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:
Congratulations—you finally have a name for your company/product/organization. Take a bow, but don’t put away the thesaurus just yet.
After the name, the tagline—sometimes called the slogan* (or, if you’re in the UK, the strapline)—is the most visible language in your verbal brand. And yet taglines are too often lazily or hastily slapped together from tired formulas: A Passion for X, X Just Got Better, People Profit Performance (or Performance People Profit).
Worse, some marketing gurus have decreed that because most taglines are bad, no tagline is worth the trouble. That’s simply untrue, and “Just Do It” isn’t the only evidence.
Before I share some tips for building a better tagline—and by “better” I mean “better for your brand”—here’s a reminder of some of the ways in which a tagline can be worth the investment in time, money, and brainpower.
This is a post I originally wrote for How to Split an Atom, Steve Spalding’s fine blog about the intersection of technology and society. With his permission, I’m republishing it here with a few updates and modifications.
I’ve been naming products and companies since—well, let’s just say my first assignment was pre-Web. I’ve seen naming trends come and go, but some things never change. Like these common blunders, pitfalls, and wrong turns on the nomenclature trail:
Mistaking your mission statement for a creative brief. Yes, you want to dominate your market. Sure, you’re cool and innovative. Guess what? Your competitors say the same things. We’ll need more and different information—way different—to develop your name, because your name needs to express something unique about your business. An experienced naming consultant will ask you questions that reveal what’s really distinctive and important. (Want to know what goes into an effective naming brief? Read this.)
Expecting an overnight sensation. Want a memorable, trademarkable name next week? Let’s do a reality check. Interviews, brand analysis, creative work, domain checking: they all take time. So does the back-and-forth with you and your team. And the trademark lawyers need time to weigh in, too. Figure on five to eight weeks from start to successful finish.
Delegating the assignment to an engineer. That is, unless you really, really want a name like “XQ326.” No doubt s/he’s brilliant, but most likely even your smartest engineer doesn’t shine at etymology, phonetics, cross-cultural semantics, and all the other factors that go into creating meaningful names.
Cutting corners. Allow me to put this as succinctly as possible: good naming ain’t cheap. If you’re hoping to scrimp on your naming project—if you think you can get a great name, fast, for $129.99—consider how many times, and in how many places, your name will appear. Think about how valuable that exposure is. Then think about how silly you’ll look if the name is unpronounceable or means something unspeakable in one of your target markets. Bonus tip: There’s a lot of room between $129.99 and those six-figure naming fees the big branding agencies charge.
Looking for love in all the wrong places. Aha! moments are as rare in naming as they are in romance. Instead of a love match, you should be going for an arranged marriage: a name with a good background and excellent prospects. Passion fades. Find an honest, suitable name and soon enough find yourself deeply in love. Trust me. (For more about this, read my 2010 post “Forget About Love.”)
Focus-grouping to death. Getting to yes with your management team is a good thing. Sending the top 50 names to your entire address book isn’t. You’ll be awash in opinions, half of them snarky and the other half too subjective or uninformed to be useful. Here’s something else professional naming consultants are good at: helping you evaluate names and make decisions. Bonus tip: On the other hand, don’t leave anyone out of the decision process who has the power to cast a no vote.
Picking a name “because it was available.” Of course you want to secure a presence on the Web. But believe it or not, domain registration is actually the easy part of naming. Here’s the key point: a URL, no matter how weirdly spelled, is not a brand. And it isn’t your story. Even if you have to buy a “taken” domain, you may not have to spend a lot of money to do so. So here’s my advice: Instead of torturing the language to arrive at an “available” .com domain, concentrate on your brand story and on trademark issues. And let us—your hard-working, experienced, language-savvy naming consultants—find you a domain that fits.
That’s the bad news about corporate and product naming. The good news? With the right leadership, the creative process can be fun, stimulating, enlightening, and productive. And a whole lot less costly than a naming mistake.
A couple of years ago I published a post about the importance of writing a naming briefbefore you start your naming project. I thought I’d said all that needed to be said on the topic, but I continue to get queries that suggest more advice may be needed. So here are detailed guidelines for anyone (a) embarking on a do-it-yourself naming exercise or (b) planning to engage the services of a professional name developer.
Here, for starters, is what a naming brief is not:
Whether you’re naming it yourself or working with a naming consultant, here are 10 questions to ask about a new name before you print the business cards or buy the domain.
1. Is it pronounceable? Put it to the telephone test: is it easy or awkward to say on the phone 50 or 150 times a day? Will it sound good in a radio or TV commercial? Does the sound of the name have any unwelcome associations?
2. Is it distinctive? Does the name stand out from your competitors’ names? Will it be confused with other names in your niche, or similar niches?
3. Is it memorable? When you tell people the name, do they remember it accurately? Do they stumble or make mistakes when repeating it? Does it have a counterintuitive spelling that may cause problems?
4. Does it tell a story? Does the name have energy and a bit of mystery? Does it invite people to hear the name’s story—and by extension your business’s story? Or is it so literal that it piques little interest? Remember: the name is the title of your story—not the entire novel.
