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Taglines: Just Words or Strategic Asset?

A good tagline can be worth thousands, even millions of dollars in revenue. They’re the crux of brand strategy and have the capacity to attract and repel audiences as desired.

They have the power to shape market perception and guide entire organisations and their respective teams on what is expected of them and what they’re a part of.

A tagline is both a summary of the corporate personality and the outcome it provides customers. In other words, how it differentiates itself in both operation and delivery.

I tell clients that they must be able to live up to their taglines. As with most branding strategy, the purpose is to propel the company forward as there’s little gained from reflecting the status quo.

Short & Extended Taglines

There’s a need to clarify the different verbal branding options that can be applied.

A Mission Statement should never be used in outward marketing. They’re necessary in that they outline the general aspirations of the organisation, but these are usually global objectives that provide little detail on how the company differentiates itself. “We aim to be the leading supplier of widgets” could be read by the market as “try us in a few months when we’ve made progress”. (You can turn it around though; Avis Car Rental managed to turn a mission into a powerful tagline with ‘We Try Harder’, which successfully positioned it against larger competitors).

Value propositions go one step further. The fact that they allude to ‘value’ means there’s more likely to be an outcome that the client can see value in.

Like the short tagline, the extended tagline is a positioning tool that the company can strive towards (guiding employees) and focus customers on specific competitive value.

Mission Statement: We aim to provide the best possible widgets (inward focus)

Value Proposition: We will deliver quality widgets, on time and on budget (promissory statement)

Extended Tagline: Without our widget, Your bottom line suffers (inward & outward guiding value)

Intention & Purpose

There are many reasons behind the design and use of taglines. Established companies can use them to reignite interest and push forward into new markets or to indicate the positive outcome from an acquisition and the merging of two cultures.

Emerging companies can use them to elbow in on their competition and state why they’re a viable alternative.

A client mentioned that a memorable Oakley's tagline years ago was 'Thermonuclear Protection'. I'm not sure I'd instinctively reach for a pair of sunglasses with the threat of nuclear fallout, however the tagline served its purpose by positioning the company as a hip and edgy choice of consumer eyeware.

Oakley’s over-the-top statement was a good positioning choice which has undoubtedly contributed to their current success.

Setting an Expiry

Companies change, fashions change and customer demands are a constant variable. Brand strategy is not a set and forget thing, you need to adjust as both you and your customers grow and mature. It can be beneficial to set expiry dates on taglines and tie them in with long term marketing objectives.

For instance a new company might need to push into a crowded market, guns blazing with a cheeky tagline to ensure they’re noticed as an alternative. This initial launch tagline will serve its purpose for 12 months, by which stage the company will need to focus on other differentiating value in order to stay relevant and keep up the momentum.

A good tagline is a balance of both rational and emotional points, focusing on outcome.

One of my favourites I developed for a client in the recruitment industry is 'Humans, Not Resources'.

If you’re wanting jolt people and get their attention it needs to be about 20% rational and 80% emotional.

Messaging is More Than a Tagline

Never review a tagline in isolation. Your market is rarely going to see it in isolation as it will be presented on a business card (coupled with personal interaction), on the actual product, on trade show banners, service listings or your website - the list goes on.

When developing your brand it's important not to loose sight of the big picture and how each element of your messaging synchronises. Names, taglines, logos, value propositions, website copy to intangible strategy such as preferred behaviours. They all need to work together cohesively, each has their place and task.

You’re Here to Make Money, Not Please Everyone

Don’t be afraid to be cheeky or forward with a tagline. Your tagline could be quite assertive, but combine it with more conservative marketing and you’ve achieved balance, and most importantly attention from your market.

It’s always surprising to hear companies talk about their business with great passion, but retreat with uncertainty when presented with a provocative tagline. I think the fear is always ‘will people think we’re serious?’. The question to ask is whether people will think you have any real difference at all?

Remember: They will compare you to the competition, they’ll never question your sanity regarding a tagline.

Being reserved is fine as it means you care, but if you don’t create interest you’ll be leaving money on the table.

The Secret Formula

Sadly there isn’t one, however I can guarantee success if you ask the following questions;

  1. How can we present a contrarian perspective?

  2. How can we excite or motivate our audience?

  3. What elements of our offering can I allude to that will pique interest and encourage further enquiry?

  4. What is our reason for being here?

  5. What gets us out of bed in the morning?

  6. Operationally, what do we do differently that will benefit our customers?

  7. Does our tagline reflect status quo, or do we need to live up to it?

  8. If it’s cheeky, is it still honest?

  9. Does it excite us?

  10. Do I believe it?

Note: being a tad uncomfortable with a tagline option is good news - it usually means you’ll create some interest. If it’s safe it’s usually insignificant.

So much rests on so few words.

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