For whatever reasons swirl around in the collective unconscious, people freak out about getting their tagline “perfect.” (You’d think we’re naming a baby here.)
Yes, a tagline can be an important part of your brand. But it is not naming a baby. And it’s not make or break for your business. You can survive and grow even if you’ve got the worst tagline in the world.
But because a better tagline can theoretically make a difference, let’s go into how to make yours better.
What a tagline is not.
A tagline is not clever. Or catchy. Or impressive. Or funny.
Yet I hear all the time “I don’t think my tagline is catchy enough.”
It can be all of these things, but those are characteristics of the tagline. Decorations. They are not the tagline itself.
A sporty car is sporty, but it’s still a car. The Thing exists outside of the decorations you add to The Thing.
So what is “The Thing” when it comes to taglines?
Your tagline exists in order to give your Most Likely Buyers a reason to stay.
You can do whatever you want to your tagline – make it rhyme, make it boring, do a play on words, make an insanely bold claim, whatever – but if it doesn’t give your Most Likely Buyer a reason to stay, it's not really doing much for you.
This is why you can actually get away with not having a tagline at all – if you’ve got other ways on your website or from within your brand reputation that gets those people to stay, you don’t need it. It’s nice to have, but it’s a nice to have.
So what kind of taglines get your Most Likely Buyers to stay?
There are a few types. We’ll cover a few, but don’t imagine this list is exhaustive. It’s just here to get you started.
Tagline #1 – “I do [this thing] for [these people].
This is the standard, no-frills type of tagline that performs very well, as long as it’s done right. You take the thing you do, and you talk about the specific people you do it for.
- Behavioral therapy for high-risk teens.
- Career coaching for senior executives.
- Relocation services for the tri-state area.
The reason this works is because it communicates immediate relevance to your target audience. It tells the specific people who are most likely to buy your stuff that you are targeting them and not other people who aren’t like them.
Essentially, it says more about what you don’t do, which speaks to your specialization. I saw a truck the other day that said “Residential Plumbing” on the side, with “Residential” in seriously bold letters.
Those guys want you to know that they serve houses like yours, not office buildings. It catches your eye. It makes you feel like they have their act together and can do that one thing right. That’s why it works.
Tagline #2 – “I do [this thing] in [this way].
This is the kind of tagline that talks about a feature of your delivery that would be particularly important to your Most Likely Buyer. It’s what gives you an edge in terms of they heard you say it and nobody else is saying it.
- Website design done in a week
- Tech support that comes to your doorstep
- Dry cleaning with same-day service
Basically, this kind of tagline assumes that there’s a decision-making factor that will make someone buy from you rather than the other guy.
If I need a website fast, “Websites for small business” will not be as compelling as “Website design done in a week.”
These types of taglines can contain a competitive advantage in them, but more often they’re just highlighting the thing that will push a buyer over the edge when they’re assessing you versus your competition.
(Or, buying something versus not buying something, because they wouldn’t assume a seller can deliver in the way you do. Tech support that comes to me? That’s like a doctor making house calls. I’m in.)
Tagline #3 – A strong claim that’s directly influences the purchasing decision.
These kinds of taglines are generally reserved for bigger companies, but for the right ittybiz you can still use them.
- Amazon – “Earth’s Biggest Book Store.”
- Walmart – “Always low prices.”
- Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus – “The Greatest Show On Earth.”
Basically, these taglines either say “we are the best” or “no one else can do what we do.” The thing about it, though, is that you’re setting a pretty high bar there. You actually have to credibly and measurably be the thing you’re saying you are.
You might be the biggest Paleo Diet website in the world. If you are, you can say that. But if you’re saying you’re the best, that’s open to interpretation, and that can backfire.
On that note, is Ringling Bros. And Barnum and Bailey’s Circus truly “The Greatest Show On Earth?” Well, it’s up for interpretation these days. But when it came out, they probably had a fair claim on that one.
But if you have a strong claim you can make that will influence people to buy from you, it might not be a bad idea to incorporate that into your tagline. (But only if you’re pretty confident that claim won’t change in the future. If Amazon starts a Paleo blog, you're screwed.)
It’s probably more useful to be clear than anything else.
There are plenty of other things that can go into your tagline – and again, most of it is decoration – but the bottom line is if you’re going to use one, you'll want to err on the side of clear first, clever later.
Lots of people will give you their advice on what makes a tagline “great” as opposed to “total garbage.” But when it comes down to it, you can’t go wrong if you pay attention to the real purpose of a tagline:
A good tagline gives your Most Likely Buyers a reason to stay.
And that’s the end of it.
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