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3 Critical Reasons Why You Should Never Use a Tagline

September 2nd, 2009 posted by · 1 Comment

The following is a guest post by entrepreneur and innovator Ian J. Dunlap.

Fortune 100 Companies, World Changing Entrepreneurs and Empire Owners all make the same deadly mistake that makes me absolutely cringe every time that I see it & that is the use of a tagline. A tagline is a variant of a branding slogan typically used in marketing materials and advertising. The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and the premise of a brand or product or to reinforce the audience’s memory of a product.

To that definition they should add “useless 99% of the time by the organizations that apply them.” Whenever I am working with my clients I always ask the question “is adding this piece to your overall strategic puzzle going to be an asset or a liability to your company?” The answer is usually “liability” especially when this question is asked about their tagline.

You have to realize, now more than ever, the attention span of your marketplace is incredibly fractured and every time that you communicate with your clients or customers you must make sure that you are adding a tremendous amount of value to their lives in the overall collection of emotional experiences you are providing them. A slogan such as “Do Stuff” by RadioShack (now known as “The Shack”) is pointless, like their name change, and highly ineffective. Sadly enough, 9 out 10 taglines fail, which means yours probably isn’t productive and is a major impediment to the success of your brand and I define success based on the ability of the item to produce a response or revenue for your company.

Only Results Matter…

Initially when taglines and slogans were created they were designed to do one thing & and that was to get people to do business with you. Results are the only thing that matter.
What taglines represent today are meaningless mantras that are corporate catchphrases that serve as an internal reminder of what the company wants to achieve but they don’t emotionally move the client or prospective client to do business with you, making the use of a tagline an ‘incredible liability’ for your company.

Let me provide you with an example.

Bank of America’s tagline is Bank of Opportunity. According to one of my friends, that worked in their corporate headquarters, their taglin e isn’t designed to apply to their customer-base. This statement is aimed to the employees of the company as a mantra that anyone in the organization has the opportunity & ability to enhance their career, while inside the organization. Although this message is integrated into all of their messaging it isn’t intended for those who matter most, which is their customer base & I don’t want you to make the same mistake.

Secondly, it doesn’t answer the all important question “why should I choose to do business with you & only you instead of doing business with your competition.” What should you use instead of a tagline? We will get to that in a second.

Example of Other Taglines That Are Ineffective:

Merrill Lynch: “Pairing strength and precision to power you forward.”
Radio Shack: “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.”
Shick: “Shick. Share something.”
TJ Maxx: “You should go.”
H&R Block: “You got people.”
Holiday Inn: “Look ag ain.”
Lockheed Martin: “We never forget who we’re working for.”
Chrysler: “Inspiration comes standard.”

-In Merrill’s case, are you really going to invest your money in their organization after their collapse & merger with BofA?

-Who goes to Radio Shack for technological advice?

-I think the majority of America takes the advice of Holiday Inn & to actually “look again” to staying at another hotel. Ironically enough, only 3 out of these 8 companies have been thriving over the past 3 years while 3 others have been massive failures but enough about those companies, let talk about your business.

What you do need…

In order to dominate your market, you need a powerful & memorable statement that designed to motivate, inspire, & move the people you are targeting to do business with you because the only thing that matters is the end result.

To achieve these results you need an “Exclusive Promise Statement.” You want your exclusive promise statement to be so powerful, that once you say it or someone reads it, they immediately want to do business with you. Google’s ‘Exclusive Promise Statement’ was so powerful & clear that it led to them getting funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as well as Sequoia Capital [who are rival Venture Capital firms] for $25 million when they had less than $ 1.1 million at the time and just recently stopped operating out of their friends garage.

I was working with a venture capital firm 5 weeks ago and they were having a very difficult time setting themselves apart from the mounds of competition they face & attracting the perfect type of clients and I will give you the same advice I gave their CEO, so you can apply it directly to your business.

“Within the first 20 seconds, you must let your prospective clients know why they should pick you over every other option for that they have available to them. You have more competition than ever before and the company in your industry that communicates the strongest reason why to exclusively select their firm first will win & win big.”

They shouldn’t look to dethrone Oak Investment Partners, Mayfield Fund, or Wellington Partners Venture Capital in the next 2 years but it will place them in a position to have entrepreneurs beating down their door to work with them instead of the position they are in now; which is pleading with entrepreneurs to select them to as the organization to receive funding from.

Ultimately this all comes down to positioning and once again, taglines don’t aid in positioning your brand above your competition. Lastly, your exclusive promise statement must always be summarized in one-line. If you cannot summarize the incredible benefit that you provide quickly, then the vision of your company or idea lacks clarity and won’t be effective once it’s unleashed into the marketplace.

