Marketing & Branding Advice

How Important is a Tagline, Really?



Taglines, those pithy little phrases that sit right under or next to logos, are often integral components to a firm’s brand. But choosing those select, few words can be a grueling and expensive task. Many clients ask me if they really need a tagline and, if so, what it needs to convey. My answers vary from client to client. Here’s why:

Do You Need a Tagline?

Your company name may include a word or phrase that helps people recognize what you do. For example, you might be called “Smith & Jones Architects” or “ABC Engineering.” Firms with descriptors in their names are often less anxious about adding a tagline. But it’s important not to confuse descriptions with taglines.

I have worked with many law firms that show the words “Attorneys at Law” under their logo. Partners insist the phrase is necessary so “people coming to the website know we are a law firm.” Really? Think about it—why would anyone come to your website if they did not already know what you do?

People generally find your site in one of several ways: 1) They know your firm name or URL and enter it. 2) They know the name of a partner or employee and search for it. 3) They do a search for keywords, such as “landscape architecture firm Boston,” and click your link. 4) They respond to some form of advertising, such as a print or banner ad, an email, or a snail mailing, and go to your website to learn more. In all of these cases, they already know the basics of what you do, so telling them again, in a tagline, is unnecessary. We don’t wander around the internet like teenagers wander around shopping malls. We don’t look at the Brookstone homepage and think “I see an air purifier, a motorized barbecue grill brush, and a foot massager. I wonder if they do landscape architecture?”

What Does a Tagline Need to Convey?

When most people think about a tagline, they assume the phrase must define their business. They search for a way to sum-up everything they do in three to five words. In the case of BMW, the high-end car manufacturer, they use the tagline “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” BMW has used this tagline for almost 40 years and it still is very effective.

But what if BMW selected four very similar words for their tagline, such as “The Best Car Built.” “Ultimate” and “Best” are pretty synonymous, as are “Driving Machine” and “Car,” right? The significant difference is, of course, that “The Ultimate Driving Machine” conveys the experience of driving their product. The message is active. It expresses the feeling and spirit of driving their cars. That difference is huge.

Nike’s famous “Just Do It” tagline was coined almost 30 years ago, in 1988. I remember the buzz it generated around the advertising world when it was introduced. People loved it or hated it, were completely perplexed or immediately got it. Now, looking back, the genius seems obvious. Although the three words say nothing about sneakers, they inspire you to try, do, start, IT… whatever “it” means to you. In combo with dramatic photography, the tagline and advertising campaign helped Nike wearers associate their sneakers with the prospect of achieving greatness.

As service providers, we can look at BMW and Nike and apply the successes of their taglines to our own. In summary, your tagline should:

  • Entice people to want to work with you.
  • Appeal to human emotions.
  • Be conceptual rather than literal. Allow room for each reader’s interpretation.
  • Add value to your brand.

Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook, July 16, 2015.

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