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If you want to start a healthy debate, ask ten small business owners and marketing professionals a single question: What’s the most important part of branding? As the old maxim would suggest, you’ll most likely get ten different answers.

However, one particular branding element tends to generate strong feelings across the board, and that’s the tagline.

Whether you love them or loathe them, or are simply confused and frustrated by the various conflicting perspectives, the best taglines can help boost your marketing results. So it pays to learn more about them: what they do, where to use them, and how to create great ones.

Of course, ineffective taglines may be worse than no tagline at all, and bad ones can do actual damage to your brand. So it’s worth taking a hard, objective look at your company’s current tagline, if you have one. Then create a better tagline to boost all of your company’s advertising and marketing.

What is a Tagline?

The word “tagline” might lend itself to various definitions, and arguments about shades of meaning or formatting certainly exist, but basically, the tagline is a brief, memorable phrase or slogan that strives to encapsulate the key essence of a brand for advertising and marketing purposes.

What’s the difference between a tagline and a slogan, if any? Some commenters argue that a tagline serves as the button on the advertising script, which may or may not convey branding, while a slogan conveys strategy.

Whether that’s a useful distinction is debatable, however, so let’s restrict our view to the purely practical perspective: Taglines serve an important purpose in advertising—at least when they’re constructed carefully and used appropriately.

The right tagline makes your brand instantly memorable. “Just do it” makes you instantly think of Nike. What’s more, it makes you want to get up and run or take a brisk walk. It’s a great tagline because it marries the brand’s core purpose—helping people exercise—with its core values of action and encouragement.

In the same way, if you hear “the happiest place on earth” you know it’s referring to Disneyland. If you hear “have it your way,” you’ll instantly think of Burger King.

Taglines serve as a shorthand of sorts, a verbal symbol that immediately evokes your brand, its products or services, its personality and its core values. A great tagline communicates all of that in one short and simple phrase.

Do You Even Need a Tagline These Days?

Many marketing professionals and entrepreneurs question the need for a tagline these days.

Some observers correctly point out that a generic, boring tagline is possibly worse than having no tagline at all. The vagueness of “Growing Bright Futures” for an academic institution or “Excellence Is Our Mission” for just about any kind of business is immediately apparent. Neither of these taglines communicates anything of significance to a consumer or prospect.

Other commenters rightly stress the primacy of a brand over a tagline. However, nothing says you can’t have both. In fact, you need vibrant branding and a memorable tagline, both of which reflect your company’s personality and values.

The best taglines accomplish these four goals simultaneously:

  • Make people want to do business with you
  • Evoke an emotional response in some way.
  • Increase your brand’s value and recognizability
  • Broad enough to resonate individually but tailored enough to fit your brand well (i.e., not generic)

It’s true that no one buys your product because of an excellent tagline. No one will ever be persuaded to do business with you solely because of a few words at the bottom of your ads. But taglines do provide an essential service: they become a trigger for your brand, a logo in words that evolves into a kind of shorthand or cue.

When used consistently in advertising and marketing, the tagline becomes something of an automatic trigger or branding cue. It helps your audience immediately associate their emotional responses to your ads with all the most positive aspects of your brand that have sunk in through past brand interactions.

Examine Your Brand’s Personality, USP, and Core Values

To get started in your tagline improvement project, think about the answers to the following three key questions:

  1. What kind of corporate personality do you want to convey?
  2. What distinguishes you from your core competition?
  3. What values does your company want to advance and demonstrate in the market and in your community?

Make lists of the keywords that bolster your answers to each of these questions.

Next, for each keyword, write down three to five synonyms. Use a thesaurus to capture unusual or related ideas. This helps you create a broader set of potentially relevant words you can use in formulating potential taglines. Look for descriptive, dynamic words that trigger positive emotional reactions.

Collect New Ideas

You may be tempted to review examples of great taglines before you begin to create your own. To be sure, there are many lists of great tagline examples on the web that you can review. However, it may be better to avoid contaminating your own creative process with real-life examples from other brands, especially ones in your own field or industry. Instead, save this step for later, once you have already crafted a few choices.

If creative writing isn’t in your wheelhouse, or if you simply want to get a head start, try out a tagline generator as a starting point. There are several you can try. The Shopify free slogan maker can provide you around 1,000 slogans based off one word you want your slogan to include. DesignHill’s Slogan Maker also generates hundreds of ideas based on a single keyword input.

Some of these suggestions will make little sense. For example, using the keyword “clever” yields, among other options, “Cleans a Big, Big Clever For Less Than Half a Crown.” But even those less-than-grammatically-correct suggestions can trigger other ideas for you.

Begin Brainstorming Your Best Taglines

Create a tagline team. It should be comprised of an odd number of people (five or seven members seems optimal), and these members should come from various departments or teams in your company. This team will do the heavy lifting tagline creation, ultimately winnowing its work down to two or three “final candidate” taglines for consideration.

Commit to an iterative process with a foundation of generating lots of initial ideas, then paring down and revising from there. This many-to-few-to-one funnel approach helps stoke creativity by shutting down the “inner critic” who might otherwise edit out good ideas. That’s especially important at the beginning of the process.

Generate as many ideas as you can first without self-editing, perhaps based on the input of the tagline generators mentioned earlier. Allow yourself to come up with the worst possible tagline ideas at the start. Then you can start to winnow out the weaker candidates.

One way to approach the editing phase is to hand out a printed list of all the possible taglines to your team, with instructions to circle in red ink their top candidates, but limit their selections. For example, if you’ve generated 200 ideas, they can only circle 20. If you have 50 possible taglines, ask for the top five.

Then create a new list composed solely of all the circled taglines. Don’t designate high vote-getters at this stage, as it may prompt unconscious biases in your team members. Instead, start fresh with this new, winnowed down list. Run another round of voting but this time, instruct your team to circle only their top two taglines in the list.

Collate the responses into a separate list, then working only with those, begin to discuss the pros and cons of each tagline. Ask open-ended questions to get the conversation rolling. At this stage, many brands find that two or three taglines rise to the top organically. If not, hold one more round of voting and select the two or three taglines that come closest to the mark.

Test Your Top Candidates

Now that you have two or three potential taglines in fairly good shape, you can work to refine and perfect your last choices until you’re left with a version of each that seems fairly close to the mark.

However, it’s not a good idea to skip to the end at this point and declare a single winner. Instead, test out your top candidates with real people who represent the demographics of your targeted user avatars.

If your brand’s core audience consists of middle-aged married couples and college-educated professionals with no children, then conduct some informal consumer panel research with people who meet those criteria. If you have the budget for formal market research, letting a professional run these inquiries is probably the best choice.

However, even simple online consumer surveys through sites such as SurveyMonkey can help you gain a deeper understanding of how your ideal customers view your possible taglines.

Either way, use the information gathered from these inquiries to guide your final choice. Remember that the winning tagline should hit all these marks:

  • Short
  • Easy to remember
  • Vivid vocabulary that paints a picture
  • Communicates your brand’s personality
  • Consistent with your brand’s core values
  • Makes your prospective customers want to do business with you

Where to Use Your Tagline

Now that you’ve created a winning tagline it’s time to put it to use. Include your tagline in all printed marketing materials and ensure it’s included in the scripts for all video and audio ads. If you’re advertising on podcasts, make sure the podcast host or voiceover talent stresses the tagline at the end of the spot. Don’t forget to include the tagline on your social media profiles, website copy and email signatures, as well.

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