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How to Write Tempting Taglines

Given the economy, it’s not surprising that several of my pals are looking for jobs. And apparently a popular interview question these days is to ask for three words friends or colleagues would use to describe you.

I was with friends when I learned this, so I asked them: How would you describe me? They gave me the kind of loving but honest answer only friends can.

It reminded me of one of my most challenging tasks: Writing a tagline. The tagline is the brief phrase or slogan that companies use with their logo. Although it’s a fun creative job, it’s also a tremendous responsibility to try to capture a company’s essence in a few brief words.

But a tagline can also be the best and cheapest form of advertising your company ever uses. If your prospects or customers remember nothing else, they’re likely to remember your tagline or slogan—we hope.

Get it right and the tagline tells the world why they should do business with your company. Get it wrong and you’re better off not having a tagline. For example, if you’re considering adding, “Serving you since 2010” to your logo, quash that impulse.

Start by figuring out what you want your tagline to achieve. Should it tell prospects what you do? Position your business against competitors? Make people aspire to achieve their dreams? Ask a provocative question?

Then brainstorm keywords based on the characteristics, benefits and values that set your company apart. A client I worked with on a tagline recently has been named by Forbes as one of the 100 Most Trustworthy Companies in the country. There was no doubt that the word trust was going to appear in their tagline.

Combine words and test your favorites. Go ahead, take your taglines to the world to get an opinion. Just don’t let the world write your tagline. You’ll end up with a laundry list of words that no one can recall—not even your employees.

Make sure you avoid the words that appear so often they’ve become meaningless. The traditional group: Quality, service, commitment and excellence. The new generation: Innovation, global, insights and power, according to Inc.

Pick a tagline and stick with it. If you change your tagline every year, your customers won’t know who you are—or who you’ve become. Definitely consider whether your choice will stand the test of time. On the other hand, you can certainly follow Coke’s cue and riff on your tagline for decades to come.

So how do you come up with a winner? Here are 10 tips:

1.       Make it short. Great taglines are usually no longer than six or seven short words and preferably only three or four. And I do mean short words; think Just do it or Intel Inside. If a four- or five-syllable word sneaks its way into your tagline, don’t automatically give it the boot—just make sure it can defend its presence. Case in point? Hebrew National Hot Dogs’ We answer to a higher authority.

2.       Make it simple. Simple to understand, simple to remember. You may spend a lot of time thinking about your tagline, but your customers won’t. So make it easy to understand—like Life’s Good and Snap. Crackle. Pop.

3.       Make it about the customer. Why? Because it’s always about the customer. If your tagline talks only about how great you are, start over. Selling the Highest Quality Organic and Natural Products certainly tells you what Whole Foods does, but it sounds more like a mission statement. Slogans that help customers connect include It’s everywhere you want to be and Where do you want to go today?

4.       Make it a benefit. Your prospects and customers are always tuned to WII-FM: What’s in it for me? So tell them in your tagline. What do you do that no one else can? How will you make their lives better? It doesn’t have to be grandiose; it might just be about keeping clean. Some examples? M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hand. Everything’s easier on a Mac. No battery is stronger longer. And Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

5.       Make it a call to action. Often the best taglines are just a clever or evocative call to action. When you’re writing an actual call to action for a marketing piece, you almost always start with the action word first. So tell your prospects or customers what you want them to do. People respond to verbs; consider Think different. Have a Coke and a Smile. And Let your fingers do the walking.

6.       Make the punctuation round or curvy. In general, your tagline will either be a command or a question—which means you could put in a period (or leave it out) and you should put in a question mark (if needed). So go ahead: Ask Where’s the beef? Or Got milk? But whatever you do, don’t end with an exclamation mark. If what you have to say isn’t compelling enough to stand without it, an exclamation mark will make it seem even more insecure.

7.       Make it work with your logo. Sometimes a company logo is a great source of inspiration for a tagline. Think about Prudential Insurance: Their tagline has to be Own a piece of the rock. Unfortunately your company logo may not lend itself to a tagline quite so easily. In the case of my recent client, their logo is simply a fanciful rendition of two letters. So if you want to go this route, it’s easiest to start from scratch.

8.       Make it specific. If you could combine your tagline just as easily with your competitors’ logos, you haven’t differentiated your company well enough. Choose words that show how you’re different. What makes working with you special? What unique benefit do you offer? Two taglines that get it right are Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia and Push Button Publishing from Blogger.com.

 9.       Make it pizzazzy. You don’t have pizzazz? Then you’d better have personality or attitude or emotion enough to attract your audience. Don’t be afraid to show people who you really are. The world is hungry for authenticity—which is why taglines like Finger lickin’ good and The ultimate driving machine work.

10.       Make it clever. Notice that this is last? That’s because it truly is least. One important rule of copywriting: Be clear if not clever. Clever so often fails to get the message across, but clear always does. That said, if you can overlay clever, do it: Impossible is nothing, Between love and madness lies Obsession and Sharp Minds, Sharp Products show just how cleverly it can be done.

PS—What three words did my friends use to describe me? Kind. Loyal. Quirky. And come to think of it, choosing three distinctive words is another great way to write a tagline.