Why You Should Write Your Brand’s Tagline First

The power of using a single message to build your brand

TAGLINES ARE CONSIDERED BY SOME TO BE RELICS from the Golden Age of Advertising — clever sayings lugged on as afterthoughts below a brand’s logo, or tacked onto the end of a commercial to make them more “catchy”. However, when viewed as part of a larger process, creating a tagline can be the first best step to building your memorable brand.

A great tagline should be a compelling, concise declaration of your brand’s importance. As such, it’s also a tool for understanding your product and who it serves. By following these same simple steps, you can develop a tagline that guides you as you move on to naming, identity design, website design and all other essential brand touchpoints.

For a glimpse into the tagline’s importance, let’s take a look at Hoffman Technologies, an e-commerce company that achieved success by beginning where most brands end.

Standing Out in the Ecommerce Crowd


Hoffman Technologies was dissatisfied by the limited functionality and generic appearance of e-commerce toolkits on the market. It developed its own product to solve these issues. The goal was to allow an e-commerce merchant to easily create a shopping website that provided a consistent brand experience from a customer’s arrival through checkout.

Hoffman Technologies asked us to help them create a comprehensive brand identity (naming, identity design, website and all other brand touchpoints) for the product. We started with the tagline.

1. Diagram your tagline

The first step to creating a tagline is to identify the key elements of your brand’s offer. For an effective way to collect these details, we looked to author and noted brand strategist Marty Neumeier. His method begins with answering the six questions that any journalism student could recite by heart: Who, what, where, when, why and how. Make sure your response for “what” includes the word “only”; this is how you will identify your compelling point of difference.

Here’s where those six questions led Hoffman Technologies:

WHAT: the ONLY e-commerce toolkit
HOW: that provides easy-to-use tools
WHO: for online merchants
WHERE: mostly in the United States
WHY: who want to deliver a customized brand experience
WHEN: in a market of generic, one-size-fits-all solutions

2. Combine and distill your tagline components

If we combined these answers into a single statement, we would have a lot of important information — but it wouldn’t be very memorable. To transform these phrases into a tagline, we needed to determine which were most important to Hoffman Technologies product. In this case, the key details lay in the “who” and “why”:

[Product name] is the only e-commerce toolkit that allows online merchants to deliver a customized brand experience.

Note that we don’t have a product name yet, which feels odd, doesn’t it? But we’re actually right where we want to be. We now have an accurate positioning statement to guide us as we move on to naming.

3. Use your tagline to help name your brand

Now that we have words to explain why we are important to our customers, it’s a lot easier to name our product. We began brainstorming a long list of descriptive terms: reseller, merchant, shopper, cart, customized, and experience. We expanded our options by listing the synonyms for the original descriptive terms.

Our breakthrough occurred while reviewing our competitive set. On websites using an e-commerce toolkit, it’s common to see the toolkit’s name and logo at the bottom of the site along with the phrase “Powered by.” As it turned out, this convention was a key inspiration that led us to words such as rocket, blaster, spark, and fuel. Of these, fuel became the favorite because although descriptive, it felt pleasingly unexepected for the technology category. Looking at our synonyms for merchant, the word vendor seemed a natural partner for fuel. After several sessions of brainstorming, we ended at the name VendorFuel.

4. Use your name to set the stage for a distinctive identity

With a rough tagline and a solid name in place, we were ready to consider the visual identity. We began with the literal associations that arise from “VendorFuel.” We sketched shopping carts, rockets, and even rocket-powered shopping carts. We iterated sketches of gasoline nozzles, flames, and many related images before landing on a stylized depiction of fire.

5. Polish your final tagline

Then, we revisited our working tagline:

VendorFuel is the only e-commerce toolkit that allows online merchants to deliver a customized brand experience.

The word allows in this context means enable. You could even say fuels, but we don’t want to repeat a word from the name. Instead of fuels, how about ignites? Let’s also simplify customized brand experience to customer experience. Do the terms mean exactly the same thing? No, but a key attribute of a tagline is brevity. Now we have:

6. Roll out your finished brand

With our finished name, identity and tagline in hand, we had a strong direction for designing the website, collateral and apparel. The color palette, choice of typography and layout of all touchpoints are built upon the decisions made in our prior five steps — all starting with a tagline that communicates a single, compelling brand message. The result is a brand identity that speaks in a beautiful and unified voice.

Your tagline is important, even if you don’t use it

Whether you’re trying to attract investors for your startup or convince a customer to buy your product, it is crucial to be able to communicate your brand benefits in a concise, memorable manner. Even if you decide never to use your tagline, creating it is a still a valuable exercise. As we saw with VendorFuel, a little tagline can be a big catalyst for your coherent, compelling brand identity. Make it the first step in your positioning, not the afterthought.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christopher Hayes is the Principal of Forthright Strategic Design– a San Francisco based design studio that specializes in creating personalities for wine & spirits brands.

2 Comments

  1. This was the only blog post I read twice because it was so informative! You should definitely blog more and ping me when you do!

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