Why is coming up with a tagline so hard? You know what your company is good at and what makes your product or service unique. You know more words than the average 5th grader. So why can’t you translate that knowledge into a simple one-liner that makes you stand out from the crowd?

Because you’re focusing on the wrong thing.

I’ve been part of the tagline creation quest for all kinds of companies, and I’ve seen them make the same mistake over and over. They believe the tagline is supposed to convey how great their business or product is, or how much people love them. What they should be thinking about is one question, from the customer’s perspective: What are you doing for me?

It comes down to the central pillar of all good marketing: empathy.

It All Starts With Why

There’s an exercise I use when I’m helping organizations develop a mission statement or tagline. It’s based on the 5 Whys technique, an analytical method originally developed by Taiichi Ohno, the architect of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s (and nicely explained by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup). Basically, by asking “why?” five times in a row, you can get to the root cause of almost any problem.
You can use a similar process to explain the fundamental value you bring to customers and stakeholders. Start with a basic description of what you do: “We make X products” or “We deliver X services.” Then ask, “Why is that important?” five times. In just a few whys, you’ll find that you’re getting down to your company’s core purpose—and the thing that matters most to your target audience.

For example, let’s say you sell propane to homeowners. You might start with, “We’re a full-service provider of propane fuel and equipment.” Ask why that matters, and you might conclude that selling propane to homeowners is important because you’re providing a reliable, clean, and efficient fuel to power heating systems and appliances. Why does that matter? Because people can save money, pollute less, and consistently heat and power their homes. Why does that matter? Because people’s homes should make them feel safe and comfortable all year round.

See? It’s not really about you and your propane.

How Mosquito Joe Got It Right

Mosquito Joe taglineRunning through my neighborhood last week, I saw a Mosquito Joe van in front of a house. And, because I can’t pass a piece of marketing without scrutinizing it, I read the promo language on the side of the vehicle. This, my friends, is one of the best taglines I’ve seen in a while:

“Outside is fun again.”

Why do I like it so much? Because it’s not about the company or its products. It speaks, clearly and plainly, to the fundamental reason why people hire a mosquito control service.

When I moved from California to Rhode Island, I was delighted to be back in all the beautiful greenery of New England. Then I started slapping mosquitoes left and right, and pulling ticks off my dog every day. Suddenly, every nice field looked like a bug-infested booby trap for Lyme disease. So much for frolicking in the grass.

That’s why, like everyone else here in New England, I know exactly what “outside is fun again” means. Do I want to kill every tick, flea, and mosquito within reach so I can enjoy walking barefoot in grass? Hell yes. And, apparently, Mosquito Joe understands why it matters to me.

So put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and ask how what you do can change their lives. You’ll find the words for that elusive tagline—and you might just create a foundation for better marketing, while you’re at it.


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