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The 10 Biggest Tagline Mistakes

The art of tagline development is to distill the meaning of a big idea into a cogent message that’s easy to say, easy to understand, and easy to remember.

To ensure your brand expression is impossible to forget, use the following checklist to avoid the most common mistakes that plague aspiring taglines.

1. Speaking in Cliché

There’s a tendency to use words that have recognized meaning in today’s workplace. However, that doesn’t make them meaningful. Many can be described as trendy jargon and doublespeak. Take “innovation” and “solution.” Instead of telling people you’re innovative and deliver solutions, show them how you’ll make their lives better and their jobs easier. Rocking their world is what being a solution-oriented innovator is all about. One word you should avoid is “unique,” or you’ll end up being unique just like everyone else. Find a way to express your difference so that it “makes a difference” – clearly demonstrating why your customers need you now.

2. Being Bland

News Flash: Bland is boring. It may not offend but it doesn't excite or inspire either. If your tagline appears safely and predictably generic, your brand is going to be perceived that way, too. To freshen up your expression, try using uncommon words, speaking in the vernacular, inverting words, altering the tone or rhythm, or even breaking the rules of grammar. Whenever possible, try to rise above the pedestrian and couch your ideas in language that is stylistically fun, surprising, and inventive. Keep this one thought in mind: Think brand, not bland.

3. Being Too Literal

Great taglines often express ideas with multiple, metaphorical, or unexpected meanings. If an expression has a single, obvious meaning which is taken literally and at face value, it’s one-dimensional at best. Even though you want to make sure your message is loud and clear, try broadening the meaning of your tagline by relying on words and ideas that connote, not merely denote; imply, not simply state. In other words, embellish. Go against the grain. Reveal the artifice. It’s not surprising that taglines that make use of hyperbole, irony, and double meaning garner open-ended interpretations and enjoy more widespread appeal.

4. Imitating Other Taglines

We’ve seen it all before…and that’s the crux of the problem: Me-too, cookie-cutter slogans. Why? Because being original and breaking new ground are scary propositions. Remember, the whole goal of a tagline is to illustrate what’s novel about your organization – and that includes the way your tagline looks, sounds, and feels. Borrowing the familiar trappings of another tagline may be tempting, but it’s not going to set you apart from the pack. Like a good wardrobe, your tagline should be well-crafted, look sharp, and fit perfectly. More importantly, it should be custom tailored to your organization.

5. Not Being True to Your Brand

Tagline ownership means laying claim to an expression that reflects your brand attributes and communicates your brand value. So be sure to select one that is truly representative of your brand. Otherwise, you’ll experience brand disconnect and find yourself saddled with an unsupportable message and an unbelievable promise. The solution: Know your brand and what it stands for. Familiarize yourself with its strengths and weaknesses…and special uniquenesses. Be true to your brand!

6. It’s All About “YOU”

If your tagline appears self-centered and self-serving, it probably is. Sure, we know your organization is smart, savvy, and successful -- and that you’re the best, biggest, and brightest resource around. But what promise do you fulfill for your customers? What values do you share? How do you float their boat? Put your customers squarely in the equation by turning your tagline inside out. Shift its focus so it reflects their needs, their point of view, and their brand experience. If your tagline has too much “YOU,” then put more “THEM” in it. After all, they’re the ones keeping you in business.

7. Sounding Too Somber

Not all taglines are funny. Nor do they have to be. However, I believe that taglines shouldn’t take themselves so seriously. They’re not engraved in stone and, anyway, nobody reads tablets these days. If your tagline comes across as a bit overblown or pretentious, lighten it up! Give it some attitude and plant tongue firmly in cheek. Just make sure it reflects your brand’s tone and personality. Enduring taglines often have a humorous edge and an ability to reveal a disarming universal truth to which everyone can relate. Discover the universal truth in your brand. Smiles and grins will surely follow.

8. Loose Verbiage

Taglines should express your brand message simply and succinctly. That doesn’t mean a tagline has to be, say, four words or less. Some of the best taglines I’ve seen contain five…even six words. The point is: Crispy thoughts lead to punchy messages. Try not to use any more words than necessary. If you can achieve the same or better effect with one word less, lose the excess baggage. If a particular word is long, awkward, or complicated, replace it with another. Also, if your tagline needs one word more to achieve balance or closure, don’t be afraid to add it. A well-turned phrase should be compact and elegant, and make its point without any fluff.

9. Lack of Vetting

Okay, you’ve selected a fabulous tagline and can’t wait to reveal it to the world. Have you properly vetted it? Have you done a Google search to see whether your tagline is already being used commercially? Does it have an “SM” (service mark) or “TM” (trademark) after it? Is this expression found in the masthead of someone else’s web site? Have you checked to see whether it’s available as a domain name? And, most importantly, have you checked for potential trademark conflicts on the U.S. Patent & Trademark web site? In order to protect your brand investment, it’s absolutely essential to look for red flags before you plant yours in the ground.

10. Poor Visibility

Now that your tagline has been vetted and meets the standards of clarity, simplicity, originality, and believability, it’s time to put it to good use. It isn’t going to do you any good sitting on a shelf or stuck in a drawer. Use your tagline on your web site, business card, ads, brochures, and as part of your e-mail signature. Use it consistently with your logo. Incorporate it into your sales talks, team meetings, and public presentations. Be sure your employees and external stakeholders understand it and are on board with it. Distribute a guide that communicates the value of your tagline in the context of your brand messaging and positioning. Remember, your tagline is the beginning of the conversation – not the end of it.

Take your tagline to the next level!