Stop Blaming Your Tagline!

Thoughts on brand’s most convenient scapegoat.
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.

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