When you think of epic taglines, you probably think of that humble little shoe company. You know, the one that tops all the best tagline lists for its three-word slogan that has been inspiring athletes since the 80s. Or maybe you “think different” and Apple® is your go-to for killer taglines. Regardless of which top consumer brand’s tagline makes you drool, you’re probably aware that you don’t have a million-dollar marketing budget. So, how do you distill your brand into four to six perfect words? The short answer is the advice every writer receives sooner or later: ass + chair. Work hard until it’s done. For the long answer, keep reading.
Consider the different tagline types
While there are variations, taglines fall into two basic camps: conceptual and descriptive. Conceptual taglines are emotionally driven or aspirational. They seek to inspire. The taglines for both Apple and that shoe guru who gets all the praise are conceptual. So are some we’ve worked on for brands like the Akron Zoo® and Ajoyo™ Almondmilk.
Descriptive taglines are more straightforward. They concisely communicate what a brand does, who it does it for and/or why it feels compelled to do it. They work especially well for startups that need a little more grounding in their market space, like the one we created for ConxusNEO.
Both types have merit, and it’s a disservice to assume that conceptual taglines are more memorable. It’s about nailing the message you need to communicate – not how fun you can be.
Dos and don’ts of tagline writing
You can find some useful tagline formulas online, but treat these as exercises. You don’t want to end up with a formulaic structure (like the ever-popular “Three. Dope. Words.”) unless it makes sense for your brand. When you’re ready to start drafting, keep these guidelines in mind:
Do – Be brief and functional. Your audience should learn something important about what you do, but even more so about who you are. Write in your distinct brand voice and try to stick to six words max.
Don’t – Compare your brand to a competitor, make claims you can’t prove (hint: avoid the word “best”) or try to be too clever. Rhyming and puns only work if the payoff is incredible. Basic rule of thumb: if it doesn't sound natural, it isn’t working.
Yeah, but that tagline isn’t gonna write itself
Still staring at a blank Word document? Here are a few practical tricks I try when I’m stuck:
Creep on other brands – Type “best [insert your industry] taglines” into your search bar and see what comes up. Sometimes just studying how related brands are talking about themselves sparks an idea.
Dust off your thesaurus – List your brand traits, core values, key differentiators and basically any word that is important to your brand. Then list as many synonyms as you can for each word. Look for connections or opportunities for alliteration.
Consider ways to play – Sure, a bad pun is the worst, but a brilliant wordplay still has the power to slay (the wine distributor we helped out agrees). Pull out a few essential words and research idioms, double meanings and word associations.
Place it under your logo – You can do this digitally, but if you’re like me and don’t know how to use InDesign, print your logo in full color on a sheet of paper. Write your best tagline options underneath. Just seeing how the mark and line work together can go a long way.
Grab a sandwich – Or go on a coffee run. Or an actual run. You get the point. Step away from your desk for a bit, and come back with a fresh mind. Taglines are hard. I’ve never come up with one in a single work session (see ass + chair above).
Need help crafting a tagline or even diving into a full brand discovery? You know where to find us.
Phew! I got through this whole post without directly calling out that behemoth athletic brand that gets all the credit for rocking the best tagline. I almost dropped it in a while back, but I didn’t. We’re at the end of the post, and I managed to just do it…(doh!)
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