How to write a tagline
What's a tagline? Why bother writing one? And how to do it.
In drama or other entertainment, a tagline is a short bit of text that’s used to clarify a thought or for dramatic effect.
That definition could also serve for business taglines – but the standard definition is: A slogan* identified with a company or brand.
Except that’s true only of the slogans that actually work. Some don't identify anything (positive). Creating a strong tagline can be a challenge.
Your business doesn’t have to have a tagline. Some argue that they don’t really work for B2B companies. And many big businesses (even B2C) don’t have one.
There are various reasons. Some companies serve so many sectors with different products/services that no one phrase is right for all audiences or brands. Or a corporate brand may already enjoy such recognition that it doesn’t need any underpinning. (Also companies in a sector can be so similar they're stumped to come up with anything that isn't samey or meaningless.)
Others see taglines as an outdated device from the days of static advertising and corny TV ads and entertainers.
Certainly it's better not to bother, rather than attach some lame phrase to your brand name.
But taglines can still do a worthwhile job. So there are good reasons for putting in the thought and creative effort required to come up with a strong tagline.
The value of taglines
So what are the benefits? A strong tagline can:
- Help differentiate your business from the herd
- Amplify or explain your business name
- Get across what you stand for
- Highlight a key benefit / advantage
- Resonate with the customer (even B2B clients)
- Refresh your brand / corporate image
- Inspire and motivate employees
Think of your tagline as a verbal logo. It needs to be clear, distinctive and engaging. But it should also be authentic, meaningful and memorable – and, pithy!
That’s a tall order for a short phrase. So it’s no surprise that many fall short.
How to craft a strong tagline
First and foremost, it’s got to be clear. A tagline can multi-task, by fulfilling several of the purposes listed above, but it’s more likely to hit the mark if it focuses on one objective.
If your business name / brand is not well known, then a tagline may help prospective customers quickly understand what you are about. This becomes more important when the company name doesn’t convey what the business does, which is often the case.
But remember, the brand name and tagline will usually appear together in a context where the sector is obvious. That’s why it may be better to focus on getting across the value or benefit that makes you different.
Whatever the underlying message, if your tagline has some dramatic element – it may be rhyme, alliteration, a play on words, or an evocative or emotive phrase – then it’s more likely to be remembered. However, clarity trumps too-clever creativity.
So what’s the best way to go about writing a tagline?
A SIX-STEP PROCESS
You could retain a high-profile creative agency, commission focus groups and exhaustive market research, and blow your marketing budget.
Alternatively, here’s a basic process we follow that can also serve as a guide if you try to compose your own tagline.
1. Focus on benefits
As with all copywriting, start with your client/customer in mind. How do they gain from your product or service, and what emotions do they feel as a result? This clarifies the key benefits we should try to convey.
2. Find your difference
It’s also worthwhile at the outset trying to pin down what’s different about the business. This could be the way you deliver those benefits, your ethos or some other competitive advantage or USP.
3. Brainstorm these ideas
Having identified the key benefits and points of difference, brainstorm these ideas to generate a list of punchy words and phrases. The aim is to get down as many options as possible, including variations. Don’t reject suggestions out of hand at this stage. When the well has run dry, take a break, and sleep on it.
4. Shortlist the strongest
Then it's time to whittle down your ideas. Which options could work and which won’t? Put aside these weaker ones, and concentrate on refining and polishing the most promising options. Then explore the different variations on these themes. Having done this, it’s a good idea to take some more time out. When you return to your shortlist you may see them differently or have fresh ideas.
5. Select your preferred option(s)
Choosing between options can be difficult.
Taglines that resonate do so for a combination of different reasons. Here’s a checklist of factors that can help in selecting your preferred option. You can even use it to score the contenders (and pretend that this is an objective exercise).
No one phrase may tick all these boxes, but the more yours can, the more likely it is to work as a tagline and reinforce your brand.
Seven benchmarks for assessing taglines
A. Clarity – Are the words simple and specific, not confusing or vague?
B. Brevity – Is it as succinct as possible so it will be easy to remember?
C. Benefit – Does it convey a key way in which we help or delight our customers?
D. Distinction – Does it differentiate our offer and brand from our competitors?
E. Emotion – Would it evoke a positive feeling among would-be customers?
F. Credibility – Does it have a ring of truth and sound believable?
G. Originality – Is there some wit, alliteration or other dramatic effect that makes the tagline more memorable? (Without compromising A.)
6. Test your tagline out
Before making a final decision, see how your preferred option(s) play with colleagues and, preferably, people outside the organisation, including clients/customers, if possible.
We hope this quick guide to writing taglines is helpful.
Have you nailed it? Great, if you have. If not, you may want to seek external advice.
Do let us know if you want to bounce some ideas, or help generating fresh options.
Online you’ll find many lists of ‘the best taglines ever’, dominated by American consumer brands. Some try to explain why these slogans have stood the test of time. The reasons are often subjective, but some can be insightful.
One factor that tends to be overlooked is the form of the phrase. Would you like to read more about tagline form? We'll look at this, and some tagline examples, in the next article.
Tell us if you'd like to be sent a link when it's published. Just put Tag 2 in the subject line.
* The word slogan derives from the Irish term (ie, Gaelic) for battle cry: sluagh-ghairm, the call (ghairm) of a crowd (slua). So slogans emerged from the battle cries of a clan. Your brand's ‘battle cry' may not be aimed at the competition, but it should still have an impact ...