Follow. Forget. Fail. Why 3 Word Taglines Suck

I am all for simplicity in marketing messaging.  Attention just might be the world’s scarcest commodity and bloated, complicated marketing messages lose the attention game to clear, simple messages every time.  However, as much as I’m a big fan of simple messages, occasionally I think people take it so far that the end result is just as meaningless as pages and pages of technical specifications.

What’s up with all the 3 word taglines?  People are in love with these!  And when I say “people” I mean folks that aren’t in marketing.  The impression I get is that these folks think that a tagline can be a substitution for a proper value proposition or well-formulated messaging.  It isn’t.  In fact you have to work through creating a value proposition and messaging first before you could possibly make a tagline that works.  Once you have clearly defined who your target market is, what value you
bring to that market and how you differentiate from alternatives, then
you can go about the hard work of distilling that down into a set of
messages.  From those messages you might decide to have a tagline that
is a short, memorable slogan that describes what you do.

If you decide you absolutely need to have a tagline, here are some things to consider:

  • Relevant for Your Customers – think about who it’s for and make sure that your message is relevant for them.
  • Differentiated – Many taglines will pass the test of being relevant for their customer base but are so un-differentiated that they could apply to any competitor.  Words like innovation, collaborate, superior, advanced, etc., may well describe what your product/company does but your competitors can probably claim to be just as innovative or advanced as you are.
  • Memorable – This is where the magic happens in taglines.  The whole point of a tagline is that you want people to remember it.  If you can create something that is relevant for your customers, highlights how you are distinct from your competitors AND does that in a memorable way, you’ve got a winner.

A bit of surfing around got me this list of crummy taglines.  These taglines could be applied to just about any product or company I have ever worked at:

  • Transform your Business
  • Tomorrows Solutions Today
  • Discover, Interact, Optimize
  • Ensuring Customer Success
  • Grow Your Business
  • Forward Faster
  • Superior by Design

Do some hard thinking about your messaging before you attempt to create a tagline.  Or better yet – if it isn’t adding anything to your
messaging, how about leaving it out altogether?  White space is your
friend!  Embrace it and stop clogging up your messaging
with a bunch of empty, meaningless, forgettable (superior, advanced, innovative) taglines.

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25 thoughts on “Follow. Forget. Fail. Why 3 Word Taglines Suck”

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  4. I’m in marketing and I agree with you that non-marketers tend to think that having a tagline is really important when normally I agree that you could get away without one. I prefer a single line descriptive sentence over a tagline.
    John

  5. Great post. Good to the last drop.
    Seriously, I have done a lot of work in high tech and I have seen some awful high tech company tag lines because the companies “thought” they had to do it. The infamous “Success, not Software” comes to mind. It is the responsibility of Marketing to make sure the message works or have the guts not to do it. I’ve had the good fortune to work with some amazing Insurance companies that get the use of a tag lines to enhance their brand and extend their value proposition. If you’re out there testing a tag line, I’d ask myself if the one being considered is as good as what they have done or at least approaches it. Use them as a model. You’re in good hands.

  6. Hi John,
    Thanks for the comment. I’m a big fan of using a full statement over a tagline. I know it won’t work if you are trying to incorporate it into a logo but if you are using it on your marketing materials, on your website, etc. you usually have enough space to use plain english.
    April

  7. Hi Rob,
    Thanks for the comment. I actually kind of liked “Success, not Software” back when Salesforce.com was the only real SaaS CRM offering out there. It’s less differentiated now for sure but the fact that they are a hosted service and not an installed software solution still key part of their value prop.
    You bring up a good point with Allstate (and Maxwell House for that matter) in that if your tagline is memorable and you stick with it long enough and your brand is big enough, it takes on a life of its own. This is part of the reason people think it’s so critical to have a tagline in the first place. What smaller companies don’t realize is how long and expensive it is to get a tagline to stick like “You’re in Good Hands”.
    April

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  10. But three-word taglines work perfect with what our mearking head used to call “donut charts.” You know the ones – a ring divided into three (maybe 4) segments with arrows at the end of each? Because you cannot have an Enterprise product without a donut chart somewhere. [Ethan]

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  13. April, I’m on the tagline fence. If the company/brand is well established then I’d agree there’s really no need for a tagline. We all know what Microsoft does and their current inane tagline; “Be what’s next” certainly supports your argument.

