Creating a Tagline That Works

February 1, 2013

The few, the proud. The ultimate driving machine. The relentless pursuit of perfection. Just do it.

Great taglines deliver a simple, crisp communication of your value proposition. Great taglines don’t just happen. Capturing the essence of a brand in a handful of words requires a firm understanding of who you are (The Marines), what you do (BMW), how you do it (Lexus) and why (Nike). Only then can you turn your attention to the creative expression.

At its best, the tagline is a business asset reflecting clear strategic objectives. Here are five tips for creating a short, memorable phrase that communicates who you are OR what you do OR what makes you different.

1. Begin with a brand platform

Creating a tagline without a strategic foundation runs the risk of generating everything from internal dissent to external confusion. Know what you are trying to say before you look for memorable and meaningful ways to say it. The brand platform will serve as both guide and filter to what you say and to the tone you use in expressing it. Great taglines ring true – and the platform will clarify exactly what this means.

2. Don’t forget the context

Your name, your logo and your tagline are three pieces to a puzzle. Each piece contributes to the bigger picture – and each should rely on the others to carry some of the weight. A highly descriptive name can rely on a tagline to communicate your unique approach. A more evocative or fanciful name may need to be grounded by a more descriptive line. Strong brands find the right balance across these assets.

3. Focus

Five words or less. Maybe six or seven. You can't say it all. Don’t try.

4. Avoid buzzwords

A strong tagline will endure beyond today to capture the aspirations of tomorrow. If everyone else is saying it, you can be sure it will feel trite before long – and it doesn’t belong in your tagline.

5. Find the hook

The trickiest part: the wordplay. Every tagline need not be clever. Many try too hard. Some work perfectly fine with a simple and straightforward approach. Yet the right balance is where the magic happens. A subtle double meaning or shift in interpretation can turn an everyday phrase into a memorable line. Explore metaphors, maybe punctuation, maybe even bad syntax. Don't make your customers laugh – but if your tagline can work hard enough to open their eyes to what makes you special, it has more than done its job.

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