If you’re not using a business tagline, you’re missing out on the benefits of a highly powerful marketing tool.
If you are using a tagline, it may be time to give it a long, hard look. You want to be sure that your business tagline is working for you, rather than against you.
What Is a Tagline, Exactly?
You may be more familiar with the term slogan, which is similar to a tagline in many ways. Both business taglines and slogans are types of catchphrases — a short, memorable phrase that can be associated with a specific individual or business.
A slogan is a flexible, changeable catchphrase. You can adopt slogans for different products or services, for specific marketing campaigns, or to match the social and cultural ideals of the time.
Your tagline is a more enduring, all-encompassing phrase. A business tagline communicates your company’s values and identity and explains to the world what you’re really about.
Your tagline should be as recognizable — or more so — than your business name.
Why Having a Great Business Tagline Is Important
You have about 10 seconds to make an impression on prospects and hook them. In conjunction with your visual branding, it’s your tagline that has to do the heavy lifting in those precious first few seconds.
This is even more important if your name doesn’t really convey what you do.
Many companies today adopt names that don’t fully communicate their business model to potential customers. This is often necessary because in the world of website domain names, most of the good ones are already taken. When starting a new business, it may be necessary to adopt a less-than-optimal name in exchange for a better domain name.
In that case, you’ll have to rely on your business tagline to communicate what you do.
In fact, Ad Age magazine describes a tagline as your business’ battle cry. When your customers hear it, they’d better know exactly what’s coming!
Elements of a Great Business Tagline
Your catchphrase is going to be with you for a long time, so it had better be good. But what are the elements that make a business tagline great?
The American Marketing Association recommends incorporating four critical elements when writing a tagline: category, consumer, brand and product. Now, wrap these four elements up in a promise, and you have yourself a tagline.
This one has all those elements and more: Fresh, Hot Pizza Delivered To Your Door In Under 30 Minutes Or It’s Free! Guaranteed.
A few more prime examples that you probably recognize include these classics:
- We’ll leave the light on for you
- The happiest place on earth
- Just do it
- Like a good neighbor …
- Where’s the beef?
Chances are, you connected instantly with each of those. And that’s what you must aim for when creating your business tagline.
Of course, your tagline must be memorable to your audience, if it’s going to influence their purchasing decisions. The four proven literary techniques for making your tagline stick in your targets’ memory are alliteration, rhyme, repetition and reversal.
- Alliteration: “Doesn’t your dog deserve Alpo?” “Every kiss begins with Kay.”
- Rhyme: “It takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.” “The quicker picker-upper.”
- Repetition: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz …,” “It keeps going, and going, and going …”
- Reversal: “Don’t get mad. Get GLAD.” “The best surprise is no surprise.”
Today, the double-entendre is also a powerful memory trigger. For example, “Nothing runs like a Deere,” or “We’re behind you every step of the way.”
Yes, it will be challenging to fit some or all of these literary devices into your catchphrase, but it will be worth it. You’ve probably heard the old adage — a quote from Ben Franklin, actually — that goes, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
It rhymes; it has alliteration; it repeats and it reverses (sort of). And it’s almost 300 years old, yet you remember it.
Be careful, however, or you may find yourself down the rabbit hole of bad business taglines.
How to Avoid the Really BAD Business Taglines
If you do a quick internet search for “worst taglines,” you’ll find a wealth of amusing and appalling results.
Even large, multinational organizations have gone horribly wrong with their business taglines at times. If you doubt us, check out the history of catchphrases for FedEx, Washington Mutual, Delta Airlines, Mobil and Ford. Charmin isn’t winning any awards for their current campaign either (which is technically a slogan but still worthy of the bad catchphrase Hall of Fame).
The annals of marketing history provide us with many examples of what not to do when composing a business tagline. But common sense is an excellent resource as well, when identifying elements to avoid.
Anything potentially offensive is the first major no-no. Even if you believe your catchphrase is clever and harmless, it’s best to avoid bad language and bad taste. Also, check your phrase via Google search as well as the online urban and slang dictionaries.
You may be surprised — unpleasantly so — by how your phrase is being used in other contexts.
Don’t use bad grammar, slang or jargon. Even if you do so intentionally, you may leave potential customers feeling put off, or believing you’re too sloppy to spell check your own content. Almost three-quarters of internet users take note of such mistakes and almost 60 percent of them admit to avoiding companies with errors in their website or marketing materials.
Along those lines, avoid faddish techniques like text-speak, unless you have a compelling reason not to. Although you want to speak the language of your target market, tread lightly with intentional misuse of the language.
Finally, don’t steal another company’s slogan or business tagline, or any version thereof. Most are protected by trademark or copyright anyway. Worst case, you can get sued for stealing intellectual property. Best case, they’ll send you a “cease and desist” notice and you’ll have to start over with designing and printing your business cards, brochures and letterhead.
How to Compose Your Own Business Tagline
Write out exactly what your business does, what you stand for and why anyone should care. That’s what you have to convey in 10 to 12 memorable words (or fewer).
You probably will be tempted to shoot for something short and impactful, but that may not be the best approach.
Yes, “Just do it” is a successful tagline, but everyone already knows what Nike does. You may not have established that level of brand recognition just yet, so focus on functionality for your business tagline.
Use action words and words that will connect emotionally or inspirationally with your targets. (The Frank Luntz classic Words that Work is a great source of inspiration for choosing the most effective words in your marketing and business writing.)
Don’t use your business name in the slogan. Research shows that taglines without the business name in them are more likable. Also avoid superlatives (“the best EVER!”) because they don’t resonate with today’s market.
You also may want to take a look at the catchphrases currently in use by your most successful competitors. Although this can be helpful for understanding what works well in your industry, it may also tempt you toward imitation, so be careful and avoid that temptation, otherwise you’ll never differentiate your business from theirs.
After you’ve come up with a few different options, do a blind focus group (with friends, family or staff members who most closely match your target demographic). Pop each tagline up on an overhead projector screen, and ask for the group’s immediate reaction. After a few rounds, you’ll start to understand what works and what doesn’t.
Or, you could save yourself the time and hassle and trust a professional marketing firm to handle the job for you.
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