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:).
There is no more important tool for rolling out brand positioning than a great brand story. The best brand stories can create gravity around a brand and also help build a strong brand community. They show the concepts behind the brand positioning in action, making it more than words on a page.
Does your organization have legends or stories that have been told and retold over the years? How the brand got its name? How the founders of your organization first met? The original problem they were trying to solve by developing your product? Perhaps your particular worldview or internal values became very clear at one moment in the organization’s history. Most organizations have internal legends, stories, and fables that are already being told. Your existing stories and legends are powerful because they are illustrations of who you are and why you do what you do. Often, these stories serve as building blocks for a larger brand story.
A brand story is an attempt to articulate the brand positioning by answering the deepest truths about the brand, things such as:
– Who are we?
– Why are we here?
– What do we care about?
– What do we do?
– Why does it matter?
In all likelihood, your brand story is already partway being told in the form of these stories and legends that follow the brand around everywhere it goes. Consider collecting as many of these stories as you can as background research and inspiration. An authentic brand story won’t just be made up on the spot. Great brand stories have a lineage and a heritage that are built over time and with the hard work and perseverance of many people.
In attempting to articulate the brand story, your job will be part historian, part archeologist, and part sculptor, taking the existing building blocks that have been provided to you by those who built the brand and merging them with the new brand positioning you’ve developed. You’ll need to mold these two views together into an overarching brand story that is both authentic to the brand’s past and relevant to the brand’s future at the same time.
It is hard work creating a great story that will get passed on from person to person. You’ll need to recruit the best storytellers you can find to the cause, including your organization’s top writers, designers, and poets (or if you work with an outside firm, bring their best folks in, too).
But based on my experience helping develop brand stories for organizations over the past decade, I can tell you that the effort is worth it. A great brand story will not only help you attract new people to your brand community, it will become a powerful guiding force within your organization as well.
If you’d like to learn more about the brand stories we created during my time at Red Hat, take a look at the following posts:
And here is an example of one of the original Red Hat “legends” that we collected during our time building the brand.
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!
Oh no! An audit? That can’t be good, right?
Actually, if you are a brand manager, a brand audit is an incredibly useful tool (I’m sure the IRS feels the same way about their audits).
What is a brand audit?
There are plenty of people out there who’d be happy to tell you about brand audits (here are a few interesting links). But as you found out in previous brand positioning tips, I’ve learned a lot about brand positioning from Dr. Kevin Keller, author of Strategic Brand Management and professor at Dartmouth (plug: buy the book, great section on brand audits). When we did our most recent brand audit at Red Hat, we used Dr. Keller’s approach.
A brand audit is a deep introspective look at your brand from inside and out. Done the Kevin Keller way, the audit is made up of two pieces: 1) the brand inventory and 2) the brand exploratory.
I think of them this way:
The BBC conducted a great interview with Red Hat Chairman Matthew Szulik while he was attending the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year awards recently (representing the United States as our winner). You can listen to it here.
This interview is a wonderful reminder of the powerful impact of a corporate vision that extends beyond just making money. And a great reminder for me of how lucky I have been to learn about leadership, community, culture, and brand from the 2008 United States Entrepreneur of the Year.
If you are interested in learning more about Matthew Szulik, his vision, and how it evolved, here is a wonderful oral history of his life that was commissioned a few years ago.
Yesterday, Red Hat launched a new series of short films called Red Hat Stories. These films are a key element in our effort to document “the Red Hat way” of doing things. We’ve started with sixteen films covering everything from an overview of what makes Red Hat useful, to our technology leadership, even a set about our perspective on how to liberate innovation. The piece below is a short, sweet distillation of the Red Hat way, and it speaks for itself.
I use the word “film” rather than video on purpose because it better captures the spirit of what we are trying to do with digital media at Red Hat. Films are what you make when you are captuing stories. Videos are what you make when you are selling your stuff. So we aspire to film, certainly with our most strategic work, but sometimes settle for video when the project demands it.
Red Hat’s first attempt at using film as a medium for storytelling was Truth Happens, which we created almost seven years ago. I’ve told that story in an earlier blog post. Since Truth Happens, we’ve expanded our efforts to use film, video, and other digital media tools in many ways.
On a recommendation from Michael Tiemann, I got the book Conversational Capital: How to Create Stuff People Love to Talk About by the folks at Sid Lee, who have done work for brands like Cirque du Soleil, Adidas, and Red Bull.
Michael had sent a note at Red Hat a few months back where he said this book helped him understand the “x-factors” that had allowed Red Hat to create a strong brand position at such a small, young company. Thought I should check it out.
In case you were wondering, that headline above is an example of Relevant Sensory Oddity, one of the topics they cover in the book. I thought I’d try it and see if it works:) I actually am wearing pants. Today.
The main thesis of Conversational Capital is that there is a more powerful way to get consumers engaged with your brand by “making your story part of their story,” creating stories or experiences that are meaningful to them. The authors turn their noses up at “buzz marketing,” equating it to style over substance, with no depth or continuity, all sizzle and no steak.
One day in 2003, Matthew Szulik came to us and said he wanted to create a video to show before his keynote at Linuxworld. Now no one in our group had ever done a video before, but we figured we’d take a shot. My good friend David Burney had just hired a guy right out of college into his design firm (his name was Tim Kiernan, one of the most talented guys I have ever worked with) who specialized in video/film, so we got to work. If I remember correctly, we produced the entire thing from beginning to end in about a month. Originally, we only planned to show the video once, at the keynote.