Taglines that stick

May 5, 2011



I think most taglines used by businesses today are a cop out.  They feel good but promise nothing. A reader wrote and asked if I’d talk about the other side of the coin – what makes a tagline great?

Creating and using a strong tagline takes real courage.  A tagline that will last for decades is one that makes a bold statement or promise.

So what do you need to consider as you evaluate your own tagline?

A strong tagline makes someone take pause. It might be the person it’s directed at like – Just Do It.  Or it might be the employee who has to keep the promise – when it absolutely positively has to be there overnight.

A memorable tagline should be a bit daunting.  That’s why it’s impressive.  If BMW has told us their cars were a nice ride, would you have remembered?  But who doesn’t want to drive the ultimate driving machine?  Talk about setting high expectations!

An enduring tagline is tied specifically to the product/service: Another element of a strong, test of time tagline is that we connect it to the company who owns it.  We don’t remember it just because it’s clever.  We remember who said it.  Take this little quiz. Who told us “you deserve a break today” or promised us “we try harder.”

This is where the generic taglines about “our people” and quality lose their steam.  Who doesn’t believe they provide good quality and that their people are dedicated to their jobs?

A memorable tagline tells a story: In a single sentence, we got the picture when Timex told us “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”  We can only imagine what might happen if forgot the warning “don’t leave home without it.”

We learn through stories.  We teach lessons through stories.  And we buy and sell around stories.  It’s much easier for us to remember a story than straight facts.  Which is why a story telling tagline sticks.

A powerful tagline points out how the product/service is unique: Who doesn’t know the unique advantage of an M&M?  They “melt in your mouth, not in your hand,” right?  The Marine’s tagline reminds us that they’re very choosy about who they let into their club.  “The few.  The proud.  The Marines” lets us know that there’s exclusivity to their brand.

Everyone wants a strong tagline but most businesses are afraid to make a bold promise.  What happens if it doesn’t get there overnight?  Or if the watch breaks?

Good marketers understand that a tagline is not an absolute.  Sure, every once in awhile you’re going to miss the mark.  But how you handle it when you fall short is part of the brand promise too.


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What if you just talked like a real human being?

November 26, 2010

97974257 I began my career as a copywriter and at the core, it's still how I think of myself.  I love creating emotional responses, telling stories and drawing pictures with words.  (This could be due to the fact that I cannot draw them any other way!)

But I've always believed that many marketing writers have missed the point. We're not supposed to be so clever and so fancy that we confuse people.  We're not supposed to use inside jargon or bloated words (empower, paradigm, etc.) that have been so badly overused that they are meaningless.

We are supposed to talk like regular human beings.

Sure, you can be a remarkable storyteller like the folks at J. Peterman's catalog or fire people up like Steve Farber can — but you do it in language they can understand and relate to.

Check out this black Friday sales e-mail from the StoryPeople organization, located in my home state of Iowa.  (click on the link to see their cool building!)  

Sure, they're announcing a sale but listen to how human they sound.

Subject: Happy Bright Friday! Yippee! (because calling it Black Friday is just too bleak…)

OK, we were hanging out at the studio this morning & for very good reasons, we started a game of Let's Pretend. Why? you may ask…

Because, we would answer, given our usual balmy Iowa November weather, outside there was ice coming down in sheets the size of billboards. We HAD to pretend that it was all a bad dream & that it was happening SOMEWHERE ELSE. Somewhere else where we weren't. Like Narnia, or the South Pole, or someplace like that, where they like ice coming down in sheets.

It was fun for a while, but the ice didn't want to play along. Boo, ice! So, we decided to play something else instead. Ben suggested a game of Rename The Day After Thanksgiving. Because really, who likes the name Black Friday? We don't know who called it that in the first place, but obviously, they were having a really bad day.

Once we got started, of course, we got all happy & chirpy again (as long as no one looked outside). After much lively discussion & laughter, we voted to call it Bright Friday instead.

(But don't worry. We're not like the government, where even if it's a stupid idea, you're stuck with it. We think of it as a temporary name until someone comes up with something better. To be honest, we didn't have a lot to work with. It was one of two suggestions. The other was Rainbows & Unicorns Friday. See? Bright Friday doesn't sound so bad after all, does it?)

