You've Got a Business Name. Now What?
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Descriptive Tag Line
Not every business needs a tag line. If you chose a descriptive name, you can skip this. But if you picked a less literal name, it’s probably a good idea to have a descriptive tag line that tells people what you do as a transitional piece of language until your name is recognizable.
Here are a few tips and guideposts for how to write this line:
- Think of the descriptive tag line as a book’s subtitle. The title is compelling (The Naming Book), while the subtitle tells you exactly what to expect: 5 Steps to Creating Brand and Product Names That Sell.
- Try to restrict yourself to five words or less. This forced brevity will make you get to the point as quickly as possible.
- Don’t repeat words. Due to the small amount of space you have to work with, don’t reuse anything from your name.
- If you’re stuck, try doing the next two exercises first and then come back to this one. They might give you some ideas.
Try to be as specific as possible without excluding parts of your business. “Commercial Electrical Contractors” wouldn’t be a good tag line if you also do residential or industrial work. Conversely, “General Contracting” is probably too broad if you focus on electrical work. Look at your tag line and ask yourself two questions: Is it too specific? Is it too general? The answer to both should be no.
You may already have an elevator pitch: a quick, 30-second-long summary of what your business does. Work through this exercise anyway—it will help clarify your thinking. A good elevator pitch contains three elements: what you do, how you do it, and why. Let’s unpack these:
- What? What product or service do you offer, in the plainest language possible? Example: Bullhorn is a branding agency.
- How? What do you do differently from everyone else? Is it your process, your proprietary technology? Example: We build confident brands with language and design.
- Why? This is the part that should resonate with your potential customers and future co-workers. You could do anything. Why did you decide to do this? What do you care about? Example: Our purpose is to help mission-driven brands succeed.
From these three pieces, you’ll write your elevator pitch. It could be as simple as stringing these three sentences together, or you can wordsmith them to death. It really doesn’t matter if you ever say it out loud. Going through this exercise will give you clarity about what sort of company you are building.
The third element is your values. How you articulate your values is what makes you unique.
Here’s a three-step process to help you figure out your fundamental values. You’ll think about your values through three different lenses and then assess them as a set.
1. Get five sticky notes and write a word that describes you on each note. Don’t just use any descriptor—choose five things that are especially true in light of this venture. What parts of yourself can you bring to the work? It could be anything: creativity, fun, hard work, rigor, decisiveness, etc.
2. Get five more notes. This time, think about your ideal employee. What are five words you would use to describe them? Are they diligent or silly? Are they world-class or kind? It sometimes helps your language get more precise if you can picture a real person. Who would you love to hire? Who is your current star employee?
3. Again, choose five new sticky notes. This time, ask yourself what language an outsider would use when describing you or your organization. Would they say your company is cutting-edge, service oriented, or both? It would be best if you picture an actual customer. If not, who else knows what you’re doing? What might they say?
Once you’ve finished the three perspectives, put all 15 sticky notes on the wall. The first ones you’re going to remove are the aspirational values. Those are the things you hope will be true someday but aren’t yet true today. There’s space for those values, but it’s not here. Here they would be disingenuous.
Next, we are going to take a cue from business consultant Patrick Lencioni. He often talks about “permission to play” values. These are values that are true of just about anyone running a sustainable business—things like integrity and being truthful. They’re the basic minimum standards for being in business. They’d only count as values for your business if you adhered to them in some extreme, over-the-top way. And in business, “extreme” tends to cost you money. So now get rid of all the “permission to play” values.
Now organize whatever’s left. Start by combining similar concepts into columns—sometimes called affinity mapping. You want to end up with between three and seven columns. Those are your values. Pick the word or phrase that best represents each column. That will leave you with three to seven values.
These remaining values are the core of your language. They’re who you are even if you change the elevator pitch. Your values don’t change unless you hire people who change the company’s culture. You can use these to formulate questions for hiring and to assess employees you have to fire. They can help you choose your office building, your type of sign, or your uniforms.
I suggest you post them publicly. We do this at Bullhorn. Here’s a short version of our values:
- Empathy + Honesty
- Dissatisfaction + Improvement
- Creativity + Decisiveness