Copify Blog

Guide: How to write a tagline for a brand that sticks

Every company needs a tagline, but coming up with one is harder than it looks.

The right tagline can make your brand unforgettable to potential customers. It can keep you in their thoughts for years.

Think of Tesco’s “Every little helps”

Coca-Cola’s “The real thing”

And what about “Autoglass Repair, Autoglass Replace”?

But a well-constructed tagline does more than get stuck in consumers’ heads – it also conveys an essential truth about the brand’s values.

Whether you’re just starting out in business, or you’re looking to rebrand, it helps to follow some tips for how to write a tagline for a brand.

Here, you’ll find a simple but unique step-by-step process that can take you from nothing to a new tagline in just a few days.

Table of contents

  1. What should a tagline do?
  2. Using the science of memory to make your tagline stick
  3. How to write a tagline for a brand
    1. Gather your material
    2. Work through your research, looking for potential angles and ideas
    3. Do something else
    4. Relax
    5. Share your ideas with your team

What should a tagline do? And why should you bother having one?

A tagline is likely the first thing any customer will see of your company. It’s your first impression. And we all know how vital those first impressions are.

But it’s not as easy to write a tagline as you might think.

Put simply, your tagline must sum up your company in a single line, while remaining memorable. It is an essential part of your branding, and as such it needs to convey your brand’s mission and main USP.

That last point is the most important.

89% of marketing is completely ignored… and if you’re not careful, yours will be too!

As advertising legend Dave Trott puts it:

“…today there’s £20 billion spent on advertising in the UK.

And 89% of it is not noticed or remembered.

That’s roughly £18 billion ignored, because it’s all wallpaper.”

In 2021, it’s estimated that the average person in the UK is exposed to as many as 10,000 adverts every single day.

In other words, if your tagline (or indeed any of your marketing) isn’t memorable, you can easily be forgotten. That’s why it’s vital to cementing a core brand identity that can help you stand out in a crowded market.

Read how brand awareness can impact sales.

Using the science of memory to make your tagline stick

If you’re new to marketing, then Chip and Dan Heath’s award-winning Made to Stick is a must read for any marketer.

The brothers, who teach at Stanford Graduate School of Business, spent months researching how ideas stick in our minds.

Eventually, they concluded that there were 6 triggers that nearly all memorable ideas use in some way.

They call it the S.U.C.C.E.S.(S) Formula:

Simple: If you have to explain your idea to the reader, chances are it’s not good enough. They must understand your tagline on first look. (BMW: “The ultimate driving machine.”)

Unexpected: Be unique. If you’re just like everyone else in your industry, you’ll fade into the wallpaper.

Concrete: Is your tagline real to the reader? Can they visualise it somehow? “Red Bull gives you wings!”

Credibility: Are you for real? Can you prove it? (Think of Colgate’s “80% of dentists recommend us.”)

Emotional: People respond to things that inspire feelings in them. (Nike: “Just do it.” Probably the ultimate motivational tagline.)

Stories: It’s simple: stories sell. Can you come up with a single line story? “Maybe she’s born with it…” is a killer example from Maybelline. Just a few short words, and you’re already thinking of a character and what her story might be.

It goes without saying that you’re not going to hit every one of these points in a single tagline.

Instead, approach each one as an individual prompt. Could you try to write 6 taglines, hitting a different trigger each time?

Of course.

And there’s a process for doing it.

How an out-of-print book from 1939 can take you step-by-step to writing a killer tagline

James Webb Young was the First Chairman of the Advertising Council. In 1939, he penned a book that became an open secret among elite marketers and copywriters all around the world. It’s still read today. It’s aptly named “A Technique for Getting Ideas.”

Though the book fell out of print, it’s widely available for download online. Inside, you’ll find a step-by-step process that you can start using today to come up with a great tagline.

Below, we’ve provided our own suggestions:

Step 1. Gather your material

This means immersing yourself in everything you can about your company. Brainstorm the following:

  1. Who are your customers? What do they care about?
  2. What problems do you help them solve? What are the benefits of working with your company?
  3. What sets your company apart from your competitors? What is your USP?
  4. What emotions do your industry appeal to (if any)?
  5. What are your success stories? What do your happy customers say about you?

It might not seem too exciting gathering the material up, but it’s a very important part of the process.

As David Ogilvy said:

“Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”

Step 2. Work through your research, looking for potential angles and ideas

Now you have your pile of research, read and re-read it. Try to think up potential angles in your mind. (Use the Made to Stick triggers above.)

Pull out the bits of research that grabbed your attention. The chances are, if something catches your eye, it’ll do the same for other people.

Keep doing this until you’re mentally exhausted. (And possibly a bit frustrated!). Yes, really.

Because the next step is both the most important one…and the one that requires the least work.

Step 3. Put the problem completely out of your mind. Go and do something else. The more brainless it is, the better.

Many modern marketers are obsessed with the idea of productivity. That working means you have to be producing something at all times.

Which is a shame, because doing nothing is a vital part of creativity. Some of the greatest ideas in history have come when the genius behind them was, put simply, lazing around.

(We’ll show you some in a moment.)

Sleep, walking, exercise, meditation, video games…

It doesn’t really matter.

Once you’ve loaded up your brain with your material and struggled for an idea, get away and do something relaxing that makes you forget about the tagline.

And then…

Step 4. The idea will come to you like a flash, while you’re relaxing

A lot of people find this idea a bit woo-woo. Maybe you do as well.

What you might not realise is just how many incredible creative breakthroughs came when the person behind it was, essentially, not doing anything:

  • Isaac Newton came up with the theory of gravity when he was sat under a tree in Cambridge, enjoying the outside air.
  • Charles Dickens crafted much of A Christmas Carol in his head while taking long walks around London.
  • The idea for Harry Potter dropped into JK Rowling’s head when she was stuck on a delayed train from Manchester to London.
  • Paul McCartney woke up after a long sleep and “Yesterday” fell into his head. He heard it so clearly, he assumed he’d heard someone else play it the day before.

You can even thank a long sleep for Einstein’s theory of relativity!

Once you’ve done the research and you’ve really wracked your brains…relax. Do something you enjoy.

When you’re least thinking about it, the right idea – and sometimes several ideas – will simply fall into your head, effortlessly.

Why?

Because your subconscious mind has been working on your tagline problem all this time, while you were relaxing. And some studies have shown that your subconscious uses up to 90% of your brainpower!

But you must feed it first. This is where the research you did earlier comes in.

Follow this process, and you should end up with several great ideas for taglines.

Which is when everyone else comes in…

Step 5. Share your ideas with your team

Once you’ve got a few tagline ideas you’re excited by, share them with people you respect and get their opinions.

You’ll usually find that even if you like all of them, one idea will leap out to other people. That’s the one you want.

Congratulations, you now have a brilliant tagline for your business!

✏️ If you need some more inspiration, take a look at 5 of the best copywriters of all time. Or browse our Branding Awareness Essentials series.


Header image: Morgan Housel

Embedded images: Peter Aroner,  Patrick Perkins, Nick Fewings

Shaun Edwards

Add comment