A tagline sucks. A rallying cry rules.

Think about summing up the essence of who you are in 7 words or less. Not describing who you are. Or what you do. I’m talking about capturing your essence. That magical thing that magnetically draws prospects to you. That rallying cry.

That sounds awesome. Every organization should do that, right? Unfortunately, the vast majority either don’t understand this or are too lazy to create that stirring few words that inspire us to “Just Do it.” Instead, we get some bland, self-serving nonsense slapped below the logo. You know what I’m talking about. It’s usually something like this:

Acme Widget
The largest widget supplier in the tri-state area!

When I see these kinds of taglines I think, “Good for you. Nobody cares.”

And nobody does. We don’t understand why it’s important to know that you’re the largest supplier in the tri-state area. Maybe we have some vague assumption that largest = good? But even then, it’s you talking about you and we have more important things to think about. Like our own lives and challenges. You come off as a braggart. And it leads to an expectation that doing business with you will mean putting up with you telling us all about you rather than helping us with our needs and wants.

I don’t think any business intends to do that. But that’s exactly what happens when we settle for these kinds of taglines.

There is this other breed of tagline we see a lot as well. It’s the one that sounds like it’s saying something useful, but when (if) we stop to think about it, it summons a glacial indifference among us.

Acme Widget
Quality is in everything we do.

We could say ‘quality’ is a benefit. But, honestly, it’s really just the price to play. We expect quality. We don’t go out and Google ‘mediocre widgets’.

This is a tagline masquerading as a benefit. And it’s worse than that obviously self-serving one we talked about at the beginning of this post. Because it fools us into thinking that we are saying something meaningful.

On top of it all, it’s still the company talking about itself rather than talking about us potential customers.

I don’t like the term ‘tagline’. The word sounds like an afterthought. Like it is something you tack on to your brand.

I prefer ‘rallying cry’. That sounds bold and energizing. It sounds like something that will inspire us.

Rallying cries invite us into the story. They tap into our aspirations. They charge us to become better. They do all this and more. Let’s look at Apple. They told us to “Think different.” As a rallying cry, this did a number of things:

  • It challenged us to innovate
  • It gave us a charge — it is the imperative form
  • It connected to the power of Apple’s products to help people create

This kind of rallying cry inspires us to imagine ourselves in a different state. In this case, one where we do amazing things. Engaging people in this way is incredibly compelling. That’s why leading organizations take the time to hone this invaluable asset.

A rallying cry creates the emotional shorthand that sticks in our heads and builds strong positive associations. Those are powerful elements that help a brand rise above competitors and help turn customers into advocates. Think about doing that for our organizations. That’s important work. Too important for a mere tagline. It’s time for a rallying cry.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the forthcoming book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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