Just Do It. Got Milk? Open Happiness. Because You’re Worth It. Think Different.
Think different. And don’t just do any of the above.
Unless you want your small business to flop…
As you’ve gathered by now we're talking about business taglines. More specifically, this tutorial covers what is a tagline (it's function and role in your business) and gives you practical steps on how to write a tagline for your small business that’s powerful and effective.
So why am I telling you to not follow any of the famous tagline examples we all know and love? Because that type of tagline wouldn't work well for a small business.
But let's take things from the beginning by looking at what is a tagline, what makes it effective, and how you can write a great small business tagline. After that, we can turn to our famous friends and see why they work or not and what you need to be aware of.
What Is a Tagline?
The American Marketing Association equates a tagline (or tag line) with a slogan and defines both of them as follows: “The verbal or written portion of an advertising message that summarizes the main idea in a few memorable words.”
If we want to make a distinction, I'd say that slogans are directly linked to specific advertising messages, while taglines tend to accompany a brand more generally as a whole. As we’ll see later, of course, many slogans often become taglines once they catch on, but let's keep our focus now on branding rather than advertising campaigns.
So we can say:
A tagline is the verbal or written portion of your brand that summarizes its main purpose and idea in a few memorable words.
Short sentence. Huge task. How do you do it?
How to Write a Tagline for Your Small Business
Let’s break the task of creating an effective tagline into actionable steps so you can craft the perfect tagline for your business.
Download your free Business Tagline Worksheet and complete the steps as you follow along with this tutorial.
3 Steps to a Great Tagline
Step 1: Summarize Your Mission
What’s your mission in the world through the work you do?
Not what you do. But what’s your mission through the work you do?
A common mistake small businesses often make with their taglines is to use their industry as the definition of their business. Labels like “a web design studio,” “video editing company,” or “wedding photographer” mean nothing to potential customers who can find hundreds of others businesses in the same industry in just a few keystrokes.
Those aren’t business taglines. They’re descriptions.
Standard, dry, and boring industry descriptions.
They may only use a few words but those words aren't memorable and don't summarize the purpose of the brand. So the tagline fails and customers forget all about it 3.5 seconds after reading it.
Instead of thinking about your industry, start thinking about your brand's purpose and your core values. In fact, don't just think about them, put them in front of you so you can look at them.
If you haven’t yet written a purpose for your brand or discovered your core values, check out the following tutorials to help you dig deep into your business to find your driving factors:
- FreelanceHow to Create a Profitable Brand for Your Freelancing BusinessJulia Melymbrose
- BrandingHow to Define Your Core Brand Values (And Why You Should)Julia Melymbrose
Your tagline won't be the same as your brand's purpose statement nor will it be a direct announcement of your values. But these are good starting points to expand upon.
Think about how you would explain to a stranger what you do, for whom it's meant for, and why you do it.
For example, we said before that "video editing company" is too broad and general for a tagline. It only says what you do, but not from whom or why.
Let's say that our hypothetical company had as its purpose to provide video editing services to small businesses because we believe that the small guys have as much to offer the world as the big corporations and should have a way to express their vision into the world. Our company also values artistic expression and a playful approach to doing business.
After thinking about your core values and purpose statement, you could come up with a mission summary like the following:
Video editing and production for small businesses that want to reach more people and make a difference in the world, but don’t have a full marketing department, or fancy equipment to produce their own commercials, tutorials, or other videos.
Alright, that’s a start for your business tagline. Now we need to both add and refine.
Step 2: State The Customer's Key Benefit
This may sound like a harsh question to ask of your mission summary, but:
Your brand has a mission in the world to help a specific audience achieve certain results. So what?
The question doesn’t mean to undermine your efforts, but to help you connect with your audience.
A successful tagline doesn’t simply announce what a company does; it also explains the benefits of that mission to the client.
As a business owner, it’s only natural to turn your focus at what you do. But you should never lose sight of your ideal audience either.
