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Tag Yourself Help your business become 'it' with a great tagline.

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Humor me and take this quiz. What brand is associated with each of these taglines?

"The breakfast of champions"
"Don't leave home without it"
"Just do it"

Did the names Wheaties, American Express and Nike just pop into your mind, along with some thoughts about each brand's image and offerings? If so, you just experienced the value of taglines.

Here's a look at everything you need to know about taglines.

What's a tagline, actually?
Eric Swartz, founder and president of Tagline Guru, defines a tagline through his own trademarked slogan, It's your brand on the line. "Your tagline," he says, "speaks volumes about who you are, what you stand for and the reason why your customer needs you now."

Do you need a tagline?
Some names fully define what a business is and does--"Jiffy Lube" is a great example. Others require explanation, and that's where taglines come to the rescue. For example, if you'd never heard of BMW, "The Ultimate Driving Machine" tells everything you need to know.

Does your name describe the products you offer? Does it define the unique customer benefits you provide? Does it reflect your business personality and promise? If not, consider adopting a tagline.

A tagline success story
When Caroline Merriman, president and CEO of Z to A Leadership, launched her Atlanta-based consulting firm earlier this year, she settled on a strong business strategy, name and brand image. But she didn't consider her business identity complete until she attached to her logo a tagline that she says "fit our brand and defined our business and its personality," which she describes as "a focused, finely oiled machine." Her tagline: Finding the Finish Line First.

"We used sea navigation as an analogy," Merriman says. "Before leaving the dock, you need to know where you're going. Likewise, when businesses face crises or seemingly insurmountable goals, leaders need to define the finish line so they can provide an inspiring vision to follow.

"As a tagline, Finding the Finish Line First describes our philosophy on two levels," she explains. "You'll win the race if you find the finish line before anyone else, and you'll find the finish line if you define it and map out a route before you begin the journey."

10 traits of great taglines
The Z to A Leadership tagline lives up to all of these attributes:

  • Memorable: People can remember and recite it.
  • Short and simple: Many of the best taglines have fewer than 10 syllables.
  • Definitive: Tells what you do, especially if your name doesn't make your purpose clear.
  • Distinctive: Defines customer benefits that set you apart from competitors.
  • Positive : Inspires good feelings.
  • Original : Avoids clich?s or copycat ideas.
  • Specific : Rejects platitudes or lines that sound like the work of corporate committees.
  • Provocative : Makes people think, smile or learn new things about your business.
  • Persuasive : Conveys the "big idea" you want people to know about your business.
  • Believable : Reflects the character, promise and personality customers experience when dealing with your business.

Now that you know what a tagline is and what qualities yours must have to be successful, it's time to get going on development. Follow these steps and you'll be on your way:

Define the market niche your business fills better than any competitor, the customer benefits only your business provides, the personality of your business, and the promise you consistently make to customers.

Brainstorm lines that reflect your business personality and promise while communicating what your business is and does. For inspiration, visit AdSlogans' Advertising Slogan Hall of Fame page.

Get help from a branding or writing specialist to polish the results of your brainstorm into a great tagline that tells who you are, what you do and why the world should care. Swartz says that even if you're on a budget, a pro can help you shape taglines from "mundane to memorable; from bland to brand statements."

Verify that your tagline isn't already in use. Search online and at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Test and retest your tagline. Share it with family, colleagues and friends. See if they understand the line and if they remember it, repeat it and believe it.

Protect your tagline through the formal trademark process. Then add it to your logo and marketing materials, and use it consistently to provide a shorthand definition of what your business is and stands for.

Barbara Findlay Schenck is a small-business strategist, the author of Small Business Marketing for Dummies and the co-author of Branding for Dummies, Selling Your Business for Dummies and Business Plans Kit for Dummies.

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