What is a tagline?

A tagline, also known as a slogan, is a simple short phrase that sticks in your audience's mind and helps define the value of your brand. Why do you need it? Because the name of your business and that awesome logo you commissioned is only a starting point. You want your potential customers to know what's in it for them. You need language that answers the question, "What is it?" or "What does it do?" or "Why do I need that?"

Movies have taglines. The tagline for the first Alien movie was "In space no one can hear you scream." When I first read that, I got chills. That one sentence conveys everything you need to know about Alien. It's got a sci-fi setting, and it's super-scary.

Big brands like Coca-Cola change their taglines fairly regularly. Right now Coke's tagline is, "Ahh." That one word encapsulates why you want a coke—the feeling of satisfaction, expressed by that simple sound. That's great stuff, Don Draper stuff. 

Coming up with a tagline as elegant and expressive as that might seem like a daunting task, but there's a simple method you can use to generate tons of taglines, which you'll whittle down to a list of gems.

Step 1: What You Offer

Ask yourself, why does a potential customer or client need my product or service? If they bought it or subscribed, how would it make their life easier? What value would it add to their experience? Write your answers out in sentences or phrases, and be really sure you're clear on this point. Don't be afraid to go into lots of detail and hash it out.

Step 2: Boil It Down

If you're passionate about your brand, you could probably speak volumes about all the good it can add to your client's world, but in the end, the benefits that will hook your client, that is, get him or her interested and wanting to learn more, those things are maybe five at most. People will only usually remember those three to five key points. Look at what you wrote in Step 1. Boil it down to ten benefits or values. Now go through these and pick the three to five benefits that are the most important. Make sure you pick the obvious ones, but also keep those that make your business unique. What distinguishes your brand from the rest of the brands out there that do something similar?

Step 3: Key Words

  • List out your three to five benefits or values from Step 2 and find one word that expresses each one. Just one word. Seems hard to narrow it down like that, but we'll do some expanding next.
  • Once you've reduced your benefits to one word each, look at your list. Do those words have synonyms with more punch, more impact, more heart? If you can think of some, write them down. You might want to bust out the thesaurus now to expand your list of key words. You're looking for simple straightforward words, but you what a bit of flash, too. As a rule, shorter words have more power.
  • Now ask yourself if your potential market would use these words to describe the benefits you are offering? If not, then look for words they would use. Here's where you might want to refer to your market research and remind yourself how your customers talk, how they think. Your tagline should speak their language.
  • By now you should have a very nice list of keywords that you'll use in the next step.

Here's an example of a nice rich set of key words. Say you own a taxi business. Your key word list might look like this. Home, Safe, Comfortable, Fast, Economical, Reliable, Drive, Wheels, Delivery, and so on.

Step Four: Putting It Together

  • Look at your key words and start to think of ways they could go together in phrases that express what your brand has to offer. Write them down.
  • Shorter phrases are better, but don't censor yourself at this stage or it might limit your creativity.
  • Write them all down, even the dumb ones, especially the dumb ones.
  • Write down every way you can think of to weave those key words together. Write down lots of possible variations each phrase, all that you can come up with. 
  • At this point you may start to think of other key words. Great! Add them to the key word list, and start to stitch those in.
  • Give yourself permission to get it all out of your head and onto the paper, or into some kind of document. This step is a full-on brain dump, so keep going until you really can't think of anything else.
  • Write down the risqué things, too, and the lines that you know won't work, but make you laugh.
  • Look especially for common phrases that people use every day, and try to give them a twist.
  • Take your time. Once you are done, it's helpful to set this long list aside and go do something else. You'll want to come back to it with a fresh eye.

A list of potential taglines for that taxi business might now look like this:

  • Your Way Home
  • Here's Your Ride
  • Ready When You Are
  • Driving You to Distraction
  • The Fastest Way from Point A to Point B
  • The Best Way from Point A to Point B
  • Ride with Us
  • Your Ride is Here
  • Easy Rider
  • Safe Home
  • Getting You There
  • Here's Your Ride

Step Five: Gold Nuggets

  • Go back to the list and eliminate the objectionable and the ridiculous, the ones you wouldn't want your mom to see, and the plain silly ones. This should leave some nice contenders.
  • Keep the ones that cover all your bases, that hit all of your key benefits and values.
  • Now you should have a list with some really good ones left.
  • Whittle your list down to five or ten favorites, then test it out on your market.
  • Pick one and congratulations, you have a tagline!

A Few Caveats:

  • Don't repeat any words in your tagline that are already in the name of your business—that would be a waste of precious words!
  • Keep your tagline short. "Brevity is the soul of wit!" said Shakespeare.
  • Don't tell the whole story. Just pique their interest.
  • Make sure the tone and feel of your tagline fits the personality of your market.
  • Don't be afraid to get feedback from lots of different people.
  • Pick a tagline and stick with it. It takes a lots of repetition for marketing messages to stick in the minds of your customers. Let it ride.
  • Use your tagline everywhere you use your business name and logo (except an app tile, which is too small).

Thanks for reading this article. If you found some particularly useful bits, or you want to know more, don't be afraid to drop me a line. Comments below are very welcome!