Small Business: What’s in a Company Slogan?

by | Small Business Consulting

What’s in a business slogan or tagline? Everything or not much, depending on your point of view.

Everything, because your tagline should ideally be memorable and elicit good feelings about your brand, while also describing what your company does. Not much because, after all, “brevity is the soul of wit.” An effective tagline can and should be no more than ten words.

Finding the right balance is much easier said than done, but likely worth the effort. One professional copywriter might be correct when saying that creating your company’s slogan or tagline might be the most important single sentence you ever write.

What is a Business Tagline?

A tagline or slogan is a short phrase that memorably sums up a business or one of its products or services. Slogans appear on most advertising and marketing materials, like web pages, print ads and directory listings, and also on business cards, packaging, stationery, and anything else seen outside the company.

Stronger than dirt (Ajax), Good to the Last Drop (Maxwell House), The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band (The Rolling Stones), and Breakfast of Champions (Wheaties) are crystal clear in terms of what message they hope to convey.

Other slogans might be less obvious in terms of exactly what the customer is buying, but just as effective. Bullish on America (Merrill Lynch) connotes power, strength and optimism. Who wouldn’t want to invest their money there? The Ultimate Driving Machine (BMW) suggests very high quality and also reinforces the brand‘s position as an aspirational buy.

When it Absolutely, Positively Has to be There Overnight (FedEx) just screams dependability. Finger Lickin’ Good (Kentucky Fried Chicken) might be, well, kind of gross, but the buyer looks past that when his stomach is grumbling around 5:30 and the seven herbs and spices are beckoning.

What Makes a Good Tagline?

So it’s obvious that a tagline or business slogan should do more than just fill some space on a business card, but what exactly makes a tagline effective? To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who was commenting on a very different matter, it’s tough to define, but you know it when you see it. However, you can only get away with being vague for a little while, so here it goes.

An effective business tagline will:

  • Convey what your company offers (this is most important)
  •  Create a good impression
  •  Help prospects remember your company
  •  Be brief

Your tagline scores bonus points if it tells the reader something about your company’s culture. (Extra bonus points for injecting some humor. Recently, we found ourselves driving behind a truck for the Aurora Casket Company. Its company slogan – Aurora Caskets: Because You Care. Okay, fine. But we would have suggested, Aurora Caskets: The Last Thing You Need.)

Creating Your Company’s Slogan

If you’re lucky, the perfect company slogan might appear to you during a dream, while you’re jogging, or in the shower. Those kinds of things do happen, but most of us can’t afford to bank on those random flashes of inspiration and creativity. Here are six steps to getting your slogan right the first time.

1.) Brainstorm. Don’t go it alone. Get out the whiteboard and let your people free-associate. What makes your company good? What do your customers like? What’s your value proposition?

And don’t just include your marketing and sales types in the process. Anyone in your company who has regular contact with customers or thorough knowledge of your offerings probably has ideas that merit some consideration.

2.) Survey. You don’t have to do this formally, but it would pay to have some serious input from your better customers. Why do they keep coming back? What do they like best? What do they tell their peers about your company?

3.) Compare. What are slogans typically like in your industry? You want to be unique, but you don’t want to look ridiculous. Are your competitors’ taglines mostly product-focused? Are they straightforward? Edgy?

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea about what you would like the slogan to convey and can start on some first drafts. Then you can move on to the last three steps.

4.) Be Careful (Part 1). As noted earlier, getting enough input from multiple sources is important, but not all input should be treated equally. A few years back an aspiring trade magazine editor wanted his publication’s tagline to read, A Business Magazine with Soul. He had to be diplomatically told that some people are good at this kind of thing and some people just aren’t.

5.) Be Careful (Part 2). It can be tempting to get too clever with a slogan. Too clever for your own good. If your company’s new or growing, you’re better off sticking to the basics.

McDonald’s can get away with, I’m Lovin’ It, but they’ve been in business since 1940. And Nike had been at it for 24 years before launching its Just Do It tagline in 1988. Until your company reaches household word status, stick with slogans that explain what your company can offer its customers.

5.) Roll it Out. And don’t do it quietly. Send a press release, explaining the inspirations for the tagline (focus on your customers, here). Display the new slogan on your website’s homepage. Introduce it at a major trade show.

The Slogan’s Shelf Life

How long your tagline lasts depends purely on how long it’s effective. Products, markets and customers change. Coca-Cola has churned through at least 20 taglines since dropping It’s the Real Thing in 1971.

If you keep an eye on industry and marketing trends and stay aware of your customers’ perceptions of your company, you’ll know when it’s time to freshen up your slogan.

Image courtesy Ringling Bros. Combined Shows

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