• July 1, 2008
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Required Reading: What's in a Tagline?

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Any marketer knows how critical a tagline is. In fact, Steve Cone, author of the book Powerlines, asserts that companies should revolve their entire marketing campaign around the tagline -- the words that define their brand -- not the other way around. Cone understands that marketers want to be hip and fresh, but he doesn’t understand why marketers feel compelled to continually change their taglines. Amid the clutter, brands need to be something consumers can trust; it’s difficult to be that brand when the customer doesn’t remember who you are. CRM magazine’s Jessica Tsai spoke with Cone about the makings of a powerful brand tagline.

CRM magazine: To be honest, I don’t remember a lot of the taglines out there.

Steve Cone: Yeah, about 99 percent of them, right?

CRM: Pretty much. So are people just not investing the time into this anymore?

Cone: Not only are they not investing the time, they don’t even know how to do it right. Marketers today aren’t as well trained in the basics of what effective marketing takes -- that’s a problem, given that the clutter today is greater than it’s ever been. From the 1950s through the ‘80s, people understood that a strong brand promise in the form of a few words was very powerful and should, in fact, be the epicenter of a campaign from which everything else emanates. Today, it’s, "Oops, we need a line," and they come up with some generality, which means nothing, defines nothing, and is nothing.

CRM: You say that you shouldn’t change a tagline once you have it, but organizations often do. Las Vegas, for example, is trying out "Your Vegas is Showing."

Cone: I think that’s a mistake. They should stick with what every adult in America knows, which is, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." Using another line doesn’t make any sense. When you change your brand promise all the time, people don’t remember what it is. They wind up not caring because they can’t keep track.

CRM: What are some of the classics that have endured?

Cone: "You’re in good hands." [Allstate.] "A diamond is forever." [De Beers.] "The ultimate driving machine." [BMW.] That’s the only tagline in the auto industry that anyone has any recognition of today -- and it’s been around almost 40 years. The fact is, a line doesn’t go out of fashion; what goes out of fashion is the marketing around it.

CRM: So what makes a good tagline?

Cone: A unique cadence or sound signature. [Also,] you need to make it really large and different-looking -- 95 percent of companies need to bump up the size at least three times. It should be everywhere you are, at every customer touch point. If [marketers] have a line that could apply to anybody, then they should get rid of it and come up with something that’s strong, powerful, and stands alone. Avoid platitudes. Avoid using "life," or "power," or "passion." You’re different. Say so.

CRM: Did you come up with the tagline for your company?

Cone: Yes, it’s "Marketing as Usual. Not a Chance." It’s got some personality. It’s distinctive. It’s true. We don’t do marketing like everyone else for our clients, and it has a chance of being recalled.

CRM: How long did it take you to come up with it?

Cone: It’s an inspirational thing. I thought about it for a weekend, and it took about a week in total. Is there an exact science? No. If it were, there’d be a formula and everyone would be happy.

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