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The Why and How of Writing a Great Tagline

Slogan, motto, tagline — no matter what you call it, it’s more challenging to create than you might think. So if you’re going to take on this challenge, it’s best to give some thought to the “why” before you start working through the “how.”
 
 
 

Why might you want to develop a tagline?
  • To introduce yourself — a new business can make a great first impression with an effective tagline.
  • To clarify your purpose — your brand name may not tell your audience what you do, but your tagline can.
  • To differentiate your brand — the right words can help you stand apart from your competition.
  • To make an emotional connection — a thoughtful turn of phrase can support brand affinity.

While a tagline may not be an absolute necessity, it can be an asset to your brand if it’s executed well. Once you’ve given some thought to your “why” — and you’ve decided you’re brave enough to give tagline writing a shot — the following steps can help.

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1. Answer these essential questions:
  • Do you have a voice?
    If you don’t have a brand voice, it is my sworn duty to advise you to take care of this now. Your voice should serve as the foundation for your entire brand. You need to know your brand’s tone before you can apply it to a tagline — or to any messaging at all.
  • What do you do — and why do you do it?
    Even if your brand provides a long list of products and services, you should be able to succinctly state what it is you do, as well as why you do it. Do you have a mission statement? A brand story? If not, see the previous question. And if so, try boiling these statements down and you may already be halfway to your tagline.
  • What makes you special?
    In other words, what is your Unique Selling Proposition? Your USP is your differentiator — so you definitely don’t want to lose sight of it as you develop a tagline. In fact, you may find that your tagline can come directly from your USP, perhaps in the form of a few words or a key phrase.
  • Why should anyone care?
    How will your audience benefit from choosing your brand over others? Why might your audience feel a connection to your brand, your mission or your point of view? When you’re creating a tagline, you can’t forget who you’re trying to reach, and why they’d want to hear from you.

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2. Just start writing.

Often, the hardest part of writing anything at all is just getting started. Start by writing down some phrases that answer the questions above, keeping your “why” in mind.

  • Try different approaches.
    You might want a short sentence or phrase (like Strategy Empowering Creative) or maybe just a series of words (Seek. Learn. Create.) You might try crafting a mini mission statement or summarizing your brand’s philosophy by starting a phrase with “Because.” By experimenting with different formats and approaches, you’ll find the one that works best for your brand and your message.
  • Keep it simple.
    No matter what format your tagline may take on, you’ll want it to be simple. First of all, you won’t want it taking up a lot of room wherever you use it. And more importantly, you want it to be effective. So keep it short, then see if you can make it any shorter. And if you go with a series of words, a string of three nearly always works best.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
    Writing isn’t as easy as it looks. That’s precisely why some of us are able to make a living doing it. Great taglines aren’t created in an instant; they take strategy and skill. So if you’re not sure you can get the job done on your own (and particularly if you don’t have a brand voice in place), there’s no shame in getting someone with experience to help you out.

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3. Narrow it down.

Once you’ve got a fairly long list of possibilities, make it a short list. Eliminate the weakest lines. Then eliminate some more. You might want to start by categorizing your ideas (taglines that say what you do vs. ones that say what you believe, for instance), so that it’s easier to identify your strongest options.

  • Don’t overthink it.
    You can make quick work of the elimination process. Some taglines might not feel right, and even if you can’t pinpoint exactly why, it’s okay to simply strike those ideas from your list and move on.
  • Get feedback.
    Don’t think you have to develop your tagline all on your own, even if your business is a one-person show. You can of course hire a professional to handle this job, but in any case, asking others for some constructive feedback is never a bad idea.

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4. Walk away for a bit — then make your tagline official.

It’s helpful to let an idea simmer for a while. Leave the project alone for a day, and when you return to it, you’ll be able to eliminate some more options. You might also realize that an idea you’d thought was good is actually great.

When you select your ideal tagline, remember that it’s not permanent. Like any element of a brand, it can shift and evolve along with your business. The key is finding the right words to represent who you are right now.

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