Why such a tagline hater? Because to me, most taglines still speak the language of advertising. And, as my business partner David Burney is fond of saying, we no longer trust the language of advertising because our experience tells us it is usually disingenuous.
Is DeBeers right when it says a Diamond is Forever? Could we afford to live in a world where Every Kiss Begins with Kay? Are the champions really still eating Wheaties for breakfast? While these have all been successful taglines over the years that have probably sold a lot of jewelry and cereal, they lack something increasingly important to brands in the 21st century: honesty.
When confronted with a bad tagline, I’m sure you immediately think or say something like “Wow, I wonder how much someone got paid to come up with that?”
Which was exactly my reaction when I was flying on Delta last week and saw a sign with their “Keep Climbing” tagline on it. I couldn’t help but think about the big bucks they probably paid the legendary Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency to develop it. According to Weiden+Kennedy’s case study about the campaign on their website, the tagline “is a declaration of the company’s commitment to making flying better and a celebration of where the brand is and where it is heading.”
So at the same time Delta was telling us how amazing their people were in advertisements like this one:
Delta’s customers were telling us about experiences they were having like this one:
The most successful brands of the 21st century will be the most authentic brands. I’ve talked previously on this blog about my home state of North Carolina’s motto, Esse Quam Videri, which means “To be rather than to seem to be.”
When you watch the two videos above about Delta, do you wonder, as I do, if Delta might have been able to avoid the bad publicity of the soldiers’ story if they had taken the money they spent telling us how great Delta’s people are through advertising and used it instead to empower those employees with training, revised policies, or technology tools that would have actually helped ensure a better experience for customers?
In other words, don’t tell us you are climbing. Climb.
Do I ever like taglines? Absolutely—when they reinforce something I already know and appreciate about a brand. When I see the tagline and immediately recognize what I love about the brand in it, it’s a winner. For example, when Apple started using the tagline Think Different in the late 90s, I believed that the people at Apple actually did think different, and their products helped (and continue to help) me think different as well. The words felt true to the brand I already knew.
But when I see a tagline that is trying to sell me a vision of a brand that I don’t currently see, that is the language of advertising. Telling and selling versus being an authentic representation of the brand.
My own personal experience has been that the best, most authentic taglines are often not developed in marketing departments or by advertising agencies, but instead emerge from the organization’s stories and experiences over time. Sometimes we don’t even see them as taglines until later.
For example, the only thing even close to a tagline we ever used at Red Hat was “Truth Happens.” But it was not developed as a tagline, it was the title of a short film that we were only going to show once—to introduce a keynote by Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik (you can read the story of the Truth Happens film and watch it here). In fact, if the marketing guy had his way, it would have been called “Innovation Happens” (yes, the marketing guy was me).
In retrospect, as a film title or as a tagline, “Innovation Happens” sucks.
We made the right choice to go with Truth Happens as the name, which didn’t just tell the story of a company, it told the story of a movement (the open source movement) that many had predicted didn’t have a chance of succeeding. Lots of folks who saw the film at that original keynote asked about it, and, over the next few years, it became a rallying cry inside and outside the company.
It wasn’t until a few years later that we put it on a t-shirt.
So if your first question when building your brand is “What should our tagline be?” maybe consider taking a different approach. Perhaps instead start by attempting to uncover the deepest truths about your brand.
Begin a conversation with your members of your brand community and let them help you. Maybe eventually that conversation will lead you to a great tagline, maybe it won’t.
But you’ll likely discover things much more important and true to your brand than a tagline along the way, and you may find the conversation itself is its own reward.
If so, you can find more tips about how to position your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).
The best 21st century brands won’t be built on advertising alone. Here’s why:
Ask Delta Airlines.
Or ask BP.
The problem isn’t your marketing. The problem is that, when it comes to your brand, your customers aren’t just listening to you anymore; they are listening to everyone who is talking about your brand.
You know this.
But if so many people are aware that the world has changed, why has the way most organizations allocate their marketing and communications time and money not changed?
My advice? Instead of focusing only on customers and prospects, take a more holistic approach where you engage all of the people who care about your brand: what I refer to as the brand community. (I spend a lot more time sharing ways to do this effectively in The Ad-Free Brand.)
In a world where every person on the planet has the power to change the fate of your brand (whether they spend money with you or not), the brand community has to be seen as more than just customers.
For some more from me on this subject, check this out:
Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!
I spent two days this week at the Coach K Leadership Conference at Duke. It’s always good to get above the trees for a few days, and this experience was exactly that kind of opportunity. Jonathan Opp did a nice summary post on the conference here and you can see the live Twitter stream here.
On Wednesday, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst gave a keynote entitled “Competing as a 21st Century Enterprise Among 20th Century Giants.” Jim comes at this subject from a pretty unique vantage point: he is probably one of the few people in the world who has run both a 20th century company (Delta Airlines, as COO) and a 21st century company (that would be us, Red Hat).
In his presentation, Jim covered some of the things he has learned in moving from the command and control, military-inspired corporate environment of Delta (which is pretty similar to the structure of many of the other great 20th century companies) to the open source-inspired corporate structure here at Red Hat (if you want to learn more about Red Hat and the open source way, here and here and here and here are some posts that will help). In particular, Jim gave five tips that will help your company compete better in the 21st century world– I’ve summarized them below:
Last night, Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst gave a talk to a group made up of mostly students and faculty at the NC State School of Engineering. Nice writeup of it in the student newspaper here. His ideas were very timely for me; just the other day, I wrote a post with some tips for companies with 20th century cultures trying to make the move into the 21st century.
Jim Whitehurst is in a rather unique position because he has managed both an icon of the 20th century corporation (Delta Airlines) and what we’d like to think is a good example of the 21st century corporation here at Red Hat.
Because of his experiences, Jim is able to clearly see and articulate the differences between the old model of corporate culture, based on classic Sloan-esque management principles, and the emerging model, based in many ways on the power of participation broadly (and in our case, the open source way specifically).
One very simple point Jim made that really struck me: Companies with 20th century business models need to realize that they are already hiring 21st century employees.
People coming out of school today have grown up in an age where the ability to participate and share broadly is all they’ve known. These folks have grown up with email accounts, the Internet, Facebook, and all of the other trappings of a connected world.
So when they graduate from school and take jobs working in old-style corporate cultures, where progressive principles like transparency, collaboration, and meritocracy lose out to the old world of control, power, and hierarchy, what happens?