Because it seems like just the kind of day that demands a celebration, we're doing a StoryPeople special in honor of Bright Friday. Woo hoo! For the entire month from now until, well, a month from now. (We first thought it'd make sense to keep with the whole 30 days in a month theme & give you 30% off of all purchases of 30, or more, things. But that didn't seem all that bright, being that it was Bright Friday & all…)

So, we went with 30% off of all purchases of 3, or more, of everything. (Ok, except for individual greeting cards, furniture, holiday ornaments & our create-your-own products. Because we're swamped right now & that would push us completely over the edge. But that still leaves tons more stuff & all the rest of it is fair game.) So pick any three things- a sculpture, a book, a print, you name it & we'll give you 30% off for 30 days. Hooray for Bright Friday…

Oh yeah, one more thing…

Don't forget that you have until November 29th to nominate your favorite Princess for the only-one-in-the-whole-world StoryPeople tiara. If you haven't heard yet, the tiara was done by Lynne the Jeweler who does all the StoryPeople holiday ornaments. (Which, by the way, are only guaranteed to arrive in time for the holidays if you order by November 29th.) So, if you haven't done it already, nominate your favorite Princess (since we're running out of time, be sure you send it via email to Annette@storypeople.com) by telling us who they are & why they should be crowned this year's StoryPeople Princess of the Known Universe. Heck, if you want to make it really easy, just add it to the comment at the end of your order when you stock up on this year's limited edition StoryPeople holiday ornaments… 🙂

No matter what, make sure you get everything in by November 29th (because, no kidding, this once-in-a-lifetime chance at the tiara ends then. We're putting our foot down. Even with Bright Friday dancing into sight, ice is still coming down in sheets. So, don't even think about messing with us on this… 🙂

We look forward to seeing you at StoryPeople.com soon (& even if we don't, let us know how your Bright Friday goes. We have a feeling with a name like that, it's going to be fabulous…)

With love,

The Crew at StoryPeople



Did they make their point?  Sure… they're having a sale.  But they did it in a way that sounds quite human.  And also very true to their brand.  Can you imagine seeing an ad that says "because we're swamped right now & that would push us completely over the edge?"  I'd like the company that had the courage to do it.

How about you?  Could you copy use a little humanization?  



By the way… thanks to reader Rebecca (love that Rebecca!) for sharing the e-mail copy. I'd never h eard of the StoryPeople before, despite their Iowa location.  

But, I see that they're selling a book by Twitter sensation Tim Siedell (twitter name: BadBanana) who I knew way before he was twitter funny and he guest blogged here while I vacationed.  Tim and I share a love of branding, Disney and David Ogilvy. He blogs too. He is a twisted sister of funny, so check out the book.



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Marketing tip #96: Be specific

September 15, 2010

102715973 One of the most frustrating "worries" that marketing types sometimes express is that they want to use weasel words in their marketing.  Words like "nearly," "over" or "almost all."

Typically, they're worried about someone calling them on the details so they want to hedge their bet.

Look at these two sentences:

We've served nearly 1,000 happy customers.

We've served 973 happy customers.

Which one feels more genuine and truthful?  Which one causes you to stop and think about the significance of the number?

Which one makes you think they really counted?  Exactly.  

In your sales and marketing copy — be specific.  Brian Clark at Copyblogger wrote about this topic and said "Non-specific copy is a red flag that signals puffery and a lack of substance, and yet it’s all too common."  Amen!

Go back and review your website, brochure, sales collateral and other marketing materials. If you aren't being specific — it's time for a re-write or an honest conversation about why you can't/won't.


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Marketing tip #26: Be brave enough not to tell the whole story

September 13, 2010

When you are creating content — be it marketing copy for a brochure, an e-book, a radio script or even leaving a sales call voicemail — you need to know when to shut up.  We're so eager to tell the customers/prospects all about our widget, service or knowledge — we try to cram it all into one message.

Which is satisfying to us, but miserable for the audience.  Like a firehose — we've flooded them with facts, features and benefits.  And in the end, they can't remember any of it.

Next time — be brave.  Tell them the most important thing.  And then, shut up.  Too many words clog the brain and never allow you to connect with their heart.  And that's where the buying decision happens.  In their heart.

Nissan's new TV spot for their LEAF vehicle gets it.  Watch this spot and then identify the single most important fact about this car.  I will bet you a dozen donuts — you won't forget it. (e-mail subscribers, click here to view.)


Would someone react the same way (emotionally charged AND remembering the key point) if they looked at whatever you wrote last?

If not…how could you turn that around?


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Copywriting tip #91: Can you say it a different way?

June 28, 2010

One of the maxims of marketing is repetition.  Maybe that's why most ad copy sounds the same.  Everyone seems to take the same spin on the product or service…and end up sounding a bit "me too" when all is said and done.

Take the idea of encouraging seat belt usage.  For years we've seen the test dummies slammed into dashboards and front windows.  We've had traffic fatality statistics scroll by and we've been shown mournful family members express their loss.