Why should potential clients care about what you do? What’s in it for them? What do they have to gain from coming to you? If you want your audience to care you must highlight your brand's key benefit.
The best way to begin verbalizing the main benefit to your customers is by answering the caustic-sounding question “so what?”
And the straightforward answer begins with a “so that.”
Get your sentence from step 1, add to the end “so that” and continue the sentence with the main benefits for your customers.
Video editing and production for small businesses that want to reach more people and make a difference in the world but don’t have a full marketing department or fancy equipment to produce their own commercials, tutorials, or other videos so that:
- You can share your meaningful work with the world
- You can grow your heart-based business without heartache
- You can spread the good you do in the world through high-quality yet affordable videos
- You can have more fun and less stress running your small business
- Your small business can make a big difference
Make a list of various benefits, expressed in every way you can think of. Although you won’t be using all of these benefits in your tagline, they’ll help you identify your main theme and zero in on important and powerful words to include in your final tagline.
You can already see a theme here in the values and benefits that our model video editing company presents. It’s a company that values meaningful work (rather than just profitable business), as expressed in the phrase “for small businesses that want to make a difference in the world.” And the benefit for the customer is growing their business without stress or heartache but having fun doing it.
Step 3: Differentiate Your Brand
Finally, as a snapshot of your entire brand, your tagline needs to speak to your brand’s personality. Your brand's personality will spruce up your tagline, help differentiate your brand from your competitors, and give potential customers a reason to like you!
The likeability factor can play a large role in branding because we all like to do business with people we like. And we naturally connect better with people we like.
So, back to our example, we've established so far that you deliver high-quality video editing services for small businesses who want to make a difference in the world. Great.
But how will you make that emotional connection with potential customers that will lead them to pick you over anyone else? Here are a few variations on potential taglines you could use based on what we've written so far:
- High-quality video editing for small-business campaigns.
- Hassle-free videos for fun-hearted small businesses.
- Big-brand video productions for big-hearted small businesses.
- Big video productions for small heart-based businesses.
All of these taglines communicate the brand mission (helping small businesses that make a difference in the world) and highlight the key benefits of achieving growth while having fun. But each one conveys the message through a different personality that would attract different people.
Play around with different ways to convey your tagline message until you find a variation that conveys your true brand personality.
Check Your Results
You should by now have created a few version of possible taglines you can use for your business.
But how do you know if your tagline is any good?
Although there's no such thing as the absolutely perfect tagline because some factors, like personality, will always be subjective, there are good tagline candidates and bad tagline candidates.
Apply the following tests to your tagline before releasing it out to the world to check its effectiveness and whether it accomplishes its purpose.
Test 1: Clarity
Is your tagline clear?
This is the most important test of all, and one that most small-business taglines fail! That’s because we’re all drawn to “cutesy” famous taglines like “just do it” and “think different.”
"Ah, how inspirational!" we think. "I should come up with something like that."
No, no you shouldn’t. Because clever and cute though those taglines may sound, they're not clear. They tell nothing of the company's mission or benefits, even if they do capture its personality in their 2-3 words. (We'll see why this type of taglines works for large corporation in the next section.)
Just do what? Think different than whom? And in what way? What do you sell anyway?
To achieve clarity, your small-business tagline should avoid two things: cuteness (or cleverness) and jargon.
The famous taglines above are too cute or too clever to achieve the clarity that small businesses need.
But jargon can be just as dangerous and confusing because it leaves your customers that don't speak your industry's language scratching their heads.
Let's turn to our video editing company as an example. You consider video production and immediately think of how you work to “cut” a video into a good story. “Brilliant!” you think and come up with the tagline: Cut your business to success!
Clever? Maybe. Jargon-oriented? Definitely. Good tagline? Nope.
“Cut” doesn’t immediately ring a bell for video production to people outside the video editing industry. So “cut your business” brings up negative connotations to people outside the editing industry. Not to mention that "cut to success" sounds like nonsense.
Your potential customer is thinking: "I want to grow my business, not cut it!"