Example’s of Highly Successful Exclusive Promise Statements:

1. Google’s Exclusive Promise Statement: “We deliver the world’s information in one click.”
2. Cisco Systems Exclusive Promise Statement: “We network networks.”
3. Facebook’s Exclusive Promise Statement: “We help you connect and share with the people in your life.”
4. Cold Stone Creamery’s Exclusive Promise Statement: “The Ultimate Ice Cream Experience.”
5. Dropbox’ s Exclusive Promise Statement: “Dropbox is the easiest way to use, sync, and share files online.”

6. Microsoft’s New Exclusive Promise Statement (possibly): I am working on an exclusive promise statement right now for Microsoft’s consumer (I hate that word) product division that states “We create extraordinary technology for people doing extraordinary things.” And the campaign will declare how others have created tremendous success for themselves by using Microsoft products. Hopefully
it will replace that horrific “I’m a PC” campaign that is trying to combat Apple’s legendary “I’m a Mac” campaign. Will they accept it? We shall see.

The important question is do you tell your clients and prospective clients why they should do business with you instead of anyone else? After working with, critiquing & correcting the strategic plans of roughly 125 companies in the last 16 months, the majority of the time the answer is no.

The 3 Keys Your Exclusive Promise Statement Must Contain:

1. Highlight those who you want to attract exclusively:
Your exclusive promise statement should target those you are aiming to do business with, especially if you company is new. One of the biggest mistakes that I see made frequently made by companies is trying to target everyone in the marketplace to do business with them. If you have multiple targets that you are looking to attract, then at most, you should select 3-4 separate core audiences but you cannot “own” the entire market, unless you create it.

Even when Google first launched their search engine (when they were still hosting Google on Stanford servers) they were exclusively targeting to technically advanced individuals a.k.a. “nerds” and then as the word spread they worked across the acceptance curve & “everyone” began to use Google as “thee” search engine. So before you decide you want to own the entire market, realize that you must first target a core market and then let your vision spread & infect other core audiences. You can’t have everyone in the market…ask the former CEO of General Motors Rick Wagoner. Trying to please everyone will cause you to be special to no one.


You have to quickly tell them the undeniable benefit of doing business with you. Nothing else matters. The business landscape right now is more competitive than ever and if you don’t quickly tell someone why they should do business with you then they are going to leave you and choose to go do business with someone else. 80% of this battle has to deal with how well you are pre-positioned & possessing an incredibly effective exclusive promise statement is one piece to that puzzle. If you successfully give them that benefit then they will be attracted to only do business with you and only you.

3. Your statement should exclusively fit your company & your company only:

Finally, your exclusive promise statement should only fit your company! It has to custom-fit your brand and the memory the marketplace has of you. When Federal Express debuted their E.P.S. “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight” it was a statement that could only be attributed to their company and it served as the springboard for success for them, helping them form an international powerhouse. UPS or the Post Office couldn’t claim to provide the same service or guarantee at that time. It is imperative your competitors can’t make claim to your E.P.S.

When I began working with the venture capital firm their slogan was “Funding Your Success.” The CEO could see my disappointment on my face because vanilla statements like it can be attributed to any venture capital firm in the world. It doesn’t get you excited, and doesn’t give anyone a reason to want to do business exclusively with them. And I want you to prevent you from making the same error.

If you look at Domino’s former exclusive promise statement, which was the cornerstone of the positioning of what made them special, it took them from a small college based pizza store into a billionaire dollar franchise & their E.P.S which was “Fresh hot pizza delivered to your doorstep in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed or it’s free.” That statement absolutely revolutionized the pizza industry.

That exclusive promise statement took them from being an obscure company (with mounds of competition) into an international success who terrified their competitors for 32 quarters. You may not want to have an international powerhouse but you do want to be positioned so well in the marketplace that prospective clients are seeking you out first in droves to do business with you over the majority of your competition.

If you need more assistance…

I don’t know if you are battling the ‘demons of the recession’ or if any of this has struck an emotional chord with you but if it has then I would love to create an exclusive promise statement for you that actually work & attracts the perfect clients to you, leading to more revenue generated for your company.

I invite you to either email me at or give me a call at 404.567.5783 and we can have a short conversation to help you. No pitch, just a conversation I promise. If you don’t need any assistance currently then I hope you enjoyed. See you next time.

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1 Comment so far
  1. Mitch MyAvatars 0.2

    Interesting post, and something I’m going to start thinking about. I created a tagline for my business back in 2002, then changed it in 2003, and I’ve kept it since that time. However, my business has gone through so many transitions that it actually doesn’t work as well anymore. I still like it, but at times it doesn’t make sense.

    So, I’d be in the position of just chucking it rather than trying to come up with something new; that’s a shame, but it’s something I need to seriously consider. Thanks for putting it in my mind.