5. Is it evocative? Effective names are metaphors. Does the name have positive associations that go beyond its literal meaning? Does it conjure images that are consistent with and favorable to your product or business?
6. Is it flexible? If you’ll be creating sub-brands, your umbrella name needs to allow for expansion. A strong metaphor—for example, “house”—suggests logical extensions (foundation, kitchen, picket fence). You may also want to consider “verbability”—the ability to turn your company and product name into an action term (Google, Digg, Tweet). Finally, think about whether the name can be turned into an acronym. Is this a desirable outcome? Then be sure the acronym is positive or at least neutral. If you don’t want your audience to reduce your name to initials, consider a single-word name.
7. Is it appropriate? A name for a prescription medicine should look and sound different from a name for a movie studio or a cosmetics brand. Is your name suitable to your industry, your product, and your brand personality?
9. Is it global? Not all brands will have international scope, but if you think yours will, you will want to invest in thorough linguistic and marketing checks in your target markets.
10. Is it ownable? If you need trademark protection, have you gotten reliable legal advice? If you need to own an Internet domain, is the URL available? If it isn’t available, is it buyable? (Many, many domains are for sale.) If it isn’t buyable, can the name be modified to create an ownable domain?
Let’s say you’ve spent a lot of time and money developing a name that’s distinctive, legally available, and a good match for your naming brief. You can still end up with a less-than-desirable name if you neglect to ask these important questions.
1. How will it look in lower-case spelling? A name like IfByPhoneor PopUpEdu depends for clarity on intercap letters. On Twitter and other applications, however, the name may appear in all lower-case letters—ifbyphone, popupedu—with a potential loss of intelligibility and pronounceability.
2. How will it look in black and white? Color can transform your company or product name into a sharp-looking logo. But for some applications—press kits, white papers, email—you won’t have the benefit of color. If you rely on color to make your point, as the Big Ten athletic conference did in its recent logo redesign, you risk losing your message. (I’m not saying that Big Ten is necessarily confusing anyone, but a smaller organization that attempts a similar strategy may be asking for trouble.)
3. How will it read in the newspaper? Speaking of black-and-white, print journalism isn’t dead yet. No matter how stridently you insist on accent marks or punctuation in your name (Aol. and Yahoo!, I’m talking to you), the business reporter on deadline is unlikely is share your obsession.
4. How does it sound on the telephone? Or in everyday conversation, for that matter? I've written previously about the counterintuitive pronunciation of Virgance. Here’s an even more-boggling example: μTorrent, a popular file-sharing client, is spelled with the Greek letter μ (mu), which is commonly pronouncedmee (in modern Greek), myoo (in English), or micro (in scientific measurements). But μTorrent’s URL is utorrent.com. The program’s Swedish creator, Ludvig Strigeus, “usually” pronounces the name as “you torrent” but has also suggested “microtorrent,” “mytorrent” (my, pronounced mee, is Swedish for μ), and “mutorrent” as possible pronunciations. For a consumer-facing company or product, this much word-of-mouth confusion would be catastrophic; it’s not exactly wonderful for μTorrent, either. (See also #3, above.)
5. Do you have a misleading or undesirable acronym? I’m currently talking with a prospective client, a startup, whose working name is a three-word idiom that ends in a word starting with “U.” Reduced to its initials, the company looks like a university. That’s misleading, but it could be much worse: the initials could be a real WTF.
6. Finally, do proceed carefully with those qrazy Q-names. I still don’t know whether QRANK is pronounced “cue-rank” or “crank.” And that makes me cranky.
This post is for all you name-it-yourselfers out there: you sole proprietors, partnerships, small businesses, and zero-budget nonprofits.
Let’s assume that, on your own or with the help of a pal or two, you’ve come up with a few business names that you think are pretty good. But you’re not absolutely certain—and you’re so exhausted by the creative effort you can’t tell which name to choose.
So you do what comes naturally. You start asking around.
“Take a look at these names,” you say to your sister-in-law as she’s dropping off the kids at your house. “Are any of them any good?”
“Which name do you like best?” you ask your golf buddies over beers at the clubhouse. “Don’t hold back!”
“I’m starting a business but I can’t reveal anything about it yet,” you tell your dog-walker. “Just let me know what you think of these five names.”
Finally, you ring my doorbell and ask my opinion. And I give it to you straight: Stop. Right. Now. Stop asking your friends whether they like your names.
Why? Because the answers you’ll hear will be irrelevant at best and depressing at worst.
First, a confession: I'm not a big fan of business-writing books. It's not that I know it all: I don't. But most of the business-writing guides I've read are too elementary, redundant, or insipid to be of interest to me or anyone I know.
Just consult this helpful chart from Comic Vs. Audience. Primary categories are pretty much what you'd expect: Death, Deadly Things, Animals, Religion, and Badass Misspellings (e.g., Deth, a twofer). Personally, I'm drawn to the minor categories: Pleas for Help (Sick of It All), Adolescent Poetry (Thine Eyes Bleed), and Faulkner References (As I Lay Dying, another twofer).