The One Important Thing Your Tagline Might Be Missing
Updated: Apr 16
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo
Would you apply for a job with no job description?
Yet, somehow, we expect our taglines to do a great job at well, whatever taglines are supposed to do.
Since each type of tagline has its own special talents, it’s important to know which type of tagline is best at the job you need it to do.
Coming up: Four important kinds of taglines, what each kind does best and how you can know which type to choose for your business.
What’s the best kind of tagline for your business? This particular question comes up over and over. Many clients come to us with complete clarity regarding the type of name they want. They arrive armed with a wide variety of colorful spreadsheets and target market research and surveys and lists of criteria — completely ready to go.
But — once they choose a name, and it’s time to move on to the tagline phase, many of them aren’t sure what to say when I ask, “What type of tagline are you looking for?”
(Note — if you’re considering a project with us, please don’t be intimidated by the above description. We have just as many clients who come to us without the spreadsheets and all the research — either way or somewhere in between is totally okay with us.)
What’s the one thing your tagline might be missing?
A job description. The thing is, many taglines don’t do what we want them to do because they are missing a job description.
What role will your tagline play in your overall marketing strategy? How will your tagline be used?
Most people have the general idea that they’ll use a tagline in certain versions of their logo, on their website, in both print and online ads, or on labels or other packaging materials. This is a good start.
We usually dig a little deeper and ask a few more questions. If you aren’t clear on what you want your tagline to do, you will probably be unclear when trying to choose one.
You may want your tagline to be engaging — to create curiosity and cause people to want to dig deeper and learn more about your brand.
You may want it to simply and clearly describe the benefits your brand offers.
You may want a short, sticky phrase that will act as a visual logo that people will immediately associate with your brand.
You might want your tagline to tell people what to do or to provoke thought.
Photo by Jennifer Hubacher
Types of taglines:
1.Descriptive — This is the most straightforward type of tagline, and honestly, my personal favorite. Since the majority of names these days seem to veer away from being descriptive, it’s especially important that those brands choose a tagline that gives people a clue on what it is they actually offer.
A descriptive tagline helps put your brand name in context. For example, since my brand name is metaphorical, I included a clear, descriptive tagline to provide clarity about what we do. Ink & Key: Get a name and launch your brand.
Other examples of descriptive taglines:
TED: Ideas worth spreading
US Postal Service: We deliver
Copyblogger: Words that work for smarter digital marketing and sales
2. Imperative — This is where you come right out and tell people what to do. My tagline could fit into this category, too, since it also happens to be a command.
Why would you want an imperative tagline instead of another type?
Well, when you tell a reader to do something, much of the time, they’ll actually oblige.
Imagine a beautiful yellow butterfly landing on your shoulder right now.
Did you do what I told you to do? It’s hard not to, right?
Also, imperative taglines tend to stick. Many times, I have “Just do it” running through my head while sleepily lacing up my shoes before a morning workout. Surely I’m not the only one.
Examples of imperative taglines:
Course Hero: Master your classes
Travelocity: Wander wisely
American Express: Don’t leave home without it
Photo by Studio 7042
3. Superlative — With this type of tagline, you are coming right out and declaring that you’re the best. This type of tag also includes when you tell your customers that they’re the best. You may or may not include a reference to your overall brand promise or your qualifications, plus you might include a benefit.
Examples of superlative taglines:
Casper: The best bed for better sleep
BMW: The ultimate driving machine
Carlsberg: Probably the best beer in the world
4. Provocative — The purpose here is to provoke thought, and hopefully action. To get them just right, though, provocative tags require careful word-crafting. When I’ve asked clients for examples of taglines they do not like, I find that most of the ones on their list are provocative. I think the open-ended nature of this category leaves a lot of leeway for individual interpretation, which can cause some people to love a tagline, while others are irritated by it.
Examples of provocative taglines:
The Dairy Council: Got milk?
Verizon: Can you hear me now?
DeBeers: A diamond is forever
There are plenty of other ways to think about taglines, but I find that most of the ones we deal with can fit into the above four categories.
If you’re just getting started on naming or rebranding your business, the best questions you can ask yourself are:
Do you need a tagline?
If so, what do you want your tagline to do?
Your chosen name, industry, target audience, and overall marketing strategy will all play a part in your answers to these questions.
Whatever category you choose, when you’re ready to start working on a tagline, make sure you grab an extra measure of patience along with your notebook and pen.
Packing a meaningful message about your brand into just a few words is a challenging but worthy task. If written wisely, your tagline will serve you well for years to come.
We love to talk taglines, so feel free to reach out if you’d like to chat.