Think different.
Just do it.
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Talk about an economy of language. With just seven words I can bring to mind three entirely different brands representing hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue. Beyond that, though, these seven words evoke three entirely separate narratives, each a fully realized story of the benefits and differentiators of the products they’re attached to. That’s the power of taglines. And while not every tagline can pack quite so efficient a wallop as these, it’s amazing what just a handful of words can accomplish.

What makes these taglines so effective? Well, multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns don’t hurt. But beyond the bells and whistles and media buys, there are a few reasons why all of these taglines worked. Every great tagline has the same three qualities:

  1. It’s sticky. Something about the tagline is particularly memorable and stays with the customer after he or she experiences it.
  2. It conveys value. Either directly or subtextually, the tagline connotes a key benefit offered by the brand or product.
  3. It differentiates. The tagline evokes the way in which the product or brand defines itself against its competitors.

While a little creative inspiration and unconventional thinking go a long way, the generation of a quality tagline is not magic. And, as with most creative endeavors, the better prepared you are going into the process the easier it becomes. Following this simple, five-step formula will put you in the best position to craft a tagline not soon to be forgotten.

Step 1: Learn

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The discovery phase has an internal and external brand research component. For your internal discovery, you want to collect and review all assets relevant to the brand or product. At the highest level, you should be crystal clear on the brand or product’s positioning. It’s also useful to compile a list of all the key value propositions and differentiators associated with that positioning. For the external discovery, make a list of similar brands or products. Review the taglines of each to get a sense of the market landscape and identify opportunities for differentiation.

Step 2: Define

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As with the naming process, establishing consensus around the qualifications, goals, and objectives of your tagline will make the selection process immeasurably easier. Sure, every tagline should be sticky, convey value, and differentiate, but what does that mean for this particular tagline? Is there a distinct benefit that the tagline must explicitly convey? Is there a voice or tone the tagline needs to advance? Are there word or character limits for the tagline? Getting all stakeholders to agree on a list of criteria that a successful tagline should meet will give you an objective metric by which to judge the relative success of your shortlist contenders.

Step 3: Brainstorm

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If there is magic in the process, this is where it happens. But, as with luck, magic tends to shine on those who are prepared. In brainstorming ideas for your tagline, you should have handy the list of key value propositions and differentiators from Step 1. You also want to use your criteria from Step 2 as a source of inspiration, but you shouldn’t feel restricted by it. If you feel like the need to meet the criteria is hampering the creative process, take it off the whiteboard.

The most important thing to do when brainstorming tagline ideas is to embody the brand voice of the product or company in question. This is done by being intimately familiar with the messaging and positioning you collected in Step 1. Review the material in depth and repeatedly, until the brand personality becomes a natural extension of your writing. That’s the groove you’re trying to hit. From there it’s just a matter of having fun with ideas. Rhyme, alliteration, repetition, reversal, and double-entendre are each literary devices that have been shown to be effective in the creation of memorable taglines. But plenty of world-class taglines don’t draw on any of these tricks. Think about some of the taglines that have stuck with you over the years and use those as inspiration. Generate a long list of potential candidates and move on to Step 4.

Step 4: Refine

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The refinement phase is where the criteria you defined in Step 2 come into play. Working through your long list of taglines from Step 3, determine which taglines meet the criteria, which do not, and which need a little help. The goal is to whittle your list down to a shortlist of three to five candidates. The more editorial eyes involved in this step, the better. Commission the help of colleagues, peers, and officemates from other departments. It’s always useful to get as many objective, third-party opinions as possible in making your decision. Once you have some consensus around the top candidates, take the time to work on the grammar, style, and cadence of each. Only after you’ve got a shortlist of candidates that have each been polished to their optimal state is it time to move to testing.

Step 5: Test

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Similar to the naming process, testing taglines is the process of vetting each of the candidates on your shortlist against various performance metrics. By giving each of your tagline candidates a quantitative score in a range of different categories, you can see how they stack up against each other quantitatively. We look at factors like appearance, distinctiveness, depth, positioning, sound, and more. The comparative analysis can help you weigh the relative strengths of each of your shortlist candidates.

Also important is testing for trademark availability. Taglines are one of those things that can always be the target of legal challenges. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a useful online search system that allows you see if a tagline is already trademarked. Taglines should be reviewed and approved by intellectual property attorneys before they are launched.

Conclusion

So, what makes an unforgettable tagline? Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof recipe or definitive litmus test. Shorter isn’t necessarily better—some of the industry’s top minds would argue it’s actually the opposite. The ultimate measure of an unforgettable tagline is its performance in the marketplace. Taglines that effortlessly invest their brand or product with profound value are priceless. But they’re hard to come by. To put a spin on one of the most powerful and successful taglines of all time, there are some things in the world money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s a tagline.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has more than a decade of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Huffington Post, and Brand Quarterly.