November 2002


Making Your Old Brand New: How A Memorable Tagline Can Reinvigorate Your Brand
By Eric Swartz, The Byline Group

A brand is a work in progress requiring constant vigilance, care, and protection.
   Given the vagaries of the marketplace, brand perceptions can shift, and brand strength can weaken and wane from benign neglect. Inside the customer's mind, your brand is forever being weighed, measured, compared, and tested.
   To ensure its continued vitality and effectiveness, refresh and reaffirm your brand on a routine basis. Only a clear and consistent brand message can be heard over the din; and only a meaningful brand promise that differentiates you from the rest of the pack can truly strengthen your company's market position.
   The question is: how can you breathe new life into your old brand without reinventing the wheel or busting your budget?

Think Tagline.
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to communicate a new or revised brand message is by creating a tagline. A memorable tagline can be used to articulate your company's vision or unique position, convey essential qualities of your brand character, emphasize a compelling customer benefit, and align your brand message with an intended target market.
    When used in conjunction with a new marketing, advertising, or direct response campaign, a tagline can extend your brand message, enhance its perceived value and relevance, and help you forge a stronger connection with the prospects and customers you want.

What Is A Tagline?
First of all, here's what a tagline is not: it's not a proverb, motto, maxim, or saying. It's also not a mission statement or a generic description of what your company is and does.
   A tagline is a succinct phrase or slogan (typically seven words or less), usually situated under or alongside your logo, that communicates a single but powerful brand message or promise which resonates strongly with an intended audience.
   An organization can have more than one tagline. Taglines can be used to accompany and modify a corporate name, a subsidiary, a product line, or even an individual product. A tagline can be used to drive a marketing communication program or campaign, or used "internally" to motivate employees, partners, or distributors.
    A tagline should be uniquely yours — and yours alone. By ordering an exhaustive legal search to secure the continued use of your tagline, you'll put the world on notice that no one but your company has the right to use it.

Tagline Objectives.
As an extension of your company's brand, a tagline should say something essential about who you are, how you're different, and why the world should care. It should express an enduring idea that reveals the crux of your brand message and illustrates the value of doing business with you. Ultimately, think of your tagline as a final point that wraps up your 30-second elevator pitch.
    Taglines can be applied in a variety of ways. If your positioning has changed, develop a tagline to reflect that change. If your product has a new benefit, create a tagline to highlight that benefit. If you're launching a new division, use a tagline to define its purpose. Or, if your current tagline suddenly becomes obsolete, simply replace it. Example: faced with a fragmenting brand in the wake of the dot-com bust in late 2000, Sun Microsystems rethought its brand positioning and changed its tagline from "We're the dot in dot-com" to "We make the net work."
    Whether a tagline is concrete or abstract, amusing or serious, it can serve your brand equally well. You must evaluate the suitability of a tagline by asking yourself the following: what is the most effective way to amplify my central message, reach out and grab my audience, and fulfill my branding objectives?

Varieties of Taglines.
Essentially, there are four different kinds of taglines — those that are descriptive of function, descriptive of character, aligned with a particular category, or descriptive of a need or wish.

Descriptive of Function
These taglines focus on the aims and concerns that describe your company's mission, purpose, or overriding benefit. Examples: BMW (The ultimate driving machine); c/net (The source for computing and technology); Lucent Technologies (We make the things that make communications work).

Descriptive of Character
These taglines focus on the distinguishing attributes that reveal your company's character and core values — the consistent qualities expected from your brand. Examples: Chase Manhattan (The right relationship is everything); Chevy Trucks (Like a rock); KPMG LLP (It's time for clarity); Unisys (We eat, sleep, and drink this stuff).

Aligned With A Category
These taglines focus on the alignment of your company with a recognized category that lends it prestige and credibility, and gives it new meaning or added value. Examples: British Airways (The world's favourite airline); Cisco Systems (Empowering the Internet generation); DuPont (The miracles of science).

Descriptive Of A Need Or Wish
These taglines focus on those cherished needs, wishes, and aspirations that suggest the successful attainment of an abstract goal or desired outcome. Examples: Ernst & Young (From thought to finish); Qwest (Ride the light); Toshiba (Choose freedom); Volvo (For life).

Creating Your Own Tagline.
Before you start brainstorming taglines, carve out some quality time to clarify your company's vision, values, benefits, positioning, business solution, and contract with your customers. Better yet, enlist the support of a few key players in your organization to do the same, and then compare notes. Once you've achieved a comfortable level of consensus, you'll have a strong foundation for conducting tagline development.

Begin the process by asking yourself the following fundamental questions:

  • What does your company do? (in 10 words or less)
  • Why does your company exist?
  • What is your company striving to become?
  • What core values guide your company's behavior?
  • How is your company unique? What separates it from the rest of the pack?
  • What solution does your company sell? What does it promise and deliver?
  • What is your company's key strength/advantage over your competitors?
  • Who is your target audience? Describe what is special/unique about it.
  • What compels people to buy and use your company's product/service? What are their hot buttons?

Hiring An Agency To Create A Tagline.
If tagline development doesn't come easy to you, there are agencies that employ or retain skilled copywriters and wordsmiths who specialize in this sort of thing. An agency will use a similar questionnaire to the one included above. They may call it a "Creative Brief" or a "Tagline Brief" and ask you questions relating to your brand attributes, personality, and tone so they can select an appropriate form and style for your tagline.
    A list of approximately 100 to 150 taglines is typically created in a first pass. From this, the agency will produce an edited list of 50 to 75 names for you. Then, based on your preferences, the list of taglines is boiled down to the top 10 or so semifinalists. The final three to five taglines are run through federal, state, and Internet trademark searches, and a final report and analysis from a qualified intellectual property attorney is the last stop on the journey. At this point, you can select the best tagline that meets all of your branding, marketing, aesthetic, and legal criteria.

Taglines can extend the communicative power of your old brand and give it renewed vigor, if not a new life. Remember, taglines aren't just for big business. They're for everyone... and they won't break your piggy bank.
    If you have a terse, clever, and spot-on tagline, your prospects and customers are more likely to recall you when they're faced with a choice, and call you when they're ready to buy.
    Use your tagline everywhere: in conjunction with your logo, on your business card, on your Web site, ads, and collateral, and even as part of your e-mail signature.
    One final word: it's a battle of perceptions out there. So make sure the tagline you use is creating the right brand perception of your company.

Eric Swartz is president and founder of The Byline Group, a full-service marketing communications agency based in San Mateo that focuses on message creation, alignment, integration, and packaging. He can be reached at or 650-573-9009.

© 2002 The Byline Group™. All rights reserved.