Cleverness and jargon can confuse people or, even worse, give the wrong impression about your business. This doesn’t mean your tagline should be boring and dry. That’s why personality is one of our three main tests. But your tagline should never sacrifice clarity for anything else.
Once you have a possible tagline candidate put it through the clarity test: does the tagline really explain what you do? Better still, give it to someone outside your business. Do they understand what you do?
If not, it’s back to the writing desk.
Test 2: Is It Unique to You?
There's nothing worse than a tagline that isn't unique to the company it represents. Yet this is a common problem with taglines of big corporations and small businesses alike.
After all the paring down necessary to get a tagline down to a few words, brands often end up with generic vanilla-flavored phrases that don't hold much meaning and could be applied to anyone.
If you end up with phrases such as:
- “A promise of excellence and good quality.”
- “The best value for your money.”
- “We only deliver the best.”
- “Innovative ideas for your business”.
You’ll want to go back to your drafting document and start again.
Not only do these taglines say nothing, they’re also so general, they could be applied to anyone in any business.
What does "excellence and good quality" mean? And what does your business do anyway? Would anyone make a promise of not delivering the best? And the best what? And how convinced are you that "innovative ideas" is truly innovative with a boring tagline like that?
Make sure that your tagline is unique to your brand and specific to your key benefit.
If it’s not, and it ends up sounding like the superlatives sections of your dictionary, you’ll want to go back to the writing desk some more!
Test 3: Is it Memorable?
Finally, we’ve got the memory test.
If people remember nothing else about your brand at first contact, they should at least remember your tagline: remember what you do.
But… remember: Clarity always comes first. And what we said about being too clever or too cute still stands true! Don't try to be memorable in a way that sacrifices clarity!
If you've followed all the steps and checks so far and have crafted a tagline that summarizes your mission, communicates the key benefit, shows your personality, has clarity, is unique to you and expressed in a few words, then chances are that it's also memorable.
Memorable doesn't necessarily mean that your tagline has to rhyme, contain a pun, or sound like a jingle. It just has to be something that your audience remembers.
Think of this test as the final clear-all test. If you've successfully accomplished all the previous steps and tests so far, you should be good to go on this one, too.
If you get here and your tagline isn't memorable (because it sounds too generic or cliché), backtrack to see where you went astray. Does it lack personality, benefit, originality, clarity? Once you find the issue, work your way from there again.
If you’ve checked all the boxes so far, your tagline should be unique and memorable and help your brand stand out.
Taglines Are Not Set in Stone
The truth is that good and effective taglines for business can be quite difficult to craft. Although just a few words long, taglines carry the entirety of your brand on their backs! Which means that those few words are hard to nail.
But you shouldn’t get stuck forever on crafting the perfect tagline. The good thing about taglines is that they can change and evolve as your company grows and evolves. In fact, taglines can be used to highlight or introduce a change in your brand or an expansion in your line of services.
“Open Happiness” may come to mind when we think of Coca-Cola and “I’m lovin’ it” may immediately recall McDonald’s, but that wasn’t always the case. Both Coca-Cola and McDonald's went through dozens of taglines and slogans through the years and decades of offering their products to the market.
That doesn’t mean that you should be changing taglines every month or every year. After all, you want your audience to identify your tagline with your business, and to remember it as a shorthand explanation of what you do.
But it’s also good to know that your tagline can change as your business grows. And that’s okay. Focus on crafting a tagline that serves you now, while knowing that you can modify it later if necessary.
The Mechanics of Famous Taglines (and Why They Won’t Work for Your Small Business)
I’ve mentioned a few famous taglines of businesses throughout this tutorial. All short and punchy. All inspirational. All memorable.
Yet I keep advising you not to imitate them or your small-business tagline will fail. Why is that?
The short answer: A few billion dollars of advertising budget.
The taglines and slogans that we all know and admire didn’t emerge out of nothingness one day to grab the attention of millions of people around the world. They weren’t the taglines of fledgling small businesses trying to attract their first clients through their branding.