Nothing wrong with any of it…it's just been done to death.  Which is why this commercial is so powerful.  Watch it and then I'll tell you the back story.  (e-mail subscribers…click here to view)

Pretty impactful — wasn't it?  An independent director in the UK, Daniel Cox, got the idea for this spot and went to the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership and proposed his idea.  They let him shoot the spot and because of its completely different approach — it has become a worldwide sensation…and very effective in delivering the seat belt message.

Not only has the YouTube video been viewed over 9 million times, but the spot has always garnered significant news coverage, including this story on CNN.

So…. how do we create the same impactful, fresh kind of copy writing/concepting?  We ask different questions and we view the "problem" from different points of view.

Try some of these on for size:

  1. Put the message in the middle of the "table" and walk around it.  Identify different people who would have a perspective on it.  What might they say?  (Listen carefully to their choice of words)
  2. What would the problem (product, service) say if it could talk?
  3. If you had to play charades…how would you act out the problem (product/service)

Being creative and fresh isn't a fluke.  It's hard work.  Perhaps because it's so difficult — it's rare.  Which is why we are so enamored when it happens!

Share the Embrace Life spot with those you love… what better way to ask them to buckle up?

Hat tip to my Dad for sharing the spot with me!

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My language is just grating!

January 15, 2010

Shutterstock_42751294 I've noticed something that's been quite prevalent in my writing of late.  The word "great."  Apparently I think just about everything is great. 

Lazy is what that's all about.

Lazy writing is boring writing.  It's not juicy.  My words aren't caressing a darn thing. Lazy is not memorable, quotable or even mildly noteworthy.  No matter what the subject  — word choice matters.


First, I apologize that I've been serving up lazy word choices.  You deserve better.

Second, 2010 is going to be the year of juicy language.  Now I am not going over the deep end.  Every sentence is not going to be jam packed with gooey adjectives just because I know how to mine a thesaurus.  But, I am going to be much more attentive to making conscious word choices.

And third…on the hunch that your writing might have a dash of lazy in it as well, here's a writing exercise for all of us.  Come on…it's time to do a bit of stretching.

Flip through a magazine and find a photo that catches your eye.  Once you've selected your photo, simply look at it and do the following three exercises.

The warm up:  List 25 adjectives that describe the photo.  Don't censor or judge.  The obvious ones will pour out first but notice how you have to push to get to 25.  Is the 24th one better than the 2nd one?

The workout:  Create a business analogy from the photo.  What might it say about anything from your industry to leadership to social media?  The point is to see beyond the obvious and see a hidden meaning inside the image you selected.

The cool down:  What is the perfect word that captures either the meaning or the mood of the photo.  A single word.  No cheating.

Whether you are a copywriter day in and day out, a business owner who crafts an occasional flier or an exec who writes 10 e-mails and memos a day…your audience deserves your best words.  Get out there and and be great! (Just kidding….)

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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Turn your sales letters into workhorses!

November 12, 2009

Proposal_cover Neil Sawers, a 25+ year corporate writing veteran can show you how.  In his new book, How to Write Proposals, Sales Letters and Reports, he spells it out in easy to understand, follow and learn examples and guidelines.

But don't take my word for it.  Listen to what the Midwest Book Review (one of the most respected reviewers out there) had to say:

"Examples, recommendations of common tools to organize one’s thoughts, and a sprinkling of solid business advice fill out this superb, easy-to-use guidebook recommended for business writers of all skill and experience levels."

If you buy the book by end of the day on Saturday the 14th, you'll only pay $10.37 AND you will get a bunch of bonus gifts.  (click here to read about the special promotion and buy your copy!)

But wait….I have five copies to give away.  I will draw for the winners Friday morning, so you'll still have plenty of time to buy a copy if you're not a winner.

To be eligible for the drawing, just leave a comment on this post!

Go forth and write well!

Update:  The five winners are:  Copywriting Maven, Director Tom, Larson Bennett, Kathleen the savvy VA and Erica! 

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Hype is so 1990s

September 8, 2009

Shutterstock_36443764 One of the marketing trends that has been emerging for the past several years is the idea of authenticity.  Consumers want to have real conversations, not be “sold” by over zealous ad copy. 

The over the top style of copy triggers today’s consumers to be on guard.  They feel manipulated, which, as you might imagine, does not lead to a spending frenzy. Need to check the hype level of your marketing pieces?  Watch for these dead giveaways.

