Think Different(ly) About Your Tagline

If you enjoy words, writing and wordsmithing, generating  a tag line for your company can quite a lot of fun.  It can also take a fair bit a of work to find the phrase that more than one team member think communicates the essence of what your company is and does.  A bit like a complicated and budding romance, articulating what it is that works or doesn’t about a particular tag line can unearth all sorts of unexpected predilections, assumptions, biases and misunderstandings.

A Good Tag Line

A good tag line exhibits a number of features.  It should:
  1. Imply or point to or be aligned with your brand promise (Roughly, what you deliver, what benefit you offer)
  2. Be catchy, memorable and so is typically declarative and uses fairly “sharp” nouns and verbs
  3. Reflect the personality of the brand. (Are you stable and conservative, mellow and alternative or edgy and unpredictable?)
  4. Avoid truisms, the banal, the hyperbolic (unless extremely so)
Now, this is more applicable to consumer brands, where the brand owner is spending  millions of dollars to build a brand, and less so to very early stage companies, but you can apply some of it to what you do.  Interestingly, most of the most popular tag lines since the late ’40s tend to be older – I don’t see any here from post-2000. A more literate generation then perhaps?  That’s not fair: a more visual or multi media oriented generation.
Some tag lines are so powerful that they are absorbed into popular culture and get re-purposed (“Got milk.”, “Just do it.”)
Apple has had a slew of tag lines over the years, most not that memorable, but one – “Think Different” – has stuck.  (Notice how part of its power is that its incorrect grammar -grammar that my 86 year old father finds distressing – helps makes it memorable).
Startups tend towards tag lines that are pretty punchy, often irreverent, and that push the reader to see the offer as alternative, rebellious and different.  This can be a little tricky because if you are young, smart and live in Silicon Valley, you likely have a very high irony quotient in your outlook – you may actually need to temper this.
I like to find a powerful tagline that founders feel matches the spirit of what the company does – I like them to “own” their brand and tag line as the company reflects a lot about them, their desires, personalities, vision and goals.  It is unpredictable where these will come from: in front of a whiteboard in a relaxed setting sometimes works.  Or, you can meditate on what the tag line should be as you tear from one meeting to the next, work out or break for coffee,  jotting down notes when inspiration strikes.

Less is More

Finally, less really is more.  I am reminded of this parody from a number of years back of how Microsoft would design the iPod packaging.  The desire to include lots of good, sensible information sabotaged the original effort.

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