, it’s because those details are filling out the picture of the Big Idea. A bunch of girls who decided to turn the original all-male genre of Shakespeare plays on its head, and slaps mustaches and beards and swords on 13-year-old girls, and no boys allowed!

Here’s another big idea I read about recently:

Klingon Opera.

Only two words, but if you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you know that the Klingons are a race more or less opposed to the humans who feature in the original series. So there’s this group of Klingon fans who have filled out their language and created an opera, titled “U”. Here’s the basic plot, ripped straight from a feature story on NPR:

U is the story of Kahless the Unforgettable, “who dices 500 warriors with a sword forged from his own hair and some help from the Lady Lukara. To celebrate their victory, they make love in the ankle-deep blood.”

Take that, Madame Butterfly!

Another word for Big Idea is “meme” – an idea so compelling, it spreads easily and effortlessly. Through word of mouth. Through emails. Through Facebook.

Susan Boyle is a great example of a Facebook meme: Underdog Shows Them. (Not us. Them.) And really, the meme of Susan Boyle is understood even quicker and deeper in sounds and images than words. That’s one reason that movies provide us with such a plethora of memes, from “Make My Day” to “Feeling Lucky?” to “Life is like a box of chocolates” to Indiana Jones shooting the guy with the whip to “Rosebud.”

Your Elevator Speech is Way Too Slow

In the old days, we had the elevator speech. We have, the story goes, 30 seconds to tell other people what we do. Well, that’s very last millennium. Three seconds is the new 30. If you can’t capture someone’s imagination in the first three seconds, with a well-constructed meme, your message is just another swatch of audio wallpaper (thanks to Ann Convery for that meme) on the vast vista of Items Competing Vainly For Our Attention.

OK, so you’re not going to write an opera or start a Shakespeare company. How can you find – or manufacture? – a meme for your business?

Here are some famous business memes (at least they’re famous to marketing junkies like me):

  • One-legged golfer
  • “Bottom of the Jar” Money-Back Guarantee
  • _____ For Dummies
  • Delivered in 30 Minutes or It’s Free

Gary Vaynerchuk created a meme with WineLibrary.tv: Blue Collar Wine Expert (or, “Anti-snob wine expert”).

Thousands of people sell wine. But Gary was able to cut through the clutter with an idea, never expressed in words but permeating the entirety of his business, that lots of people instantly got and instantly loved.

Deconstructing the Meme

Memes work by stopping our brains in their tracks. Some juxtapose items never before combined in our minds (Klingon Opera). Some paint a visual picture that overrides our inattention (Bottom of the Jar, One-Legged Golfer). Some just feel like, “Wow, I’m glad somebody thought of that” (or, less charitably but more common, “Darn, I wish I’d thought of that”).

Memes are simple. Obvious once you hear them. 

And potentially worth millions of dollars.

I’m guessing there’s a meme hiding in your business. Right now. A concept that just pierces the competitive cacophony of “great service, low price” and makes you more memorable and more attractive. 

You may not be able to see it. To you, it may be ordinary. That’s where OPE’s (other people’s eyes) can come in handy. 

Get a friend to interview you about your business. Have them pretend they’re an investigative reporter, and you’ve got the most interesting thing going since Thomas Crapper invented the U-bend. 

If you truly can’t find a meme, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. What would you like your meme to be? You’re going to have to create the concept, then live into and up to it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to work on my masterpiece: All-girl One-legged Klingon Opera For Dummies.

Products (Links You Should Click)

The Ring of Fire AdWords and Online Marketing Coaching Club

The big idea? You have a question or a problem related to online marketing or AdWords? Push the red button on your phone and say, “Howie, get in here. I need you for a minute.” That’s the Ring of Fire. A bunch of online marketing experts and newbies all contributing in forums and live coaching calls. If you ever wished AdWords For Dummies could talk back to you (in a good way ;), check out the Ring of Fire. As low as $20 a month. Plus more “little idea” benefits than I can fit into a blurb.

Look Over My Shoulder (LOMS) AdWords Success Videos

The big idea? Dozens of short (2-5 minute) video tutorials to turbocharge your AdWords expertise. Just like you’re standing behind me, watching over my shoulder as I “do my AdWords thing.” You can read about it and mostly understand, or watch and get it instantly. Watch a sample video and see a list of topics…

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  1. #1 • Christian Mickelsen said on May 28 2009:

    Compelling. I’d love some examples of “meme” oriented “30 second commercials”. Maybe I’ll have to come up with some. Great article. Loved the ideas AND the writing style -fun!

  2. #2 • Pete said on May 28 2009:

    Hi Howie,

    Thanks for the updated elevator speech concept! I took about 3 seconds to come up with one for my business:

    “1-minute Health tips that could change your life.”

    or for short, just:

    “1-minute health tips.”

    Whadya think?

    Wishing you health and happiness,