When you hear the word “tagline” what comes to mind?

Perhaps “Where’s the beef?,” “I’m loving it,” “Think different,” or “Just Do It.” These are unforgettable, timeless classics. But most of the taglines people remember are just that—classic and old. Where are the new classics?

Lately, taglines have fallen out of favor, and much has been written questioning their value. In this article, we’ll explain what’s really going on with taglines and why they still might matter for your business.

Where Did Taglines Go?

In the past, considerable focus was placed on taglines. They were often evaluated and scrutinized with the same rigor and energy we now reserve for new product launches and acquisitions.

Today, taglines are less critical. The power and effectiveness of advertising-centric marketing has been replaced by more personal brand engagement. In many cases, customers are simply not influenced by a short, static statement attached to a logo or used as a sign-off in an ad. Instead, customers are motivated by compelling, timely offers and intuitive experiences that demonstrate a brand’s relevance to their lives.

Considering the cost of taglines

Tactically, taglines can create layers of complexity and cost. They need to be locked up with logos and translated for different markets—all while fitting into the hierarchy, both strategic and visual, with headlines and product messaging, creating significant work for brand managers.

Despite these changes and challenges, a tagline can still deliver unique value. A compelling verbal shorthand can convey the same meaning as a 60-second advertisement or a six-paragraph About Us section, capturing attention and moving audiences to a specific thought or action. In short, there is still an undeniable magic to getting the words just right.

Four Purposes a Brand Tagline Can Accomplish

With this perspective, we’ve identified four scenarios when an organization should consider using a tagline—either introducing one or changing an existing line—and the questions they should answer along the way.

1. To showcase your reason for being

More and more, employees want to work for an organization with a strong sense of purpose and a values system that reflects their own. Meanwhile, customers are increasingly interested in understanding the character, purpose, culture and business practices of the organization behind the brand.

A tagline can be an effective tool to speak directly to an organization’s employees and speak to the world on employees’ behalf.

In this way, a tagline reveals a deeper insight about the company, its people, how they work and what they value. Siemen’s “Ingenuity for Life” and TransUnion’s “Information for Good” are examples of this type of tagline at work. They don’t necessarily describe the organization’s value proposition, but rather seek to tell a more emotional story about who the company is and why it matters in the world.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you need to inspire and re-energize your people and teams around a core idea?
  • Do you believe that customers do not fully understand your purpose?
  • Can you create greater value by engaging stakeholders (employees, investors, customers, influencers, communities) in a shared purpose?

2. To reposition your company

A brand tagline can effectively help organizations reframe what customers believe about them and enhance their overall value proposition. For GE, “Imagination at work,” helped to elevate the brand’s innovation profile and created a sense of whimsical curiosity, which was echoed in advertising. For McDonald’s, “I’m lovin’ it” shifted the fast food chain’s story from convenience to enjoyment, and paved the way for the more ingredient-focused stories that followed.

It’s important to be substantive when repositioning. As these examples illustrate, successful taglines must be part of a larger marketing or branding investment. Cosmetic communication, which includes taglines, can frustrate or alienate customers if real change is not evident in the brand’s experiences.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you need to reshape perceptions of your brand?
  • Are you struggling to clarify how you are different from competitors?
  • Are you finding customers are uninformed about your full value proposition?

3. To create a whole new category:

In the start-up world where organizations are creating entirely new value propositions and business models, a tagline can help the brand introduce itself clearly and effectively.

In 1998, eBay introduced the descriptive tagline “Your personal trading community.” In 2001, it was replaced with the more aspirational “The world’s online marketplace,” and in 2007, it was replaced again with the much more suggestive “Shop victoriously.” Over time, eBay no longer needed to educate the market and could instead focus on making an emotional connection.

Brands still deploy this tact today. Dollar Shave Club’s “Shave time. Shave money” not only articulates the brand’s core value proposition, it also hints at the brand’s sense of humor in a “more blades is better” market.

Tactically, these kinds of taglines work well at launch, and as eBay illustrates, they can be used more sparingly or replaced when market education is no longer needed.

Questions to consider:

  • Are you introducing a new service or business model that might need additional explanation or context?
  • Do you have limited resources for articulating what you offer to customers, where a tagline that travels with the name would do heavy lifting?

4. To stand out and inspire loyalty:

In markets with high levels of competition, price-conscious customers and intense marketing activity such as telecom, automotive, food and beverage and CPG taglines can support awareness, memorability and recall.

In these cases, brands use taglines to cut through dense communication environments and create a more emotional, memorable connection. Examples of this approach are BMW’s “Fruede am Fahren” or “The ultimate driving machine,” Carlsberg’s “That calls for a Carlsberg,” and Nike’s “Just Do It.”

These taglines do little work to articulate the brand’s value proposition or core differentiators. Instead, they appeal to consumers’ emotional nature to drive loyalty to the brand.

Questions to consider:

  • Do customers make decisions about your products in a high-volume communications environment?
  • Is your category fast-moving, with apparent parity among competitive products?
  • Do you rely on broadcast marketing and advertising as a major tool for connecting with customers?

Consider the Situation: A Brand Tagline Might Still Win

A well-considered, well-articulated tagline can be an efficient and high-performing asset to your communications strategy, particularly if your brand falls into one of these four categories. But remember, if you do decide to introduce a tagline, make sure that it’s informed by customer insights, supported by a holistic communication strategy, and most of all, made real in your products, services and experiences.

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