5 questions not to ask when evaluating taglines

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This blog originally appeared on iMedia

Taglines are an immediate, powerful — yet tricky — touchpoint of your brand. They’re hard to write, hard to get right, and — most important — hard to select. Over the years, I’ve seen many great taglines rejected because decision makers insist on asking some or all of these five questions.

Could any other company say it?
This is undoubtedly the first question someone in the presentation room wonders. Let’s look to the most famously cited tagline in history — Nike’s Just do it. If you were to ask this widely accepted question, it actually wouldn’t fly. Why? Well, Home Depot could motivate DIYers — Just do it. TurboTax could relate with procrastinating taxpayers — Just do it. Caribbean Cruises could entice workaholics with the promise of a last-minute getaway — Just do it. Thousands of other companies across industries could all easily claim Just do it. But the fact is, they didn’t.

Nike has the advantage of being the first to say it. That’s the real question — has any other company actually said it? Not could they say it. If no, the opportunity is yours. Don’t forget — Nike has also put decades’ worth of brilliant marketing and brand building behind the tagline. Other companies may be able to use your tagline, but when you build an unmistakable story, personality, and full verbal, and visual brand identity with it, no one will ever be able to touch it.

Does it say everything about us?
First decide what message you want to lead with. Imagine being on a job interview — there may be many things you want the hiring manger to know… your greatest skill, what’s most important to you, what you can offer. You will eventually get a chance to cover all those subjects. But you are not expected to communicate everything about yourself in six words. Always remember, your tagline is just part of your complete communication strategy.

Will everyone “get it”?
You want a tagline to be easy to understand at first blush. But some taglines have nuanced double meanings, and sometimes a tagline that someone might not fully understand will at least peak interest. The well-respected tagline for USAA insurance — We know what it means to serve — references both the insurance company’s excellent customer service, and that the company is proudly committed to people of service, military members and their families. Someone reading the tagline might understand one or both of those meanings, and that’s okay. The truth is, no will ever give more thought or time to your tagline than you do.

Will it be true forever?
When implementing a brand, we often recommend not putting the tagline on any expensive permanent fixtures, even if the intention is to keep the tagline around for the indefinite future. Your tagline should certainly be broad and future-focused enough to accommodate some change, like new acquisitions, in your business, but it can’t predict your entire future.

Do I like it?
Chances are, there will never be a tagline that every decision-maker in your organization prefers equally. The more effective question in this case is: “Is it on strategy?” If the tagline hits the criteria that you’ve set out to achieve, if it tests well with your audiences and if it plays the right role in your overall communications, then your (or your boss’s) personal preference may have to fall to the wayside.

Taglines will always be tricky, but by avoiding these questions, you and your organization will make a more effective, less-agonized decision about the right choice.

Jennifer Eggers is group director, brand communication.

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