One of the most powerful ways to market your business or organization is to create a short phrase to help it stand out. Whether you’re using a descriptor or a tagline, a few well-chosen words can help shape how people think or feel about you.
Descriptors and taglines serve different–although often overlapping—purposes. A descriptor explains what you do and a tagline helps convey your unique values and attitudes. You can use one, both, or neither. For example, Hellman’s Mayonnaise uses “Real Mayonnaise” as a descriptor and “Bring out the Best”™ tagline as a tagline.
A descriptor is just what it sounds like: a short phrase that describes something about your business. A tagline is usually more abstract: it expresses your purpose or helps you build an emotional connection with customers.
A descriptor helps people understand who you are and what you do. If your business name isn’t self-explanatory, a descriptor can help. A good descriptor should be short (no more than eight words) and use simple, clear language. Descriptors are optional and should only be used if they convey information that your customers need to know.
My client, Ava’s Caramel Popcorn, didn’t need a descriptor, because their name says what it is. And by using her first name on the product, it makes you think that Ava developed this recipe and is back there in the kitchen cooking you up a batch (which is true). So she doesn’t need to tell you it’s “handcrafted” or “artisanal,” because it’s implied.
Coming up with a good descriptor is relatively easy.
- Make a list of the most important things you want people to know about your business or organization.
- Choose the top 1-3.
- State them in as few words (no more than eight) and as simply as possible.
- Look at your phrase. Is there a simpler, catchier way to use those words? For example, rather than trying to write a full sentence, many businesses use a series of single words, separated by periods, commas, or bullet points.
- Rhyming, alliteration, and the order of words can also help you create a good sounding descriptor
Unlike Ava’s Caramel Popcorn, Meadowbrook Orchards desperately needed a descriptor. The name, apple tree, and phrase, “Established 1912,” in the green area of the logo did a good job of telling us that Meadowbrook is an orchard that’s been in business for over a century. But Meadowbrook wanted potential customers to know about everything they offer—it also has a restaurant, a bakery, and a year-round farmstore.
So we asked Meadowbrook’s graphic designer, Cat Stramer of Slate Blue Design, to add the phrase, “Farmstore * Bakery * Restaurant,” to the bottom of the logo, underneath the green area. The revised logo succinctly conveys the range of services that Meadowbrook offers. And the little apples that she used as bullets subtly link the other services back to the orchard.
If your name already conveys what you do, you may not need a descriptor. But you still may want to use a phrase to express the deeper meaning at the core of what you do. A tagline (often referred to as a slogan) is a short, catchy phrase that connects customers with your purpose and values. An effective tagline should evoke a feeling–joy, laughter, inspiration–that you want people to associate with your business.
A tagline should express the essence of your business or organization’s purpose or mission. It should help people understand how your business is different from companies with similar offerings.
Remember, a successful tagline should convey the right emotion and meaning, using a catchy, memorable phrase. The best taglines are five words or fewer.
Coming up with a great tagline is usually a lot harder than writing a descriptor. Big businesses often devote huge resources to creating a tagline, so don’t be discouraged if it takes you a while to come up with a good one. Here are some tips.
- Purpose. Why does your company exist? How does it try to make the world a better, more interesting, or more fun place to be? Why do your customers choose your products/services over a competitor? No need to make it short and catchy at this stage. Just write down what you’d say if somebody asked you these questions.
- Focus. Choose the 2-3 messages or feelings that best capture the value that you provide.
- Mind Map. If a great tagline doesn’t pop into your head, try mind mapping, a process for brainstorming and visually organizing words, phrases, and images around a concept. It can help you find new ways to talk about your brand. MindMeister offers a free mind mapping tool.
- Phrase it from the customer’s point of view. Many of the best taglines are written as though they’re talking directly to their customers. For example: Apple: Think different. Nike: Just do it. Burger King: Have it your way.
- Polish. Once you have a concept, keep editing it to find the simplest and fewest words to convey it.
- Test. Share your tagline with current and potential customers. Does it convey what you want it to? Is it motivating them to want to be associated with you?
Good Egg Marketing worked with Rockin’ Rubs, an Orange County-based spice rub company, to to help them develop a tagline. Rockin’ Rubs already had a descriptor (Spice Rubs), but owner Debra Bonnefin wanted to use a tagline to help her build a strong brand.
Rockin’ Rubs customers love to grill–especially meat–and have a good time, so the feeling we wanted to associate with using the rubs was hipness (attitude) and fun. We ended up with the phrase, “The Spice Rubs That Rock.” It picks up elements from both the company name and the descriptor, but adds a healthy dose of attitude. In other words, if you use these rubs, you–and your dinner–will rock, too.
“The tagline has been great for my business,” Bonnefin says. “People love it. I even hear them say it as they walk by my booth at the farmers market!”
Putting your descriptor or tagline to use
Don’t agonize about whether you need a descriptor, a tagline, or both. Frankly, many small businesses and nonprofits combine the two into one phrase. As a result, their “descript-tag” is somewhat longer and clunkier than a separate descriptor or tagline. If your descript-tag helps people understand what you do, it’ll be good for your business.
Remember, a descriptor or tagline only works when you use it consistently and often. Use it on business cards, websites, social media profiles, signage, product information cards, and search engine tags.
By posting your descriptor or tagline everywhere, you’ll reinforce the messages that you’re trying to convey. So while a few well-chosen words won’t immediately transform your business or nonprofit, over time, they can help you build a loyal following of people who share your passion and values.