Now, advertising agencies are good at imagination and creation, at mocking-up and perfecting collateral associated with a brand.
But, and at the risk of being hung out to dry, those skills don’t cross-credit for your first, most important message – (or tagline). These two to 10 words are a real challenge to uncover no matter how big or small a company.
And it's precisely because a tagline has to do such a lot of heavy lifting from a communications point of view, and because fact’s way way better than fantasy, that a writer’s far more likely to nail a tagline than a ‘creative’.
Here’s a few New Zealand examples that manage to be generic, meaningless and useless collateral for any other message telling the organisation may wish to carry out.
- ‘we realise business potential’ (how, give me a clue since the name GPE doesn’t give me a head start)
- ‘immersion, innovation, integrity’ (yes, it has three i’s alliteration, but why should I care, what do you do?)
- ‘your fitness, our mission’ (there’s already a hint about fitness from the name; tell me why you’re going to be good for me)
(NZ) - ‘over 90 years of passion and innovation’ (90 years and that’s the best someone can come up with?)
At this stage of course, someone will say what about Nike, and its tagline ‘Just do it’.
The simple answer is, most companies and brands aren’t as well known as the global sports clothing giant. Nike can afford to be aspirational.
Spark (the old Telecom) is in a similar position, aspiration-wise. Everyone knows who and what they do. Using the tagline ‘never stop starting’ is both an internal North Star guide for its own staff, and an indication to us that Spark is keeping up with play. Spark can just get away with their tagline. Smaller companies can’t.
Let me explain why 99% of the time, the process of unearthing a tagline isn’t about creativity or imagination or making something up.
Creativity’s a birdseye view of the landscape. It’s an idealised interpretation which often has no relevance at ground level. This is why an ad agency-created tagline commonly fails to resonate...because it unsuccessfully represents the business’s value proposition.
It’s why an organisation’s tagline has to be unearthed in the business trenches, with its owners and managers.
Rather than floating out a glamorised but unrealistic set of advertising and brand words, tagline wrangling requires a storyteller, a writer with the ability to listen, intently, to take the lead in the task.
Tagline wrangling also requires a sound understanding of business. Therefore, before any crafting of words, everyone needs to understand what makes the product or service offering faster, cheaper and better for a customer (i.e. smarter).
Once you fathom what makes the company smarter (in the eyes of customers) then other questioning spotlights can be applied. By deeply asking the different, desirable and deliverable elements around a company’s product or service, you distil the one central truth of their message.
This one central truth may form a tagline in its own right, or could need two to 10 fresh words reflecting the promise being expressed.
Unearthing these words is a tangled, fun and challenging process, but results in a draft tagline. It’s will a stage where a thesaurus comes in really handy!
Like any piece of art though, the draft may need refinement and modification. Sometimes a word won’t feel right, and a subtle change makes a tagline much more fit for purpose.
Now the draft tagline can be tested outside the firm - and just as importantly inside it.
The tagline and its informal variations needs to be a comfortable expression which rings true across many locales; including a BBQ for example when someone asks “what do you do?”
As your first, most important message - the one popping up in Google search’s brief two line explanation of your company, a tagline is much much more than fanciful words.
A tagline forms the tip of your communications arrow across all formats and reinforces and is reinforced by all company messages.
As a story, it is a promise grounded in truth, not a statement floating in the ether.
As a message, your shortest most important one, your tagline is best unearthed by a writer rather than a ‘creative’.
- Peter Kerr runs Punchline, a copywriter whose own tagline is ‘Messages that Matter’.