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Creating taglines

By on Nov 8, 2011 in Brand and Identity Design, Branding Fundamentals

A tagline can be one of your most powerful marketing tools – it can describe what you do, generate interest, and make your brand more memorable.

It’s important to note, however, that as great as taglines are, sometimes they aren’t necessary and can be distracting. While every company must have a name, logo, and visual style (even if it’s a founder’s name displayed in Times New Roman and a visual style that’s best described as “inconsistent”), a company chooses to have a tagline. And because it’s so public, I don’t recommend using one unless it’s awesome.

Types of taglines

Our approach to creating taglines starts by identifying two different types of taglines: long-form and short-form taglines. Long-form taglines are descriptive in nature and help explain what a company is and does. Short-form taglines are what we generally think of as taglines – they are short, catchy slogans, and are usually more abstract than long-form taglines (though they can be descriptive as well).

Long-form and short-form taglines are not mutually exclusive, and many companies have both. They serve different purposes and can be used independently.

The Long-Form tagline

Although a company’s name and identity may shed some light on what the company does, that’s rarely enough to get a clear picture. Unless a company is particularly well-known, or has a very clear name, it’s a good idea to create a long-form tagline to provide some explanation. It will serve as a pithier public-facing version of the company’s positioning statement, and should be used in marketing materials, such as a corporate website or brochure.

As illustration, I’ll use two Loud Dog clients with strong long-form taglines.

EM-Assist: Government’s trusted partner for environmental program management, technical support, and training solutions.

KidsPark: An hourly, drop-in, licensed childcare solution.

The Short-form tagline

The short-form tagline is a succinct phrase that communicates a single message that supports the company’s brand. Unlike the long-form tagline, it doesn’t need to explain a lot about what the company does, but needs to reinforce the company’s identity, and express an aspect of the company’s brand that resonates with its intended audience. Because a short-form tagline is closely tied to a company’s identity, it’s often displayed adjacent the logo.

To continue with the same companies as above:

EM-Assist: Turning understanding into results.

KidsPark: Happy kids. Happy parents.

Creating and using the long-form tagline

We usually focus first on the long-form tagline, particularly for clients selling complex products or services that aren’t immediately grasped. Many consumer-oriented companies are more easily understood, but again, unless a company is well-known, it’s valuable to have a phrase that quickly and clearly explains what the company does – whether you use it on the corporate website and brochure, or just in conversation.

When writing a long-form tagline, we’re looking for something that concisely summarizes the company. It’s useful to use a formula: describe what the company provides, to whom you provide it, and how you provide it – basically your positioning statement pithily restated. The more specific the better. Vague long-form taglines may sound good, but they don’t tell people enough.

The long-form tagline should be used independently from the logo – it should go on the company’s website (on the homepage), in the brochure, etc.

Assuming your company’s positioning statement has already been established, it shouldn’t take long to develop this. Probably come up with a few different ways of saying it, run it by other stakeholders, tweak and polish, and you’re good to go.

A couple things to consider:

  • Is it easy to say? Read it aloud. Is it a mouthful or does it roll off the tongue? Can you remember it or does it just go on and on forever?
  • Is it easy to read? Sometimes things just look strange when they’re written down.
  • Is it specific? It’s better to be specific (as long as you aren’t pedantically specific) than vague. The goal of this tagline isn’t emotional, it’s functional. It needs to communicate clearly, not imply.

A note on the long form tagline and keywords

It’s increasingly important to consider search engine strategies early in the branding process, and the long-form tagline is no exception. If people are searching for your company’s name or tagline, they already know who you are. But your long-form tagline should describe who you are and be searchable. Ideally, create a keyword list before embarking on the long-form tagline and let it help you.

Creating and using the short-form tagline

The short form tagline (commonly just known as the tagline) is a different beast. First, you haven’t done any legwork already, like you had with the positioning statement and long-form tagline. Second, this tagline needs to be catchy, not just descriptive. It’s setting a tone, creating a feeling, and can be more vague. Third, while the long-form tagline summed up the company, this should just focus on one aspect of the company’s brand – it’s a campaign, not a business plan. Finally, it needs to work well with the logo.There’s tons of stuff out there about developing taglines, but really, it’s more art than science. Here’s our process:

  1. See what others are doing. Look at competitors, aspirational competitors, just other companies in your area. Look for common words and formats. What works? What doesn’t? Do all of your competitors use three-word taglines? Maybe try something different.
  2. Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Come up with a bunch of different words and possibilities. Make a giant list.
  3. Narrow the list. Edit and repeat.
  4. Once you’re down to your top five or so, confirm their copyright status. No need to fall in love with a direction only to have your heart broken by an infringement.
  5. Finally, get together with the stakeholders to review them, and discuss. Sometimes, one will be the clear winner (great). Sometimes, another even better one will emerge through discussion. We’ve had great results leading group brainstorms – inspired by the “seed” taglines, people came up with awesome solutions. (As a branding firm, we’re more often than not simply facilitating expression – discovering what your employees already know – rather than coming up with things ourselves.)
  6. Mock the finalists up along with the logo for final evaluation and decision.
  7. Complete the final copyright check and register the trademark.

Hey! This wasn't written by a pack of aardvaks! It was written by , who does awesome work at Loud Dog, a digital branding firm in San Francisco that helps businesses express themselves authentically via identities, websites, and marketing collateral.

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