How to choose a tagline

A colleague sent me a note recently about selecting a tagline.  Specifically, she wanted some strategies for selecting a tagline and how I came to choose “Say it with power!”

Taglines can distract you

I feel strongly about taglines.  I think effective taglines can help catch attention, but I also think too many people belabour things like taglines when their time could be better spent developing broader strategies for attracting customers.  Taglines can easily become part of the flotsam that prevents us from actually going out and engaging potential clients.  The more time you spend conceiving and assessing a tagline the less time you have real work.

Think like a customer

That said, there are a few simple approaches that will simplify the task.  First, forget about yourself and you business.  Instead, think of your potential customers.  What do they want from a business like yours?  Do they want to save time, increase profits, add reliability, enhance customer experience . . . What do they want?  Without addressing the customer wants issue, you’re just indulging yourself in what you think is “clever” word play (it may not be “clever” to others, including your customers).

Appeal to the client

Once you’ve identified your customers’ wants, start thinking about how they would describe those wants.  For example, a specific type of coffee shop customer might describe their favourite brew as “A first-rate cup of coffee”.  Based on that, the owner might want to choose “Second to none!” as a tagline.  In other words, the tagline has to be something that feels comfortable and appealing to the client.

It can be hard

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it can be pretty hard to second-guess customers, particularly if you don’t have a phalanx of marketing researchers providing you with in-depth demographic information.  If you’re a small business owner, probably your best approach is the following:

  • Take a customer perspective and think about what the customer wants
  • Think of how that customer would express his or her wants
  • Take a pen and pad and, as quickly as you can, write down as many phrases as you can think of that answer the customer’s wants and describes what you do
  • Choose the top three from your list
  • Show those three to a dozen or so customers and potential customers (If you’re just starting out and don’t have customers yet, show them to your friend and associates, but try to select people who will be brutally honest and avoid anyone who’s likely to just tell you what you want to hear.  Those people have no value for you; you want to hear the truth.)
  • Go with the one that makes the most sense, based on your customers, your instinct and your feedback information
One important caveat

That’s about all there is to it.  But one important caveat:  If your business circumstances change or, for some other reason, you come up with something that works better for your customers, change it.  Unless you’ve invested huge sums of money in marketing collateral, move to something better if it comes along.  In fact, even if you have invested in your current tagline, if it’s no longer working for you and you’ve discovered something else that will work better, dump the old one and move up to the new one.

I did it

When my business focused primarily on writing I had another tagline.  But when it became obvious that communications coaching was becoming the dominant segment of my business I needed a phrase that would cover the coaching and writing.  I chose Say it with Power! and dropped the old one.  The only comment I got from clients and potential clients was, “That’s a great tagline.”  Over time, I decided that my customers liked it so much that I adopted it for my blogsite.
If you have an approach for dealing with taglines that’s different from mine, I’d like to hear about it.

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About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.

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