What do you learn from this tagline: “Shave time. Shave money.”
You learn that this company sells shaving products and that with those shaving products you’ll save both time and money. You’ve also peeked into the brand voice and determined that this company is lighthearted, clever and to-the-point.
A tagline is… a short, punchy sentence (sentence fragments are okay, too) that quickly and memorably communicates what your business is about. It’s often (but not always) used along with your brand logo.
A tagline is not… a slogan.
A slogan is… a temporary “tagline” used in marketing campaigns – those marketing campaigns may run for a long time, but slogans are attached to specific campaigns, not the brand name or logo. Taglines are more permanent than slogans, but sometimes slogans perform so well that they become taglines.
The Truth About Taglines
Taglines are hard to write. If you get it wrong, you’ll have to live with your terrible tagline being what’s memorable about your business.
That said, a tagline can also force you to focus your business in just a handful of words; it can serve as a reminder to both you and your audience about exactly what it is you do; and, when done well, it’s an easily-repeatable, word-of-mouth marketing tool.
Note that some of the companies mentioned in this article have updated their branding. I’ve mentioned their most popular taglines, but not necessarily their most recent ones.
Taglines You Definitely Know
You don’t even realize you see a company’s tagline as much as you do.
- I’m lovin’ it (McDonald’s)
- Just do it (Nike)
- Think different (Apple)
Companies advertise their slogans repeatedly and everywhere – it’s on their advertisements, packaging, websites and storefronts, and in their jingles.
You may not have the budget to advertise like crazy, but it doesn’t cost anything extra to use your tagline everywhere your brand is present.
Think You Don’t Want a Tagline?
There’s an interesting quote from Andy Crestodina, Orbit Media’s strategic director, in this article on Enchanting Marketing. He makes a case for getting rid of their company tagline “digital design and production,” saying that they didn’t see any value in keeping it and it seemed to create visual clutter more than anything else.
Fair, but re-read that line: digital design and production. I would argue that this isn’t truly a tagline. It’s not catchy or creative; it’s just a description. Maybe they don’t need or want a tagline – but IMHO they haven’t experimented with one yet, either (at least not in this case).
The smaller the company, the clearer the tagline.
That said, it does make sense that a small, unknown company or an individual who operates under their own name (like a web designer or lawyer) would have a more-straightforward-than-normal tagline. I feel like you can still give it some spark, though.
Orbit Media does not have a name that immediately conveys what they do – there are a bunch of media companies out there, and not necessarily all of them are in the design and production niche. This is exactly why they should have a tagline – at least starting out.
You may find – like Orbit seemed to have found – that your customers search for your services online, find your website and then click on your homepage, which clearly says what you do, and that a tagline is unnecessary.
Until you know that, though, don’t take a chance on losing customers because they can’t find the answer to the most basic question: what do you do?
Writing Your Tagline
Think about what your business does, who you cater to and how your customers benefit. How is their life changed after working with you? Write down 1-3 sentences with this information. If you need help, here’s a template:
We help [target audience] [result] and [result] so they can [purpose] and [purpose].
I help other freelance writers find jobs and navigate client relationships so they can earn money doing what they love.
That’s not quite a tagline, but it’s an excellent start. When I was working on mine for a now-defunct freelance writing website, that information turned into this:
Everything you never knew you need to know about freelance writing.
It was broad enough not to hem me in, yet it clarified what I wrote about and who my content was meant for.
6 Tips for Writing a Tagline
1. To get that too-long, mission statement-like sentence down to a tagline, pull out the most important points or words, then reorder them. Become best friends with the thesaurus to help you discover words that will make your tagline more succinct. For example, “brief and clear” boils down nicely into the word “succinct.”
2. Talk about the benefits, not the features.
3. Use positive words. Even if you use negative words to make a point, the negativity could be what carries over. To that point, don’t use anything that could potentially convey negativity. To me, Verizon’s “Can You Hear Me Now? Good.” always made me think that Verizon had spotty service – why else would you have to say, “Can you hear me now?” unless the service is going in and out?
4. Don’t be afraid to be overly simplistic – obvious and meta taglines can be clever, too.
5. Make sure the tagline is synonymous with your brand. Remember the “Got Milk?” campaign? It was created for the California Milk Processor Board – but you probably don’t remember that. For the Board, this wasn’t a failure because their goal was to make drinking milk a nation-wide cool thing to do.
For most other brands, though, this would be way too vague a tagline. Lay’s did something similar but made their tagline brand-specific with slightly more detail. Plus, they got their first – not being able to eat just one is true for most snacks, but they were the first company to snag it as their tagline.
6. I don’t suggest taking one of their ideas as-is, but Shopify has a slogan generator that can help you brainstorm.
What not to do.
Let’s pretend this is my tagline: Lindsay Pietroluongo | Writer. Editor. Coach.
Do you have any idea what I do? What do I write? What do I edit? And what do I coach? Volleyball? Am I a life coach? Don’t do the “three vague adjectives” thing. It only looks cool and succinct; it’s not actually communicating anything.
Taglines are not easy to write – you have to communicate a lot in ten words or less. Take your time with it. The New York Times published their first issue in 1851, but they didn’t start using “All the News That’s Fit to Print” until the end of the century. To test out a tagline before making it permanent, use it as a slogan in a marketing campaign. It helps to work backward, too – try writing your mission statement first to get a handle on what you do, why you do it and who you do it for.
Need help with that mission statement? Check out this article about writing a mission statement for your freelance business.
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