The companies that promoted those famous taglines for their business were already well-known multi-billion dollar empires with huge advertising budgets to dedicate to filling in the details around those punchy and elliptical taglines.
Details that you, the small-business owner, must include in your tagline through words. Unless you can afford a huge, multi-million dollar campaign, then by all means…ignore the advice.
Let's analyze three of the most famous business tagline examples to see how and why they work for the big corporations they represent.
1. Just Do It
Just Do It wasn’t always Nike’s tagline. In fact, the pithy slogan only appeared 17 years after the company was officially founded. And it appeared as part of a major ad campaign the already famous sports shoe company was running.
The words "Just Do It" first appeared at the end of a TV commercial showing an 80-year-old runner training. The video and words together captured the company’s spirit of persistence, challenge, and victory and they stuck with people as a motivational call:
Just do it!
And that video wasn't the only one featuring Just Do It. The company ran a whole series of TV commercials tied to the Just Do It slogan. And their inspirational nature helped the slogan stick with the company and slowly became the brand's general tagline.
Without the context of the multiple TV commercials that ran using the same motto, without Nike’s fame as a first-rate sports company, and without the famous athletes endorsing the products advertised, it’s unlikely that the words “just do it” would say much to anyone on their own.
Just do what?
It’s only because Nike says it that we understand the meaning.
2. Think Different
Another big TV campaign slogan turned tagline. Think Different first appeared in 1997, by which time Apple was in operation for 21 years already.
The slogan appeared as a response to the motto of IBM, Apple's biggest competitor at the time, that simply stated: “Think.” The move was highly risky on the part of Apple and quite controversial as it encroached upon the branding “space” of another company and could have made Apple appear as an imitator.
But it also finely captured Apple’s innovative and rebellious spirit.
Like Nike, Apple also supported and contextualized its elliptical slogan with a full advertising campaign that promoted the idea of thinking different by introducing Apple's new line of computers.
Catchy and desirable as these and other famous taglines for big business may sound, they're not good examples for your small-business to follow. That doesn't mean of course that you can't imitate their inspirational nature. You can—as long as you fill in the rest of the details as well.
3. All the News That’s Fit to Print
Here’s a famous tagline that’s actually a good example for you to emulate. Perhaps because it belongs to a news organization that didn’t have a large advertising campaign backing the tagline when it first emerged.
“All the News That’s Fit to Print” appears beneath the masthead of the New York Times with every publication and was first created by Adolph S. Ochs, the owner of the New York Times in 1897. (Talk about long lasting!)
And in just seven words, the famous little phrase manages to communicate the organization’s mission, the key benefit to their readers, and the personality of the brand, all while being clear, unique, and memorable. Let’s break down how it does this and why it works so well.
As we all know, The New York Times is a serious news publication. At the time when the tagline first appeared, however, sensationalist press began to grow in popularity and gossip newspapers started to pop up everywhere. And the owner of the New York Times decided to take a clear stance against it.
In his carefully chosen seven words he managed to convey the idea that the publication only features the news worth printing and not every bit of junk or gossip around.
Through the sentence he also indirectly defines the publications ideal audience as those who want good editors that filter only the important news for them. And folded within those words lies the key benefit to the reader: we won't waste your time with unimportant issues or sensationalist stories. Finally, the direct and unambiguous tone also conveys the publications “high brow” personality: not everything is fit for the press and they have the authority and expertise to make that selection.
Now that’s a good tagline and one you should try to emulate in coming up with yours! How much can you communicate (directly and indirectly) about your business in under ten words?
What’s Your Business Tagline?
You know by now that pinning the words “quality and value” or “think awesome” under your logo won’t help you much in terms of branding your business and connecting with your ideal audience.
You’ll need to dig a little deeper than that and wordsmith your tagline a little more to craft that perfect communication gem we’re after as small business owners.
So what’s your business tagline? Or what’s your working draft? Go through your worksheet and share your results below to get some suggestions and feedback!