Branding Insights: What makes a great tagline?

Written by Carter Fowler
September 14, 2020
A tagline is your brand's first chance to explain itself to a potential customer. If executed poorly, it very well may be the last chance you get.

Slogan. Catchphrase. Mantra. Motto. 

Brand taglines go by many names—but regardless of what you choose to call them, you know it when you see a good one. 

It’s memorable. It’s different. It makes your mind stop and think. It makes you feel something deep down in your chest, a feeling of understanding and being understood.

That sure is a lot for one measly little phrase to do, isn’t it? But such is the power of a truly great tagline. Beauty in simplicity.

Although they are often deceptively simple, great taglines arise from an intense strategic and creative process that is far from simple. To craft a truly great tagline, you must have intimate knowledge of both your brand and your customers. 

Your tagline is your first chance to explain yourself to a potential customer. Why do you exist? Why should they care? 

If your tagline is executed poorly, it might be the last chance you get. First impressions are everything.

Dissecting the Tagline

A tagline is a phrase that describes, synopsizes, or helps create an interest in your brand. Taglines sum up “the sell” and the best of them evoke an emotional response. 

No business in history has ever succeeded without being able to explain to others why the business exists. And that’s what a tagline is at its core: the core explanation of why your brand exists. 

A tagline has three primary business functions. Firstly, it communicates a brand’s positioning and personality. Secondly, it differentiates the brand from competitors. And lastly, it evokes an emotional response in members of the brand’s target audience.

Essential Characteristics of an Effective Tagline

  1. Focuses on a single proposition
  2. Does not include the word “and”
  3. Includes at most 1 comma (0 is ideal)
  4. Short: ideally less than 5 words
  5. Easy to say and remember
  6. No negative connotations
  7. Displayed in a small font
  8. Difficult to create


Categories of Brand Taglines

Imperative

Imperative taglines command action. They often explicitly mention the customer’s perspective and usually start with a verb.

Examples:

  • YouTube - Broadcast yourself
  • Nike - Just do it
  • Apple - Think different
  • MINI Cooper - Let’s motor

Descriptive

Descriptive taglines describe something crucial about the brand. They may focus on the service provided, or the product, or a promise that the brand makes to its customers.

Examples:

  • Target - Expect more. Pay less.
  • MSNBC - The whole picture
  • GE - Imagination at work
  • Allstate - You’re in good hands


Superlative

Superlative taglines attempt to position the brand as best in class. They aim to create a feeling of excellence and superiority in the minds of their audience, and often take the form of definitive statements.

Examples: 

  • DeBeers - A diamond is forever
  • BMW - The ultimate driving machine
  • Lufthansa - There’s no better way to fly
  • US National Guard - Americans at their best


Provocative

Provocative taglines aim to provoke thought in their audience. They often take the form of a question. This question can be rhetorical or can lead the audience to a desired conclusion.

Examples: 

  • Dairy Council - Got Milk?
  • Sears - Where else?
  • Verizon Wireless - Can you hear me now?
  • Wendy’s - Where’s the beef?


Specifying

Specifying taglines are used to reveal the business category of the brand. Although they can seem similar to descriptive taglines, these taglines are different. They are intended to inform and clarify. They tell you exactly what kind of work this brand does.

Examples: 

  • HSBC - The world’s local bank
  • The New York Times - All the news that’s fit to print
  • Roam Coworking - Innovative workplace
  • Jones & Swanson - Personal injury attorneys


How do you explain yourself?

You and I live in an information-rich, time-poor society. Confronted with floods of options, consumers have come to rely on gut feelings more than information.  Our old method of judging businesses and products—by comparing features and benefits—no longer works well.

Today we base our choices more on symbolic attributes. What does it look like?  Who else cares about it?  Can I remember it days later?  How does this brand make me feel?

You simply can’t expect potential customers to take the time to read, research, or learn everything needed to fully understand your company. In even the ideal situations, you have their attention for just a few minutes. Most will grant you just a few seconds of their time before making a snap decision.



One of the few things within your control is how your company is perceived and understood by those who are becoming aware of you for the first time. 

Whether you craft this first impression intentionally, or unintentionally, your branding decides how people perceive and understand your company. 

Would you prefer these first impressions to be thoughtfully designed, or a product of carelessness? Only you can answer that question.

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