Taglines are more than a few clever words

There are lots of memorable taglines for consumer products:

  • Just do it. (Nike)

  • Got milk. (California Milk Producers)

  • Betcha can’t eat just one. (Lays)

 But business and technology products have had a fair share of effective taglines as well:

  •  Imagination at work (GE)


  • Think different (Apple)

  • The early salesforce tagline wasn’t even words; just a logo saying “software” with a slash through it.

Each of those short phrases does a lot of work.  They convey something vital about the product or the company.  They come out of a deep understanding of the product or the company and the benefits it delivers.

And the tagline isn’t just something that’s used on a billboard or in a TV ad.  It’s actually reflected in the way products are built, service is delivered, how the company hires, and everything else about the way they do business.

 Authentic taglines require deep thinking

I worked with Lotus when they developed a tagline, “Work the web.”  It was featured prominently in a series of ads featuring Dennis Leary.  It made the point that the web was useful for lots more than creating chat rooms, virtual pets, and cat videos. 

 The tagline was a clear expression that the web, which was still in its early days, can be a powerful business tool.  It came out of deep thinking and many meetings in which people thought hard about how to carve out a compelling role for Lotus – specifically Notes and Domino – in a rapidly changing market.

The most effective taglines aren’t just dreamed up by a clever marketing team.  Yes, a few creative folks sitting in a room could come up with something cute or catchy, but it’s unlikely to have much meaning to people hearing it or convey anything fundamental about the product or the company.  It will be just a few empty words.

Nor can effective taglines be “borrowed” or adapted from another company.  Grafting on a phrase that isn’t a genuine reflection of a company’s true value proposition or culture is inauthentic and meaningless. 

Taglines aren’t required

Companies can effectively market their solutions without a tagline.  They definitely need a concise and compelling value proposition – a few sentences that clearly explain who should buy their product, what problems they solve, and why someone should pay them money for it.  (See “Two Essentials for SaaS Marketing.”)

But they don’t necessarily need to distill this into a short tagline, a few words that captures the essence of the value proposition.  It can be helpful in ad campaigns or other promotional efforts, but not essential.

Companies and marketing teams that do opt to develop and use a tagline though, should recognize that it’s not an easy task to do it well.  There’s lots of work squeezed into a very few words.