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Posted: September 13, 2013

Three steps to a terrific tagline

I love writing these

Jennifer Lester

I’ll let you in on a little secret. One of my absolute favorite things to write is a tagline. I love, love taglines, because I believe they do the heavy lifting for a company’ s brand. They are the workhorse for the message.

Great taglines act as the cornerstone of the brand and become the overarching theme for the brand’s mission. The tagline is the “Big Idea” in action and differentiates a brand from the masses. A strong tagline captures the attention of an audience and gets them talking. Exceptional taglines cause what we at Philosophy Communication call a calculated disruption – a disruption that tells an audience what to feel about the brand. A tagline should both encompass the current brand attributes and cue toward a brand’s aspirational goals.

So how do you write a tagline? Here’s the process we follow at Philosophy to write taglines that get noticed.


You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again in marketing, over and over, in fact. Good taglines begin with research. You must begin with a brand audit; you discuss the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You must understand the organization’s core audience, and you’ll do this by LISTENING to their customers — customers who bought from the company and customers who didn’t. You need to talk with their partners to listen to what the company does well and not so well. You must research all of their competitors and understand what message they are espousing. From there, you’ll establish a foundation to base your tagline.

Core Values

Once you have gained an insight into the company’s background and its customers and competitors, you have to establish the company’s core values. The core values must be honest and true — not what the CEO would like to think the company does well, but what the company really does well.  Personally, I like no more than three core values. I think if you get too many core values, then all of sudden you are saying too much and the message gets lost. However, there are times when three core values just won’t do, but the point is to keep the core values memorable and valid to your key audience.

Identify the Differentiator

The final step to writing a good tagline is to fully understand the purpose the company is trying to uphold. What is the differentiator that sets the organization apart in a sea of sameness? You must identify: “Why is this company better or different than its competitors? What value does the company bring to its customers that no other company brings?”

Once you have completed those three steps, you are ready to start getting creative to write a truly mind-stopping tagline.

To me, every tagline is like giving birth to a beautiful baby. I’m often asked which tagline is my favorite that I’ve ever written, and it is just impossible to answer. It is like asking, “which child is your favorite?” You just can’t do it because you like them all for different reasons. So with that said, here are two of Philosophy Communication’s “babies” I love and why:

Montessori Children’s House (MCHD)

Uncover the Genius. I love this tagline because it speaks to the possibility for “greatness” in every child. We found that often parents chose MCHD after they had had a not-so-pleasant education experience with another school. Parents wanted to feel that their child would not get lost in the shuffle of a large classroom saddled with a rote curriculum. Parents at MCHD don’t want a school teaching to the lowest common denominator and were interested in small class sizes that would take the time to get to know their children. At MCHD the school truly practices what it preaches and the educators work extremely hard to find that spark within every child. It is from here that we were able to write the tagline: “Uncover the Genius.” Four years later the message still resonatesd, the school has a wait list and has opened its fourth location.

Specialty Appliance

Buy Smarter. Specialty Appliance came to Philosophy Communication asking for help with its message. Philosophy knew that a brand audit was in order. When we first began working with the company the executives said that they felt the company had the best selection and great pricing. However, our research told us a bit of a different story. We noted that their selection was good but not necessarily the deepest. We also noted that their pricing was good and that the company would meet or beat any price that a customer might compare. Again, however it was not necessarily the least expensive.

What we did find was that Specialty employed an exceptional staff, and many of their employees have been with the company for years. With a long-standing, loyal workforce behind them, we found that their staff knew the appliances like the back of their hand. They knew the warranties and brands inside and out. With that knowledge, we knew that customers should take advantage of the staff’s experience and knowledge and “Buy Smarter.”

I also love this tagline for its aspirational cues. It honors customers and the time they  take to visit  Specialty Appliance to actually “Buy Smarter.” So what’s the good news? Since Specialty’s rebrand, company sales are up 95 percent. Of course, Philosophy isn’t taking credit for all of the success, but we strongly believe that the rebrand was just another contributor to the success.

I could write for days on my favorite taglines and why. I could also go off on taglines that completely fall short. However, I would love to hear more about what you like about your favorite taglines. Please share.

Jennifer Lester, co-founder of Philosophy Communication in Denver in 2001, can be reached at When Jen Lester isn’t raving about how people can brag about all of the awards they are winning, she is contemplating how the “Big Idea” can bring great results to Philosophy clients.

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Readers Respond

Jennifer, I agree most people have had a fear of creative financing for years although we do get 100's of trackable hits on our sites because of the name and tags. Our business model has always been bank fallout loans and leases and we have been doing well during the economic crisis. That being said, I've gone with Creative Business Finance...When the Bank Says No! We have two websites currently, and is under construction Thanks again for posting the article and assisting me on the tagline. By Steve Felt on 2013 10 07
Steve: where did you finally land for a tagline? Philosophy recently rebranded Laurus Transaction Advisors, In our research with clients and prospects, we found that the words "creative" and "finance" together did not sit well with stakeholders. I'm curious if you have found the same? And, yes, you are correct, you do not need to repeat "business capital" in the tagline since it is captured in the name. This is a mistake many people make when writing great taglines. By Jennifer Lester on 2013 10 05
Ok great, thanks for the assistance By Steve Felt on 2013 09 16
But you need something at the beginning for rhythm I think. What about "We're here when the bank says no." Or "See us..." or something. But honestly, I like "Business Capital when..." also. By David Sneed on 2013 09 16
David, I see your point. Thanks! Do you think people would understand if I dropped "business capital" as well? Since I already have that, sort of, in the company name? By Steve Felt on 2013 09 16
Steve: Are the first 5 words necessary? By David Sneed on 2013 09 16
The tagline I created for my company, Creative Business Finance is "we are your source for business capital when the bank says no." It explains exactly what we and is very easy for people to remember. What do you think? By Steve Felt on 2013 09 13
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