Taglines: Specificity, Firepower and Brevity

I have had a few lengthy discussions on LinkedIn groups about specific taglines and taglines in general.  Based on these discussions, I want to share some additional thoughts to help with developing an effective tagline.

Specificity – If your company has been around for a long time, has a considerable customer base and/or is a sales leader in your market, you have some leeway in how specific your tagline is in terms of your product or service.  When AT&T, IBM or BMW changes its tagline, it is generally not a major issue because we know the company’s products/services.  The tagline is usually reinforcing what I already know or positioning the company against its competitors.

But for a new company with a limited customer base, the tagline should be more specific in defining the product or service and industry.  This is especially true if the company name doesn’t indicate the type of business.  Don’t think potential customers are going to be so excited by a tagline (no matter how brilliant or clever) that they will flock to your web site to find out what your company does.

Firepower – I am going to say something some will think is marketing heresy: Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline in itself is not the world’s best tagline.  It’s incredibly motivational, but, as a result, could be used by a wide range of companies, such as a home improvement center, a crafts store, a fitness club, etc.  By spending billions of dollars on advertising, sponsorships and endorsements that used the tagline over the past 25 years, Nike has ingrained the tagline in our brains.

If you are not going to spend considerable funds supporting your tagline and do so over many years, don’t be surprised if the tagline doesn’t score well in recall tests.  Remember, everyone in your company is sensitized to your tagline.  It will take customers and prospects numerous exposures (some studies suggest six or more) to your new tagline before they are even aware of it.

Length – In a LinkedIn group discussion, a member wrote that his company went with a tagline that many group members felt did not differentiate the company well.  The company chose it because its ad agency recommended that the tagline should be three or fewer words, citing the aforementioned “Just Do It” as a prime example.  Wow!  I immediately thought of some great taglines that would have never seen the light of day if everyone subscribed to that rule: “We bring good things to life”, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”, and “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”.  Has ADD become so prevalent that we can’t focus on six or eight words?  It has to be three or less?  Yes, a tagline should be as brief as possible while differentiating a company.  But differentiation should not be sacrificed for brevity.

In developing a tagline, a company should consider the balance between its position in its industry and the resources (time and money) it will put behind the tagline.  These elements will influence how specific the tagline should be, as well as the potential memorability of the tagline.  While the tagline should be as brief as possible, it is more important that the tagline communicates a unique position for the company.

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