Knife on cutting board

There are two assumptions about taglines we often hear during branding initiatives. They go something like this:

  1. To stand out, a company needs a tagline.
  2. When a tagline fails to catch on (and therefore fails to help a company stand out), it’s because it wasn’t very good.

The tagline’s promise – to concisely communicate a firm’s unique value proposition in a memorable and impactful way – is almost too alluring to resist, especially for companies that sell complex and/or prosaic products or services in crowded marketplaces. To many, it’s the silver bullet; that magical arrangement of letters that will immediately resonate with prospects and drive preference – and even increase close rates.

That’s a lot to ask from a handful of words.

A few years ago, FundFire released the findings from a survey they conducted on this very subject. Using taglines from eight large asset managers, readers were asked to match each manager with its tagline. The result: on average, respondents correctly matched taglines and managers only 23% of the time.

Such a survey would likely turn up similar results if conducted across the B2B landscape. The reason: a tagline does not, in and of itself, create differentiation. A tagline is not a brand.

A brand is the perceptions held by a company’s most important stakeholders. Branding is the art and science of creating these perceptions through the verbal and visual platform that a company uses to communicate its story to the marketplace – its value proposition, its promise, its purpose. Branding determines how a company positions itself within a competitive set, enabling customers, employees and investors to understand why it is unique and better.

A tagline is only a single expression of that brand. One tool, albeit a potentially powerful one, in the branding toolbox.

In order for a tagline to be memorable, differentiating or even ownable, you need to give it meaning. That is where a brand comes in. A company’s brand provides context, in the form of positioning, messaging, voice and experience, which transforms that handful of words into a statement that actually communicates something meaningful.

It’s worth noting that not every company needs a tagline to stand out. Unless your tagline successfully communicates your brand’s true differentiators in a way that is meaningful to your most important audiences, it may not be advisable to invest your precious marketing resources promoting it.

At a time of increasing complexity in B2B marketing, a time when digital channels enable companies to deliver targeted messaging to specific audiences, the need for a one-size-fits-all tagline appears to be diminishing.

“Of The 100 Most Influential Taglines Since 1948, as listed by TaglineGuru.com, two-thirds ran before 1980. Half of Forbes’ Best-Loved Advertising Taglines ran before 1975.”

The Death of the Tagline, Adweek

It’s also worth noting that while a tagline makes a convenient scapegoat, when a tagline fails to catch on, it’s most likely an indicator of a much larger branding problem.

For most firms across the B2B landscape, resources are best deployed by focusing on building a truly differentiated brand and articulating a clear value proposition. A tagline may or may not help to communicate the brand. And if your brand isn’t resonating, look beyond your tagline. There are no doubt deeper issues at play.