    I’m guessing that tagline was originally meant as an internal moral booster and like the Bronx Zoo Cobra, somehow managed to slither from its Redmond cage and hissed Steve Ballmer into submission.

    I’ve always felt strongly that startups should have a tagline/descriptor that clearly says what they do. As for a new tech startup, a good tagline should be an integral part of their top level messaging which from my perspective includes the logo.

    Let’s take Guardly, as an example. Guardly is a Toronto startup that I recently did some messaging work for. The soon to launch company offers a mobile location-based app that allows you to alert, connect, and then collaborate with your personal safety network in an emergency situation. It allows you to communicate with friends, family, and authorities in real-time via voice, sms, email, and web conferencing. Guardly can help emergency services reduce response times which will help to save lives.

    While that’s a great elevator pitch or press release boilerplate, it would be tough to tuck all that under the Guardly logo. Working with Josh Sookman, the company’s founder, we began to extract a few key themes from the elevator pitch. I brainstormed several ideas until I came to what I thought was a keeper.
    While he initially pushed back due to it simplicity, I encouraged him to sleep on it and present my idea to others.

    I also told him to remember The Rule of Thirds for all subjective marketing work like naming, branding, fonts, colours, etc..

    One third will love it, one third will hate it, and one third won’t give a rat’s ass.

    In the end, the Guardly logo with their tagline gives them a much stronger brand that clearly states what they do and why someone should care.

    Guardly. Alert. Connect. Stay Safe.

    Click here to see the Guardly logo with tagline in place: http://robertlendvai.posterous.com/the-guardly-logo

    1. I know there are exceptions to every rule but in general I’m anti-tagline. I think that a descriptive phrase gets more to the point and is more likely to be shared among people. I’m also pretty cautious about putting the tagline in the logo – markets change, marketing strategies change along with them, particularly for startups and it’s easier to move with those changes when you don’t have to make a change to the logo to do that.
      That said, I like the “Stay Safe” part of that tagline a lot and I think it gets to the value of what Guardly does. Connect on the other hand is a really over-used word right now, particularly in 3 word taglines.
      But that’s just me – the real proof is whether or not it works with customers (not marketers who are probably the worst possible test cases for these things) which you will know soon enough.
      Also, I’m a big Guardly fan so anyone reading this should check out Guardly – http://www.guardly.com Go Guardly! 🙂
      April

  14. Our tagline is “more revenue from the same solar panels.” Our target is solar integrators installing into commercial-scale solar sites. I’m on the fence as to whether it needs to be more descriptive.

    1. Hi Tom,
      I think it sounds pretty good to me (but I don’t know anything about your business so take that for what it’s worth). It’s descriptive, uses plain english that people would say and clearly expresses the value of what you do. What I can’t answer is whether you target audience understands that they are a good fit for what you do and that the message works for your audience. Talking to customers a lot and asking a lot of questions about how they found you and why they chose you will tell you whether or not you are on the right track.
      April

      1. @aprildunford,

        Thanks for the feedback. Right now we are looking for seed money and that may come from investors who are interested in solar but don’t necessarily know the technical details or terminology. So far the response has been pretty good from this group.

        For our customers, I could use the term “solar string monitoring” and it would be more descriptive of our product, but I fear loosing certain investor-types.

        Tom Johnson

        1. I understand where you are coming from on that one. Frankly it’s terrible that you have to think about “marketing” to potential investors but it’s a reality you can’t ignore (at least in my experience). It’s a fine line to walk though and if you ever really have a tie between doing something for customers and doing it for investors, you should be biased to the customers. Investors are always interested in and impressed by revenue above everything else.
          Good luck!
          April

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