How To Write A Slogan That Customers Will Spread For You

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The ultimate sign of a successful slogan is having your target audience recite it impromptu.But getting there is a lot harder than it sounds.

To get some advice, we spoke with Dean Jarrett and Trent Patterson, both executives at The Martin Agency, one of the largest advertising agencies in the country whose clients range from Geico to ESPN. Below is a slightly edited version of our conversation: 

Where should a company start off when coming up with a slogan?

TP: I would start by saying truths. What is something true about what you do and how you do it? Try and find your story and encapsulate it in a quick little saying.

How do you find that story?

TP: That’s the hard part, condensing, because a lot of companies could probably go on and on and what’s interesting is often you’ll find that they can’t tell you quickly what their story is and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges: What’s our purpose, what are we here for, why do we exist, and what value do we provide somebody?

What is the main function of a slogan? 

DJ: When you’re talking about small businesses, they’re probably going to have limited marketing dollars, so it probably is important that they come up with a descriptor of who they are and what they do that’s both memorable and quick and they can use at every brand touch point. They need to make the most of every penny they spend because they probably have limited dollars. 

One of the tag lines I like is ServPro, a company that comes in and cleans when you have fire or water damage in your house. ServPro is not very descriptive of what they do, but the tag line is, “Like it never even happened.” You only have to see one print ad or one T.V. spot to go, “Oh, ServPro, like it never even happened. Get me back to normal.” So when people do it really well, it makes you say, “I know what that means, I know who they are and what they stand for.”

Which tagline or slogan style is most effective?

TP: Geico is definitely an exception; I think it’s a great exception. Because they almost use the mouthful, that’s part of the appeal of it. It’s very informative but the fact that they make you laugh for 25 seconds and then they give you that very hard hitting fact: “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance,” they kind of get away with it.

How do you know if a slogan is effective?

TP: You remember it and unprompted viewers in your target audience will feed it back to you. That’s the ultimate. Like, “Oh you’re the guys from ‘It never even happened.”

Is a customer’s ability to recite a slogan only effective when a slogan has a message? Is this how they know what the business stands for?

DJ: It applies to big brands as much as it applies to small business—our belief that there’s something happening today known as story building—and in the old days, advertising was just sort of a one way street. You say something, your brand says something, and the customer hears it. But with Facebook and Twitter and all the interactive digital media, it’s really just a conversation. 

For a small business, you need to build something that’s memorable and gets customers in the door, but you also have to do it in a way that separates your brand from your competition and builds it over time so that people know what you stand for. A slogan or tag line or campaign line is just one part of that. That’s sort of what I mean when I started with truth. You have to find your story. You have to build your story. And it’s not just a one way street. It’s a two-way conversation.

What would your advice be for a small business that is developing its story?

DJ: I think that each business has got to think about their business, their people, their product and about how their service will stand the test of time. What are the little things that might surprise and delight customers and want them to keep coming back? Because for most businesses, particularly small business, it’s all about a trial. They only want someone to trial once so they can build a customer for life. So they have to do things with a brand’s story that are honest, endearing, surprising and they need to deliver on it repetitively to keep those customers coming back. 

TP: The next part of that is word of mouth. That’s how hopefully, small business gets more business. Beyond just marketing, is good experience with somebody who goes and says, “Oh yeah you gotta try those guys they were great,” so hopefully  your story comes through when they’re telling it to someone else. 

Do you think it’s worth it for small businesses to hire experts to create their slogan for them?

TP: A lot of time what needs to happen is that someone needs to come from outside to say, well here’s how customers think about you and here’s what you can say, and here’s what your story should be that really captures your truth, and customer’s will respond to. Sometimes that’s hard for a company itself to figure out on their own, because they’re too close to it.

Are there any styles of slogans that do not work any more because of social media and new platforms?

TP: I would say the biggest thing is, back to truth, you almost can’t be something you’re not anymore. Maybe you could before, but people call you on it and they almost have as big a voice as you do. So it has to be something that rings true or something you really stand behind. It can’t ring false. 

What is the most challenging part of developing a slogan for a startup?

DJ: The bar is set pretty high. There’s a lot of great brands out there. There’s very few categories that don’t have a fair amount of players in them and there’s so many people out there with so many messages that it’s a little difficult to stand out, stand apart, break through, all those phrases that we use. So it’s tough sometimes for small businesses too – sometimes we talk about the art of ruthless exclusion — where you narrow things down to their bare essentials and you find the one thing, the one phrase, the one piece of branding or marketing that really cuts down to the essence of what your company is all about. And then have the faith and determination to stick with that over time  to make sure you cement your place in the market place.

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