(A primer on writing a good tagline for your company brand)
Copyright © by Max Nomad for Bohemian Griot Publishing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
When it comes to building your company’s brand name recognition, coming up with a good tagline is second only to adopting a good company logo.
And just like with the logo, many small businesses make the mistake of overlooking its importance. At first glance, a tagline just looks like a clever turn of phrase associated with a company logo. While this is true to an extent, there is far more at work beneath the surface. A tagline is a short sentence that, when used in conjunction with your logo, communicates a single but powerful brand message designed to resonate strongly with your target market. In short, a well-thought out tagline is designed to make potential customers decide to spend their money with you instead of your competition.
Whether abstract or literal, serious, humorous, or stoic, a good tagline should be used to do one or more of the following:
- Convey the major qualities of your brand
- Express your company vision or mission
- Emphasize your competitive advantages or what sets you apart from the competition
- Align your message with your target market
- Draw attention to a new direction your business is taking
- Make a promise to fulfill a deep-seated need or desire
The level of complexity behind these deceptively simple phrases is the reason why copywriters and advertising agencies are often hired to come up with them. Below are a few approaches that are commonly used while brainstorming taglines, followed by some memorable examples:
- Call to action (most memorable taglines use this method) – Nike’s “Just Do It.”
- Single words (always good in threes) as benefits — Pepto Bismal’s “Coats, Soothes, Relieves.”
- Connecting a product/service feature with an abstract need — Dasani’s “DASANI water. Can’t live without it.”
- Make a promise — General Electric’s “We bring good things to life.”
- Attention to the risk of not using product/service — Michelin Tires “Because So Much is Riding on your Tires.”
- Connect the tagline to logo’s imagery — Allstate Insurance “You’re in Good Hands.”
While there is more art than science involved with creating a tagline, the great ones always have several of the following attributes:
- Original (uniquely yours)
- Believable / Authentic
Along with the tagline creative process, here a few other pointers to keep in mind:
- If you’re brainstorming your own tagline, keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy and note every idea, no matter how silly or irrelevant it may seem. It’s a mystery how the human mind makes associations between words and concepts. Some of the best ideas are born out of seemingly unrelated sources.
- If all else fails, include your Unique Selling Proposition in your tagline—what your company does best and why anyone should care. This is an especially good move if your business name doesn’t adequately say what you do.
- A company tagline is subject to change every so many years, especially if a company has changed or needs to showcase new services. A good example of this is UPS and how they changed from “What can brown do for you?” to “We [heart] logistics” with the goal of bringing attention to their new non-shipping related services.
- Regardless of what your business does, your tagline creates a first impression. People will remember a good tagline even before a company name. On that same note, having years of equity built up in an old tagline can work for or against your company. Ultimately it’s a promise of some sort, and if your company’s product or service doesn’t live up to that promise, your company image is in serious trouble. An example of this can be seen with the oil company BP. They adopted the tagline “Beyond Petroleum” back in the early 80s and successfully groomed it over the next three decades — until the catastrophe in the Gulf during the summer of 2010. BP’s reputation has, figuratively and almost literally, become mud in the aftermath of that ecological, financial and public relations disaster. People hear BP and think incompetence and massive oil spill. And in all three cases, no one is certain how long it will take to clean up the mess.
- Taglines with words or phrases that can become “dated” should be avoided. An example of this can be seen with the iconic Hip-Hop music label “Def Jam Recordings” (even though it’s a company brand and not a tagline). Founded in the early 80s, the company was originally named “Def Jam Records” with the intention of reaching young Hip-Hop fans by using New York City B-Boy slang that was in vogue at the time (Def was synonymous with “excellent”, and a Jam referred to a great song, party, or a concert). The only reason the company name is still relevant these days is because of the legendary status of the brand itself and its artists. The original impact associated with the meaning of the name is largely lost on the youth of today. While the word “Jam” is still valid slang in some circles, anyone that still uses “Def” to praise something (and isn’t being sarcastic) is probably either an overzealous fan of early 80s Hip-Hop or old enough to have grandchildren.
- If the impact or meaning of a tagline becomes dated it should be put to rest, regardless of how memorable it is. An example of this is AT&T’s “Reach out and touch someone” slogan. Originally introduced in 1979, anyone of school age or older can probably still sing the jingle. Today, thanks to the emergence of the Internet, cell phones, and other radical shifts in communication technology, talking to people on the other side of the planet is just as cheap and easy as talking to someone in your neighborhood. In a way that no one could have foreseen, technology took away that tagline’s impact, relegating it to an afterlife in nostalgic memories and Pop-Culture Trivia questions.
- Never use an exclamation point at the end of your tagline. Doing so cheapens your message and weakens your brand, regardless of how strong they are.
When it comes to your brand, don’t rush the process of coming up with a good tagline. A bad tagline is far worse than no tagline at all. If you’re unable to come up with a smart tagline, there are copywriters who specialize in just that. To begin your search, start by Googling for ‘tagline copywriters’. There is always time to update your brand with a good tagline at a later date.
In summary, the secret life of a great tagline is simple: when it is combined your company name and a well-designed logo—and all three work well together—they can become the best (and least expensive) form of advertising for your company.