Business Taglines: Where Tech Startups Go Wrong

August 3, 2011

Experienced marketers know that writing catchy business taglines or slogans is an important component of their marketing plan and product positioning strategy.

They also know that the composition and delivery of that tagline can be fraught with danger.

Take the National Pork Board’s much-debated decision to retire its classic “The Other White Meat” tagline for the supposedly more modern “Be Inspired.”

The decision hasn’t been well-received, which is understandable since “The Other White Meat” is largely considered one of the most influential taglines of our era. The new one? As ACTON Marketing’s Joe Swatek noted, it’s drab, vague, and does little to “inspire” anything.

Good business taglines are difficult to write.

Crafting great taglines is part art and part science. And as the National Pork Board discovered, rewriting or revamping an existing one can sometimes have the exact opposite effect of its intended message. That potential for failure, of course, puts marketers in a precarious situation.

With the rise of content marketing, inbound marketing and influence marketing, marketers have more opportunities to convey their message to prospects, and thus rely less on paid advertising media to deliver their business taglines or slogans.

And while that allows more room for creativity, it doesn’t mean marketers can abandon the basic principles of tagline composition. Furthermore, it absolutely doesn’t eliminate the danger that something could go awry.

For high-tech startups and expansion stage businesses, the challenge is twofold.

Technology marketers often deal with the difficult task of encapsulating technical advantages in simple, jargon-free messaging to the masses. Meanwhile, as April Dunford points out on her blog Rocket Watcher, startup taglines tend to be antisocial and generic. They’re not often written with sharing in mind, discouraging users to pass them along to their friends.

In addition, startup taglines often try too hard to conform to the conventional three-word-length format. First, that’s not easy to do with a product or service that nobody knows anything about. Second, it’s pretty likely that your tagline will end up using some of the same verbs and adjectives as your competitors. How unique is that?

That said, writing unique business taglines or slogans to support your startup or expansion stage product positioning isn’t impossible. Ross Kimbarovski, the co-founder of creative marketplace crowdSPRING, says that it’s critical to keep a few tagline composition best practices in mind.

How to Write a Good Tagline

  • Make it unique: If your competitor could just as easily use your tagline, it’s too generic.
  • Make it concise: Think about some of the best taglines of the last 20 years like Nike’s “Just Do It,” BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” and Apple’s “Think Different.” Your tagline doesn’t have to be that concise, but it needs to be explain exactly what you do in as few words as possible.
  • Keep it consistent: Regularly changing your tagline can cause confusion and keep your target customers from identifying with and remembering your product.
  • Focus on your audience: You don’t want your customers wondering how your product relates to them. The most memorable taglines are relevant to their audience.
  • Integrate it with your other branding: A logo isn’t your brand — it’s one part of it. A tagline can help define and work to support your brand and product positioning, so make sure it works in harmony with those things.
  • Keep it positive and appropriate: Research has shown that negative taglines don’t resonate as well with consumers. Keep your taglines positive and use a tone that is appropriate for your market.

Some marketers (including Dunford) suggest doing away totally with traditional taglines, ditching the contrived slogans that so often infest corporate logos and marketing collateral. In their place, companies can use more coherent product positioning phrases or sentences.

That’s one way to go, but I think there will continue to be a place for really simple, succinct product descriptions — not only as a marketing tool, but also as a company’s strategic market positioning definition (a topic I’ve explored in a previous post).

The key, however, is to make a distinction between creating an effective product description and crafting viral marketing slogans and business taglines. The latter is truly both a science and an art.

Chief Business Officer at UserTesting

Tien Anh joined UserTesting in 2015 after extensive financial and strategic experiences at OpenView, where he was an investor and advisor to a global portfolio of fast-growing enterprise SaaS companies. Until 2021, he led the Finance, IT, and Business Intelligence team as CFO of UserTesting. He currently leads initiatives for long term growth investments as Chief Business Officer at UserTesting.