T aglines communicate a key aspect of a brand in a punchy sentence to stand out from the competition. If you’re a small business or freelancer, you don’t need a clever tagline like Just do it!, you need to communicate what you do with clarity.
This article discusses how to write a tagline (and whether you need one):
How to write a tagline
Oh my. Taglines …
You might think I’m a competent copywriter.
But I hate my own tagline.
Taglines are probably the hottest debated pieces of content in any marketing department. I’ve been there. Tagline debates are time-consuming, energy-slurping, and emotionally draining. Yes, it can get that bad.
But recently, I’ve wondered whether crafting taglines is a waste of time for small businesses.
Could I simply delete the tagline on my website?
The traditionally schooled marketer in me shivered. No tagline? How could my business thrive without a punchy tagline? The idea seemed crazy at first.
When I started my business late 2012, I wasn’t sure about my business direction. To get my website ready, I wrote a “temporary” tagline in a couple of minutes:
Grow your business with online marketing
That temporary tagline has stuck for over four years, and I’ve comforted myself with the idea I have a business name I’m proud of.
But still, that tagline kept nagging. It’s not punchy. It’s not memorable. It lacks oomph. Is my business that boring?
What is a tagline?
A tagline communicates an aspect of a brand or business in a punchy sentence or soundbite. Taglines help a company stand out from the competition; they’re usually communicated together with a logo.
What’s the difference with a slogan?
The difference between slogans and taglines is fuzzy, and many marketers use the words interchangeably. A tagline tends to be a semi-permanent soundbite about a company, while a slogan is used in a specific marketing campaign.
What is the difference between a headline and a tag line?
Sometimes, a tagline is used as the headline on an home or about page. But not every headline is a tagline. The tagline is what is used consistently together with a logo to promote a business or brand.
How big businesses use taglines
In big business marketing, a tagline has to be punchy and memorable. Like a soundbite, it lingers in customer minds. Well-known examples include:
- Just do it
- I’m lovin’ it
- We try harder
- Think different
But why do we all know these taglines from Nike, McDonald’s, Avis, and Apple?
Yep. Because they’re advertised like crazy.
Big companies spend millions of dollars so these slogans stick in our minds. We see them on billboards, TV ads, product packaging, marketing flyers, brochures, and when we pass their stores.
But as small businesses, we don’t have these big-bucks opportunities to advertise a catchy tagline.
So, does a small business or freelancer need a tagline?
As I started preparing a website refresh, I dug into the topic of taglines, and noticed many businesses go without one.
Orbit Media, for instance, is a Chicago-based web design agency … without a tagline.
This is what Andy Crestodina, strategic director at Orbit Media, says:
We used to have the tagline “digital design and production” but we dropped it. Taglines add visual noise, so there is a cost to adding one. That cost would need to be outweighed by the benefits to the visitor. But visitors typically find us by searching for web design related phrases. They already know what we do. Those extra words weren’t really adding any value … but they did add clutter.
Design (and writing) is an art of subtraction. When you can’t remove anything else, you’re done! With that in mind, the tagline had to go.
Pamela Wilson is the founder of Big Brand System and a coach helping small businesses grow. Pamela’s tagline is:
Your business may be small, but your brand can be BIG
Pamela uses her tagline as headline on her home page and mentions it on her About page. Her website header doesn’t have enough space to display her tagline on every web page, but she uses it in her email signature and will soon redesign her blog update emails to include this tagline, too.
What about your tagline? And my tagline?
To decide whether we need a tagline, think about these two questions:
- Where do you want to use a tagline?
Consider business cards, email signatures, your website, social media profiles, and any printed marketing material.
- What information should your tagline communicate?
Consider what you do, or for whom, or how your customers benefit from working with you.
When you must have a tagline
One specific situation exists when you must have a tagline.
And that’s when your company name doesn’t tell people what you do or how you help them. Many accountants, lawyers, builders, and freelancers use their name as company name. In this case, the aim of your tagline isn’t to be memorable and punchy. It’s simply to clarify what you do.
For instance, Gill Andrews is a web consultant. Her website is GillAndrews.com and her logo is her name. To make instantly clear what she does, her tagline is:
Gill Andrews | Content Creator & Web Consultant
Heidi Cohen is a marketing professor and consultant who shares practical marketing advice on her popular website. Heidi’s tagline communicates what she provides:
HeidiCohen.com | Actionable Marketing Guide
My accountant keeps it simple, too:
Jonathan Ford & Co | Chartered Accountants
Big business marketers might kill themselves laughing about such simple taglines. Where’s the creativity? How do you stand out?
But everybody knows what Nike, McDonald’s, Avis, and Apple do. And hardly anyone knows who you and me are. Plus we don’t have a big budget to advertise our slogans so they become memorable.
So, as small business, it’s more important to communicate clearly what you do. Be simple and direct.
When a tagline fails
Some people choose three words to communicate what they do. Something like:
Hannah Green | Speaker. Author. Trainer.
Hank Meadows | Educator. Consultant. Keynote speaker.
But these words aren’t meaningful. Speaker about what? Trainer in what? For whom? Or why?
Be sure to communicate a concrete message, like:
Hannah Green | Social media trainer
Hank Meadows | SaaS Consultant and keynote speaker
Creating a strong tagline means choosing what’s most important. Be selective.
What should you communicate to people who don’t know you? What’s absolutely essential?
How to write a tagline
Have you decided you need a tagline?
But scratching your head because you don’t know what to write?
Here’s how to write a tagline in less than 30 minutes:
- Write down in one or two sentences (a) what you do, (b) for whom, and (c) how customers benefit from working with you
- Trim your writing down to a few words
- Play with different options
For example, here’s what I do:
I help small biz owners and solo-flyers become confident writers and find their voice so they can attract their favorite clients and sell more.
I could trim this down in several ways, and then play around with variations:
- Writing advice for small biz
- Your business writing coach
- Irreverent copywriter and coach
- Irreverent writer
- Find your voice. Grow your biz.
Remember, clarity trumps cleverness.
Shopify has created a tool to create a tagline for any business.
As a test, I entered the word “copywriting,” and it come up with 1,076 slogans, including:
- Copywriting is the only way to be happy
- Copywriting empowers you
- Worldclass copywriting!
Hmmm … Use at your own risk.
But I don’t need a tagline
My business is online.
I printed business cards 5 years ago, but I rarely use them. I don’t go to networking events, and rarely visit conferences. I don’t do client meetings.
My website and weekly emails are my main communication channels:
- My weekly emails don’t have a fancy design; they look like personal emails. So no tagline required here.
- My website visitors are either repeat visitors or people who searched for something like “how to improve writing skills” or “how to write web content.” They already know what content I offer.
My business name already gives a hint what my website is about, plus it adds a dash of personality—this site is not about pushy marketing; it’s about enchantment.
Conclusion? My tagline clutters my website header, so I’ll remove it. I don’t need a special tagline for social media. And my Twitter bio currently states: Irreverent writer on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook. I’m happy with that; it doesn’t need to be shorter.
Less is more
Web readers are busy.
They glance. They skim. They quickly make up their mind whether to hang around on your site or not.
So why do they come to your website?
And what’s absolutely essential to communicate?
Avoid clutter. Embrace brevity. Boost clarity.
PS Thank you to Irina Bengtson for inspiring this post.