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Tagline Thoughts

Kate Schmidgall April 15, 2020 | 2 MIN 54 SEC READ

A strong brand tells a coherent story using multiple tools. Consider the elements of story: Who, what, when, where, why, how. Each tool in your brand toolbox should serve a different story function.

Let’s say the what is a hammer-direct and pounding. The why is glue-sticky and compelling. The how is the drill-going deep and securing. Who is the paintbrush-many variations for different contexts. You get the idea.

Now imagine if everything in your toolbox was a hammer, how ill-equipped you would be to deal with anything but a nail. Taglines are a great opportunity to build broad appeal and resonance. For this reason, effective taglines are more inspirational than informational-they are the glue, not the hammer.

Consider a few of the world’s most widely-recognized taglines:

  • Apple — Think Different
  • Nike — Just Do It
  • McDonalds — I’m lovin it
  • Coca Cola — Open happiness
  • Visa — It’s everywhere you want to be
  • Disney — The most magical place on Earth
  • UPS — What can brown do for you / Changed to: We love logistics.
  • FedEx — The world on time.

Notice none of these examples pound the company what. By stoking emotion and imagination, they begin to set my expectation for experience-what I will get or feel when I use their product or engage with their brand. It’s a vague trust in these brand promises that drives consumer choices much of the time, even somewhat subconsciously.

With that and your brand toolbox in mind, let’s try thinking of your mission statement as the what, key priorities as the how, and let the tagline carry the why (core conviction, driving benefit, or grand promise). While we can surely create messaging stacks targeting your different audiences, one tagline should resonate and unify all audience segments, orienting us toward a single brand promise.

Additionally, a great tagline will be a helpful tool to build momentum for the brand shift internally as you move toward impact-driven narrative and alignment at every level. That to say, a tagline is as much for staff alignment as it is for investors, so we don’t want to be too narrow or return-minded. The two-pager and ten-page deck, for example, are both specific to investors and the addition of an inspiring tagline will not detract from either piece but rather offer some lift and zing.

Notice how the most effective brands use exceptionally simple language (not corporate jargon), infusing color, wit, and candor to differentiate themselves and make meaningful connections with their audiences. The longest tagline in the those examples is only eight syllables.

All that in mind, let’s consider your three suggestions:

Developing Communities, Embracing Community

15 syllables, what-focused

Making an Impact, One Community at a Time

13 syllables, what-focused

Remember that we are trying to land closer to a ‘sticky sense of promise’ that makes you feel, rather than ‘exactly what we do’ to make you know. We have many other tools to build the rest of our narrative-the tagline is glue.

In every brand toolbox, we need a mix of tools and it’s important that they don’t all pound the what, like hammers. Each of us, of course, will gravitate toward a certain tool based on personality and job function perhaps, but that’s why we need a broad assortment. It’s my belief that an impact-driven narrative requires inspiring and human-centered language, and part of achieving greater returns means showing it, not hitting me over the head with it.

By Kate Schmidgall ,Bittersweet Creative Founder, Director