Creating Taglines: How Your Business Can Benefit From a Memorable Slogan

A tagline is the phrase that helps people link your name to your brand message. Taglines translate your positioning statement into a marketing statement meant to serve as a customer magnet. Taglines come in essentially two types, descriptive and expressive. “Improving Life, One Breath at a Time” for the American Lung Association is descriptive. “Just do it” for Nike is expressive. The rule of thumb is: if your name does not communicate what your business does, or if your business is new, use a descriptive tagline to bridge the gap.

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A well-known business, or one whose name communicates the business it’s in, can use an expressive tagline to further communicate the essence and personality of the brand.

“The more objectives a tagline is forced to achieve, the more generic it becomes. When it becomes too generic, you can put it under any logo with negligible effect. It is then irrelevant.”
--Advertising Strategy

I once was discussing taglines with a colleague. He wasn’t too keen on slogans, saying that they were overrated and often not necessary. Others share his opinion. Highly respected direct response marketer and author, Herschell Gordon Lewis, recently and rhetorically asked in a column, “Can it be that taglines and slogans are obsolete?”

I also have to wonder when I go billboard-watching while driving down the expressway and see—ad nauseum—the overused and now meaningless, “So-and-So Means Business.” If I see that tagline one more time, I’ll start to question the veracity of the ubiquitous tagline. So many of them are unmemorable and others are just plain DUMB.

A retailer near my home sells hot tubs. Every time I see their sign I cringe. Their tagline is, “The area’s only spa specialists.” What does that mean? If there were a second spa-seller in the area, would that be the better place to buy a hot tub?

Despite my cynicism, however, I still believe that taglines play an important role in branding your organization. Taglines can strengthen and reinforce your brand essence, help describe what you do (beyond your name), and cement your company’s name or mission in the minds of your prospects and customers.

Recently, I was helping to develop a corporate identity program for a Six Sigma business consultancy. Their name was innocuous enough: Moore & Associates. But what would the average B2B consumer understand about this business from the name alone? Are Moore & Associates doctors, lawyers, accountants, or candlestick makers? Often, businesses require a tagline to further define or clarify what business they’re in. For Moore & Associates, a simple, three-word tagline was developed to describe not only what line of work they were in (business process improvement), but the means through which they helped other companies: “People. Process. Performance.” Elegant and alliterative.

Another way to view a tagline is to think of it as a hook or grabber. Imagine yourself at a cocktail party and someone asks you where you work. You respond, “I work for Central Trust, right downtown.”

“Oh!” says your party-mate. “Tell me more.”

“Well,” you say, “we’re the bank with human interest.”

That’s it! No long-winded descriptions. No recitation of benefits. No laundry list of offerings. No hyperbole. Just five simple words: “The bank with human interest.” That’s the influence of a tagline.

A well-crafted tagline has the power to more clearly describe your business, support your value proposition, and help differentiate you from your competition.

Here's branding expert and author, Al Ries, with some tagline and slogan development strategies...

For TONS of examples of taglines and slogans, visit my List of Taglines page.

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Does your business currently have a tagline? If so, see if it passes this test:

  1. Is it memorable?
  2. Is it original and does it make a confident statement?
  3. Is it easy to say?
  4. Does it allow your prospects to recall your name?
  5. Does it communicate your brand essence or position?
  6. Will it help your business achieve its mission?

If you can answer yes to those six questions, you’ve got a real winner on your hands. Three or more? Not bad, my friend. Fewer than three head nods? You have some work to do.

Some tips for writing taglines and slogans:

  • Try short and simple (“Drivers wanted” VW)
  • Think jingle (“Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” Winston)
  • Differentiate the brand (“Everywhere you want to be” Visa)
  • Universal sentiment (“I’m lovin’ it” McDonalds)
  • Play with words (“So advanced, it’s simple” Panasonic)

Other tagline and slogan styles:

  • Elevate the business by looking at the highest possible benefit. (“It’s not just a package, it’s your business” FedEx)
  • Differentiate it from the competition. (“The curiously strong mint” Altoids)
  • Don’t sell features; sell benefits (“Unwrap a smile” Little Debbie)
  • Compare it to the alternative (“Pork: the other white meat” National Pork Board)
  • Find the human truth (“Live theater. It won’t kill you.” American Theater Company)
  • Parallelism (“You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.” Radio Shack)
  • Opposition (“It’s a great way to read. Just listen.” Audio Books)
  • Reform a cliché (“Life’s short. Stay awake.” Caribou Coffee)
  • Metaphor (“Courage for your head” Bell Helmets)
  • Rule of Three (“Heart. Steel. Promise.” Mack Trucks)
  • Novelty (“Best. Sipped. Just. Like. This.” Baker’s Bourbon)
  • Alliteration (“The softer side of Sears”)

Keep it simple. Keep it genuine. Keep it relevant. And please, no “so-and-so means business.”

For an instructive case study on creating a tagline that works, click here.

For my HUGE list of tagline examples, click here

Click here for information about protecting your tagline with a trademark or registration.

Thanks to Scott DeMenter for portions of this article.