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How to Craft a Tagline That Demands Attention

A well-crafted tagline can capture the collective imagination. It can rouse the athlete within us, or make us feel like part of a tech tribe.

But most taglines fail to elicit such emotion. They’re bland and forgettable. And in the age of smartphones and hashtags, some marketers have argued that taglines have become relics.

Still, a distinctive tagline can showcase your brand personality and clearly communicate what sets you apart from the competition. Or even how you’re transforming your category. The trick is being clear and succinct while still connecting the tagline back to the value you provide. And that’s easier said than done.

Let’s take a look at the process of creating a new tagline, as well as some common roadblocks that can keep you from landing on one that’s worth all the effort. First, though, let’s describe what a tagline is and how it fits into your brand identity.

So, what’s a tagline?

A tagline is a short phrase that captures the essence of your brand and mission. (In Britain, it’s known as a “strapline.”) It often appears in a lockup with your logo, so they need to work together.

You might think that crafting a tagline can’t take that long. It’s just a few words, right? Well, because it’s so intimately related to your brand, it can be tough to find just the right words. That’s why the creatives in a marketing agency can be helpful in bringing previous experience to bear in coming up with numerous tagline ideas that align with where your brand is headed.

And what’s needed to create one?

Since a tagline must relate to your brand essence, it’s usually created toward the end of a larger branding initiative. That way, the copywriters working on the tagline can reference the brand’s:

  • Attributes
  • Benefits
  • Values
  • Personality
  • Essence
  • Voice
  • Promise
  • Overarching message
  • Positioning statement
  • Messaging pillars
  • Story

With all that information in front of them, copywriters can brainstorm literally hundreds of ideas, and then riff on the best ones. That’s how you can end up with an awesome tagline.

Tackling your tagline: Process

As you think about your tagline project, here are a few pro tips that will help make the process go more smoothly. These tips hold true for any creative endeavor—and for naming a product or brand in particular.

Capture all relevant info in a brief

Don’t kick off your tagline project until you have a solid creative brief with all the relevant information. You’ll want to include:

  • How you’ll define success
  • Intended audiences
  • Your company mission statement
  • Current brand positioning (voice, messaging, brand wheel, etc.)
  • Competitors who use taglines
  • Any previous taglines your company has used
  • Mandatories (must work with logo, can’t be more than five words, etc.)
  • Recent marketing collateral
  • Any other relevant information

Call off the committee

Trying to please a dozen people is going to lead to compromise. Your outcome will be mediocre—if you’re lucky—because you’ll end up with safe options that aren’t viewed by the group as different or risky. Instead, choose a creative director and a copywriter or two and trust them to get it done.

This isn’t rush hour

Awesome creative takes time. While some of us thrive under pressure, an aggressive deadline can force your team to focus on fewer options rather than exploring more abstract ideas that could pack a greater emotional punch. So cultivate your team’s creativity and give them plenty of time and space to explore.

Don’t lose sight of key stakeholders

Be clear up front about any executive stakeholders—and know who will make the final decision. Also, get absolutely clear about their expectations. Are they expecting to see three tagline options, or 12? Are there any types of lines that absolutely won’t fly? And who has veto power? Finding out this kind of information at the eleventh hour will frustrate your team and exhaust them mentally.

Tackling your tagline: Creative

Every copywriter will handle the creative process for taglines in their own unique way. I pull up the brand positioning on my second computer screen, clicking back and forth between different pages as I ideate and type out ideas. This keeps the brand front and center as I think through different word combinations and ways of expressing the company’s value to its customers.

Here are some things to keep in mind while crafting a tagline.

Clear beats clever

You’ll be tempted to get clever, or even cute. Don’t. People are going to visit your website and decide in a heartbeat whether they’ll stay—and they’ll decide before they take the time to figure out your clever play on words. Go for clear.

Emphasize a benefit

Think beyond the literal to the end result. That recreational vehicle helps you find adventure. Those shoes help you realize your athletic potential. That phone helps you express your individuality.

Inject some personality

You’ve got your company’s voice and messaging in front of you. Are you aspirational? Goofy? Fun-loving? Don’t worry about sounding cool. Create something that fits your voice and matches the personality of your business.

Keep it short

Yes, there are exceptions to this. But in general you want to keep your tag as short as possible. Pro tip: look at your top candidates next to your logo to see how they pair together.

Tackling your tagline: Presenting

You’ve written down hundreds of ideas and picked out a handful of the best ones. Now it’s time to present your candidates to the executives. Here’s some presentation tips that I’ve learned—a few of them the hard way.

Tell them what you like, and why

Don’t simply present your top options. Explain what you like about them, how they would pair with the logo, and how they could be used in future campaigns.

Push the envelope. With a backup plan

You’re going to come up with some ideas that may be regarded as risky in some way. Too direct, too aggressive, too whatever. You want to push your company creatively and you might even lead with an aggressive tagline option. But have an alternative or two at the ready, including a “safer” one. As long as it’s not boring.

Don’t get too attached

Creating taglines, like names, can be an emotional process. We all identify with certain words or ideas, and it’s easy to become attached to certain favorites. Especially after you’ve invested hours coming up with them! But your personal favorite may never see the light of day. So speak up for what you like best—and clearly explain what you like—but try not to get too emotionally invested in one option or another.

Don’t be disheartened if you have to start over

Perhaps they loved one of your tagline ideas, but it just doesn’t work for whatever reason. Maybe Compliance or Legal flagged it. Whatever the case, take your executives’ feedback and refine your ideation accordingly. (Pro tip: Submit your top picks for legal review and approval before you present them to executives.)

Umm, regular or extra crispy?

Here’s a final word of advice if your company does business in international markets. Take extra care with the translation of your tagline or slogan. KFC learned that lesson when “finger lickin’ good” was mistranslated in China as “eat your fingers off.”

Take a look outside.

Consider partnering with an agency on your tagline project. An experienced branding agency can look at your brand and your industry with fresh eyes and come up with a variety of new options for bringing your brand voice to life.

Keep in mind that your tagline will need to change over time as your products, your company, and the surrounding markets evolve. Carlsberg is a great example. Long advertised as “Probably the best beer in the world,” the cheeky Danish brand more recently admitted it “became one of the cheapest, not the best.” So the pilsner has been rebrewed “from head to hop.” Don’t be afraid to do the same if your circumstances change. Because once you know how to write an amazing tagline, you can certainly do it again.

For further reading

27 Companies with Really Catchy Slogans & Brand Taglines, HubSpot Blog
How to Create a Rock-Solid Tagline That Truly Works, Copyblogger
10 Tips for a Remarkable Tagline, Inc.

Derek Smith Team Photo at Element Three

Derek Smith's skills as a reporter serve him well as a senior writer here at Element Three—and if you need a coach for your soccer team, he's got you covered. He's worked as a content strategist as well as a copywriter, so he's always thinking about the why behind every word and every piece of every campaign.