The Tagline Fixation

“We gotta have a catchy tagline!”  If you have been in marketing more than a few months, you have undoubtedly heard this from a senior executive or two.  If you are a senior marketer, you may have even issued this war cry to your advertising agency on more than one occasion.

I sometimes wonder if all the time and effort trying to come up with a killer tagline (sometimes called a slogan) is worth it.  I am writing this at 7:00 p.m. and I cannot recall one tagline I have seen today.  If research is to be believed, I probably have seen dozens of taglines today.  And last Sunday, I sat through who-knows how many hours of Super Bowl commercials and not one tagline has stuck with me.

I have nothing against taglines.  When done well, they can be a tremendous aid in communicating and reinforcing the brand.  And even when they do not generate high recognition and recall with customers and prospects, they can have great internal value as a rallying point for employees.

So here are some thoughts if you really have to have a tagline:

Start with the Value Proposition

I have seen more time spent generating and considering taglines than thinking through the company’s value proposition.  If fact, companies sometimes start their branding process by focusing on taglines.  Excuse me, but I think your cart is in front of your horse.  Taglines should be one of the last steps after you determine the value proposition, target markets, key communications points, competitors’ positioning, etc..  By making tagline creation the first step, you are damning the rest of your branding to fulfill the tagline, no matter how misguided it is.

Don’t Try Too Hard

In trying to come up with something memorable, playful, thought-provoking, differentiating, _________ (fill in the blank with your own adjective) many companies try too hard.  They spent countless hours gathered around a conference table brainstorming possibilities.  (Did anyone bring a thesaurus?).  At the end of the process a tagline is picked, not because it works well, but because the possibilities have been exhausted and it is the best of what’s left.

Some of the best taglines happen naturally.   Legend has it that Nike’s “Just Do It” was a passing comment in a meeting with the company’s ad agency.  The president of the agency is quoted as saying “you Nike guys just do it” in commenting on the company’s can-do attitude.  The comment stuck and became the focal point of the company’s next ad campaign and one of the most popular, long-lived taglines ever.

One suggestion: After you create your value proposition and some of your marketing communications, see if any phrases pop out as encapsulating the value proposition.  If so, vet these to see how they play as a stand-alone phrase.  Also see if slight variations might be more powerful.  Also, look at the research you conducted in developing your value proposition.  Customers sometimes have an interesting way of describing your company.

No Copying

We have all seen variations of “Got Milk?” or “Your World. Delivered” or other popular taglines.  Nothing says “We had nothing meaningful to say” like copying a successful tagline.  If this is the best you can do, please don’t use a tagline.

And avoid anything similar to your competitors’ taglines.  You are trying to differentiate your company, so your tagline should be part of this differentiation.

Give It Time to Take           

If you do find a tagline that succinctly conveys your value proposition, give it time to take.  Changing your tagline every year is the kiss of death.  By the time everyone in the company is tired of it, customers and prospects are just starting to notice it.  Some of the most successful taglines are successful because (besides being pretty good) the company sticks with them for years.  This constant reinforcement makes the taglines memorable.

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