Over-promising:  On the extreme side, these are the “I make $10,000 a month and only work 2 hours a day” ads that are prevalent today.  But anytime you take an extreme result and position it as the norm, you are guilt of hype.

Big and BOLD!:  If you’re using lots of all capped words or putting an exclamation point at the end of every other sentence, you might be working TOO HARD at making your point.  You are also guilty of hype.

Two other variations of the Big and BOLD hype are the underlining all the important words, until practically every word is underlined or the colored text techniques.  Both qualify as hype.

Exaggerations and hyperbole:  If I tell you I’m having the most incredible sale ever on this planet you know its hype.  But that doesn’t stop many retailers from having “the biggest sale of the season with prices that cannot be beat!”  Smaller scale, but same kind of hype.

It’s easy to dismiss these tactics as what “those” other businesses do, but if you take the time to look at your own printed pieces, website, and ads you may to be surprised.  Hype has a way of creeping into your marketing materials.  It’s time to clean house and get with the times!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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What we can learn from SPAM

August 18, 2009

Spam Remember when the word SPAM meant that meat substitute in a can?  Today, it seems like there is no escape from the relentless barrage of junk e-mail.  

Every day, electronic hucksters offer us investment opportunities, Nigerian fortunes to be shared, PayPal and bank look-alikes who want us to update our credit card information, Canadian pharmaceuticals and enhancements of every variety.

Annoying?  You bet.  Expensive?  Just ask any of the major corporations who have spent millions to build firewalls.  But let’s remember one thing. The odds are against them and yet they keep at it. The spammers wouldn’t keep sending the e-mails if they didn’t work.

What can we learn from their tactics?

Your headline is vital.  In this case, it’s the subject line of the e-mail.  If it isn’t compelling, you’ll get no further.  Tell them why they can’t afford to stop reading.

Brevity works.  You don’t need to pack every fact into each effort.  One key message per marketing piece should be your rule of thumb.

Frequency is critical.  Sending just one piece is a waste of money and time.  On average, it takes 8-13 impressions to really catch someone’s attention.  So don’t stop short.

Know your audience’s heart.  Headlines like “we won’t say no to your loan request” and “be the man she wants you to be” play on the recipient’s deepest emotions – fear, worry, insecurities.

It’s not about you.  SPAM e-mails never wax on about their company’s history or tout their depth of industry knowledge.  They cut to the chase and talk about their product and what it will do for the recipient.

Naturally, I am not endorsing you start sending out SPAM.  But there’s no reason we can’t borrow from their techniques.  Just remember, use your knowledge for good, not evil!

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Stories stick and sell

April 26, 2009

60049803 Stories are a part of our lives from the time we're babies. 

  • Dad read stories to us at bed time. 
  • Mom tells us the story of the little boy who bumped his head because he didn't put on his seat belt. 
  • Grannie's stories about growing up and getting her first TV set teaches us about innovation.
  • Papa regals us with his tale of how his stage kiss brought down the house in high school connects our generational passion for theater.

Then, we get to school.  In just about every class we are taught via stories.  Whether it's a history lesson wrapped up in the Gold Rush, a humanities study woven into haunting Holocaust stories, or a sociology primer on how people around the globe practice their religion — school is filled with stories.

When we date…what do we do to learn about the other person?  Exactly….we tell stories.  Whether they're sad, funny, heartwarming or ego-boosting — human beings teach and learn via stories.

Recognizing all of that, doesn't it make sense that we would use stories in our marketing?  The truth is…the tactic is already all around us.  Jared is thin, thanks to SubwayeHarmony couples want you to be as happy as they are,and average Joe John Erlendson wants you to know that Lipitor is keeping his heart healthy.

Dandy…you're sold.  You now believe that stories can help you strengthen your brand, sell more and reinforce your customers' buying decision.

Now what?

Creating stories to use in your marketing, especially if you are going to use real customers, is no small task.  Fortunately, there's a book out to help.  Casey Hibbard has written Stories that Sell, which is literally a step-by-step playbook of how to create incredibly powerful marketing tools from customer stories.

In the book, Hibbard covers everything from planning the campaign, to finding the best stories (even stories you didn't know about), getting your customers to say yes to letting you tell their story, and how to create compelling stories that really stick.  There are 9 steps in all and she explains each one in detail so you can't possibly go astray.

This is a very practical and yet inspiring book.  You'll read it and know with confidence that you can hunt down the right stories and create amazing marketing materials from them.

Want even better news?  I have three signed copies to give away. Just leave a comment and we'll randomly select three lucky winners!

In the meantime…how are you using stories today in your marketing?  Or, how would you like to?

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