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Taglines strengthen a company’s name

Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Certainly the most effective starting point for any meaningful discussion about the strength of company names is defining what a weak business name is, where it comes from and how to avoid one. To open that discussion, here’s a question I hear quite often, particularly from start-up entrepreneurs: “Can you suggest a clever or catchy name for my new business?”

Right up there with that question are comments such as “My daughter’s (or son’s or pet’s) name is X. I want to include that in the name of my business.” Another frequent mistake made by many new business owners is their insistence on including their initials in their company’s name – PAG Consulting, for example.

The truth is that clever and catchy names rarely attract potential customers to a business. What does get their attention is a name that seems to answer a need they have or that appears to solve a problem they’re facing. As for including a child’s or pet’s name in a business name, potential customers won’t make that connection and most likely couldn’t care less. As for using personal initials, it amounts to little more than an ego trip by the business owner. IBM was known for a very long time as International Business Machines before becoming simply IBM.

So if those options are out – because they’re not effective – what’s left? Selecting a company name that does what it’s supposed to do – that tells potential customers or clients that your company can fulfill a need they have or solve a problem they’re facing – is essential. That’s often easier said than done, which is why the right tagline can be a tremendous help.

What’s a tagline? you ask. Typically it’s a group of from three to five appropriately selected words – though occasionally as many as six or seven – that almost always accompany the name of the business. A tagline serves to explain to potential customers what the business is or does. It helps a company to better target its desired audience. In short, the right tagline has the ability to extend the company name by communicating an end-benefit. Or, put another way, the function of a tagline is to communicate what the company name fails to deliver.\

Some classic examples of truly effective taglines include BMW, the auto maker, with “The Ultimate Driving Machine” as its tagline. While the premise may be debatable, implicit in that tagline is that no other auto maker can surpass BMW vehicles for quality or performance.

The Red Lobster restaurant chain is another fine example with “Sea Food Differently,” a tagline that actually does double duty. Implicit in its TV commercials is that Red Lobster prepares food in ways that are tastier than other restaurants. The chain gets an additional bounce from its tagline because when “Sea Food Differently” is heard as part of the voice-over words spoken during its TV spots those words suggest to consumers that they will “See Food Differently” only at their local Red Lobster.

Columbia, the outdoor clothing maker, is another company with an interesting, dual-purpose tagline, “Trying stuff since 1938.” It’s letting the world know that Columbia has been around for more than 75 years at the same time it positions the company as the innovator in its field.

Not every tagline is used to its best advantage. Take Subaru, the car maker, for example. In every quirky Subaru TV commercial I recall seeing during the past year the key word, the last thought Subaru left me with on-screen is the word “Love,” but not in the sense that someone might love their Subaru, just vague, generic love. Does generic love really sell cars? I can’t find a shred of research to prove that, while common sense seems to indicate otherwise. Though you wouldn’t know it from watching its TV ads – because the words “Confidence in Motion” only show up once in each TV spot – those words may actually be Subaru’s tagline. It’s hard to tell, but their meaning, however, remains rather vague.

• An award-winning marketing professional and Certified Business Communicator, Phil Grisolia is also the author of an enlightening book, “101 Questions You Must Ask Before You Start Your Business,” available from amazon.com. Email PhilsDesk @PhilGrisolia.com.

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