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June 2005 Contents

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How to Create a Winning Tagline

by Ilise Benun

Ilise Benun, author of "Self Promotion Online" and "Designing Websites For Every Audience," is the founder of Marketing Mentor, a 6-month one-on-one coaching program through which the self-employed learn how to promote their talents and services. Sign up for her free e-mail tips at

The name of your company or consulting practice can offer prospects a clue into the work you do, which is especially necessary if it’s not readily understood, but if it bears your name, you’d better have a tagline to do the explaining.

A tagline is a sentence or phrase -- memorable and easy to understand -- that conveys the essence of your business in a nutshell. An effective tagline will ideally answer three questions:

  1. What solution do you provide? (X)
  2. How (using what tactics)? (Y)
  3. To whom? (Z)

Of course, fitting the answers to those three questions into a single brief statement is not always possible. Many authors and professional speakers use the “How to X with Y using Z” formula to create book and speech titles that sell. After all, the prospect is looking for X – the solution – so why not start the tagline with the solution?

The more specific your tagline can be the better. Many consultants make the mistake of thinking that they’ll be casting a wider net if they keep it vague. They think “Providing marketing consulting for businesses of all sizes” is a good tagline. What they fail to realize is that no business is “of all sizes” and a business person knows whether he or she is running a small business, a medium-sized business, a venture-funded business, a publicly traded business, or whatever. They will be more comfortable with a consultant that specializes in serving businesses of their size.

The same is true for industry specialization. A retailer will prefer to work with a consultant that specializes in retailers. A multi-channel retailer will prefer to work with a consultant that specializes in that small niche.

Therefore, using a general tagline is a waste of your time, because you will attract many leads that are not appropriate for you and you will have to spend time weeding them out. It’s a common mistake to think that more leads are better, but chasing poor leads is very expensive, particularly as a consultant, when converting leads into sales often takes an investment of many (unpaid) hours meeting and creating customized proposals. Helping appropriate prospects find you and inappropriate prospects avoid you is part of the job of your tagline.

Your tagline should be flexible enough to change depending on whom you’re talking to. If, for example, you’re talking to a software company and you consider that industry one of your specialties, then by all means, make sure that’s the “who you do it for” when they see or hear your tagline.

Many consultants get caught up with explaining how they do what they do when clients are looking for the return on investment, the end result or the benefit to them – lower customer acquisition costs, richer customer understanding, more sales closed.

How to Create a Winning Tagline

  1. DO collect other people's taglines and examine what works and what doesn’t work. Then apply what you notice about what works to your own tagline.
  2. DO devise a tagline that is unique to what you do and your way of doing it.
  3. DON’T use flip, hip, or esoteric taglines. They are often confusing, will eventually sound dated, and are rarely understandable to an international audience. For example, an Internet company uses the tagline, “Your clear path in the technology cloud.” It sounds interesting, but I still have no idea what they do, do you? (The company name doesn’t shed much light either.)
  4. DON’T make your tagline too general, in the hopes of not alienating any prospects. Does anyone walk into a clothing store and head for the “One size fits all” rack? Be a “size,” say clearly what that “size” is, and make it easy for that “size” to find you. “Size” is, of course, your target audience, either by size, by industry, or both.
  5. DO ask strangers (and acquaintances) if they understand your business after seeing and hearing your tagline (and don’t argue with them when they don’t).
  6. DO use the specific audience in the tagline if possible. So, for example, when I’m talking to consultants, my tagline is “Teaching the art of marketing and self promotion to consultants.”
  7. DO keep it short. Sometimes you won’t be able to fit everything into the tagline. Keep rephrasing and distilling until you have the pithiest tagline that still answers the questions: What do you do? How do you do it and for whom?
  8. DO turn the phrase around to find a mellifluous way to say it. If you can’t say it without skipping a step in a normal telephone conversation, then rephrase it.

Once you’ve come up with a good one, read your tagline out loud several times. Can you say it in conversation without being self conscious? If not, find the words you’re getting hung up on and try substituting those out.
Then, test your tagline with your friends who are not in your industry. Do they get what you do? If not, ask them which part is confusing and try to incorporate their thoughts to clarify.

And lastly, let your tagline change and evolve as you build your business, as it is sure to do. You can always print more business cards.

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