In Part 1 of Building a Better Tagline I gave some examples of effective taglines and listed the ways in which a tagline can support your brand. I also analyzed the elements of tagline style, including rhyme, parallel contrast, and positive ambiguity.
Now it’s time to build your better tagline. Here are my guidelines:
1. Start with a comprehensive naming brief. Yes, the same naming brief that served as a creative platform for developing your company or product name. Pay special attention to the sections on brand personality and naming objectives: You want a tagline that expresses the brand personality (playful? authoritative? down to earth?) and is consistent with the naming objectives.
2. Identify one thing that makes your company or product special. Not three things, and certainly not everything in your About Us description. GE does many things, from lighting to appliances to finance; the corporate tagline identifies what unites them all: “Imagination at Work.”
3. If you simply can’t get down to one thing that makes your company or product special, make a list of all of those special things and develop a set of taglines for each item on the list. Then evaluate them objectively. Which item on your list produced the strongest taglines?
4. Develop a lot of taglines. Try different styles, different lengths, different word choices. Fifty taglines is a good start; 100 is better.
5. Read the taglines aloud. Remember, you’ll be saying the tagline frequently—in presentations, in conversations, maybe even in ads. If you get tongue-tied when talking about your tagline, your customers will, too. (“Read it aloud” is my advice for all writers and all written work.)
6. Twitterize it. With its 140-character limit [UPDATE: now 280 characters], Twitter is an excellent tool for crafting concise, snappy messages. (I assume you’re using Twitter for your business. If you aren’t, you should be.)
7. Minimize prepositions. Prepositions are dead weight in taglines: “Bringing solutions to customers with concern for what matters” is bad in many ways (it’s also imaginary), but the prepositions make it lethal.
9. Use punctuation for clarity and for personality—but use it judiciously. Wilton Brands, which makes cake-decorating equipment, chose an ellipsis to separate the two phrases in its tagline: “We make it easy … You make it amazing.” A period or comma might have worked, but the ellipsis works better: It suggests a passage of time and it softens—I’d go so far as to say it feminizes—a two-part expression that could otherwise seem undesirably staccato for this warm, home-centered brand.
10. Consider how you’ll incorporate the tagline into your brand story. Will it appear on business cards? Do you want to use it in ads? Can you build stories around key words in the tagline?
11. Invite key members of your executive team (and investors, if that’s relevant) to weigh in. And I do mean key: only people with veto power. See #7 in the “Don’t” list.
12. Create an internal style guide that ensures consistent application of the tagline across all platforms. For example: Which words are capitalized?
13. Hire a professional name and tagline developer, if only to weigh in on your results. Believe me: it’s a worthwhile investment that can save you a lot of embarrassment. At a minimum, hire an experienced proofreader to make sure you’ve spelled, capitalized, and punctuated your tagline correctly.
1. Make the tagline about “us.” Focus instead on the benefit to your customers: the cure, not the medicine. Exception: Some companies, and especially some organizations, require descriptive taglines—“what we do”—to clarify an opaque name or acronym. (Better to develop a stronger name first, but that isn’t always in the budget.)
2. Be generic. If any of your competitors could use your tagline, it isn’t special enough for you.
3. Try to say everything. See #2 in the “Do” list.
4. Use slang (or txting abbrevs) unless it’s appropriate to your brand personality and you’re certain your customers will understand it. Remember that slang has a perilously short lifespan; be prepared to change your tagline frequently.
5. Depend on typographic tricks—font size, color—to clarify the tagline’s meaning. You can’t rely on newspapers, magazines, and blogs staying faithful to your quirks.
6. Repeat your company or product name in the tagline. There are exceptions (“The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup”), but usually your tagline is connected with your name, so the repetition isn’t needed. One of the worst examples of a redundant tagline is Exxon’s: “We’re Exxon.” (Update: See my 2017 post about Axon and Exxon.)
7. Have a committee “edit” the tagline. And by committee I also mean your brother-in-law, your golf partners, and your unpaid summer intern. You aren’t required to please everyone, and—how to put this tactfully?—some people’s opinions about marketing, branding, and language are worth more than other people’s. Restrict the opinion-gathering to top marketing people, a salesperson, and—at the appropriate time—the CEO.
8. Go it alone. Remember, there are professionals who want to help you. At the very least, get a second opinion from one of us.
Of course, there’s much more to say about taglines, but these guidelines should put most do-it-yourselfers on a productive path. For even more examples and advice, check out Tagline Jim, Tagline Guru, and the columns of Herschell Gordon Lewis.