Importance of a tagline

In a recent article, Adweek proclaimed that taglines are dead. Steven Milunovich, UBS technology analyst and a veteran of Wall Street (I met him around the same time I met Bill Gurley) disagrees and in a note to his clients this morning he defended and outlined the importance of tag lines. It is just such a wonderful essay, that I felt compelled to share bits of wisdom, especially useful for startups and founders who try to stand out in this sea of competition.

A good tagline is concrete and, more important than being catchy, summarizes differentiation. In this time of technology disruption and increasing competition, clear positioning is valuable. Problems occur when the company does not have a focus, the CEO delegates marketing, or the tagline could apply just as easily to other companies.

In the venture capital world, entrepreneurs are urged to condense their company pitch into an elevator speech. In the public company world, taglines or slogans (a memorable phrase as a repetitive expression of an idea) are used to quickly communicate company differentiation.

We think taglines can provide insight into management thinking. Perhaps more important than a tagline influencing customers is whether management is able to succinctly state its differentiation. The importance of slogans is understood in politics, where a campaign must be summarized on a pin or poster. Strong slogans differentiate a candidate and are two-sided—they not only reflect positively on the candidate but negatively on the competition.

In the tech industry, there have been a few home runs. Apple’s “Think Different” campaign caught attention with pictures of famous independent thinkers but more importantly tied back to the company strategy of providing different products (particularly relative to Microsoft). Another hit was “Be Direct,” Dell’s slogan that enjoyed the double entendre of expressing its direct selling model in contrast to the indirect distribution of its PC rivals at the time.

A good tagline doesn’t work for competitors. Unfortunately, most tech taglines are generic and meaningless.

Apple is the Michael Jordan of tech advertising and slogans. Over the years, Apple has had great product taglines, such as “1,000 songs in your pocket” for the iPod and “The Internet in your pocket” for the iPhone. Also effective were the “I’m a Mac, you’re a PC” series with 66 TV spots that promoted PC-to-Mac switching. In recent years Apple has lost some of the magic. Samsung a couple years ago in TV ads humorously got across the point that Apple’s hardware lead had diminished. Apple smartly has returned to an emphasis on customer experience rather than specs, such as its iPhone “Misunderstood” Christmas ad and the iPad “What will your verse be” spot, both showcasing use of the devices. With larger- screen phones and new categories like watches coming, we hope to see some sharp product slogans return.

The complete piece by Steven is a great read. I wish I could share the whole thing, but the relevant bits are here.

A letter from Om

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