Or, How To Write Slogans That Mean Something – or Nothing



            Is there some kind of magic that people impute to slogans? Are they touchstones that, like the powers once imputed to amber,  solve all marketing ills?


            No, they’re just marketing tools which, when used properly, can have some small effect in building and sustaining name recognition and, with more luck than you can imagine, possibly become a symbol that really means something for a firm. When used badly, or irrelevantly, they are little more than blather.


At best, writing a good and useful slogan is an art form.  Writing a slogan that’s artless, not credible, or meaningless, or is used just to be catchy, is simply an embarrassment. It’s empty calories


            What’s a slogan, after all? It’s a statement that purports to  characterize a firm, and to sum up in a few words, how a public may perceive the firm.  But more than that, it projects a capability – a deliverable, if you will -- that’s got unique or distinctive capabilities.  Seen or heard on its own, away from other stimuli, it immediately identifies not just the company, but the company’s product.


            “Good to the last drop” meant Maxwell House Coffee for years.


            “Beyond the bottom line” once meant Deloitte, in the early post-Bates days.


            “Put a tiger in your tank” still means Exxon.


            Can an accounting or law firm do that? Do they have to? Should they? Maybe. And only under carefully controlled circumstances.


            What a slogan – or tag line, as it’s sometimes called by people not in the marketing business – is not is…


        A motto, which is something you believe yourself, and may want others to believe of you. It rarely works, but sometimes does.

        A brand, which is a whole different thing that professional firms, and particularly smaller ones, are rarely able to be.

        A mission statement, which, like a motto, concerns you, and has virtually no credibility with clients or prospective clients, nor value to anyone but a firm’s partners.

        A position, which is a somewhat complex marketing devise, and the best technique for distinguishing your firm from the competitors’, because it stems not from what you want to sell, but from what the prospective clients want or need.

        A projection of what you’d like your prospective clients to think about you, but which doesn’t work because other than the slogan, there’s no foundation to believe there’s a reason to think that way. Lack of credibility in just the few words of a slogan can destroy credibility in everything else you do.


A good working slogan, on the other hand,  is a statement that …


        Briefly and quickly sums up what you do, and implies that why what you do is better and more useful than what your competitors do

        Reeks of credibility. The operative line is, “What you are speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say you are.”

        Is so artfully crafted that it catches the eye and the mind, and is ultimately memorable.


(Unfortunately, it’s this last point that’s too often the only one that non-professional marketers latch on to in crafting a slogan. Then they ignore the first two points, and wonder why it doesn’t work.)


In building a slogan – and slogans are built, not thought up like a parlor game – the first problem is finding ways to distinguish your firm from others, and to do so credibly.  Unless you do something entirely new and out of the ordinary  within your profession (and both ethical and legal), and can prove it in a few words, the best way  to solve that problem is through positioning.  Positioning, it must be understood, springs not from what you want to sell, but from what your clients want to buy – an important distinction. Defining a position for your firm forces you to focus on the most important aspect of your practice that meets the most important needs of your clients.


A position, when well crafted, guides every aspect of your marketing, and succeeds because it focuses what you do on what most concerns your clients. A classic example of positioning is the slogan posted in the war room of President Clinton’s first campaign that guided the success of that effort. It said, simply, “It’s the economy, stupid,” which  meant that every bit of writing, every ad, every speech, had to reflect the national anxiety about  the economy. Every professional firm is capable of crafting just such a position.


A good slogan rarely has a life of its own, springing full blown into the market place with impact. It must be nurtured. If you think you can simply come up with a catchy phrase, put it on a business card or a letterhead, and have it turn your practice around overnight, then you’ve built a castle in the air and moved in.  


To be successful, a slogan, no matter how good it is as a piece of marketing writing, has to have a strong body of explanation behind it. It should sum up the essence of an ad or a brochure, or else it’s meaningless. And again, credibility is important.  The exceptions to this rule are rare, and the context is different. Is, “Put a tiger in your tank” literal and true? Is it credible? Of course not. But it works, because consumers, on some level, understand that there’s not much noticeable difference between one brand of gas and another. The slogan appeals to people who like to think that their gas adds strength and power to their cars – it’s purely emotional, not rational.  You could do the same thing – if you were allowed to say, “We do better audits,” or “We write better briefs”,  but ethically, and realistically, you can’t. It’s a major difference between product and professional services marketing.


Rarely is a slogan effective without a lot of money behind it. A successful slogan means advertising. Brochures. Graphic designs.  A professional marketing program.


How to do it, then?


        Work on your position. Figure out what your clients need or want that you’re particularly adept at supplying. What would a complete outsider find, in a hard look at your firm, that would distinguish you from other who do the same things you do? If you’ve got the help of a really good marketing professional, trust his or her judgment on that.

        Develop your marketing program, based on your position. Your literature. Your advertising. Your graphics.

        Sum it up on a simple statement – one that succinctly says it all. Don’t worry about cute, and don’t worry about that weird concept of image (which implies that if you don’t like the way you’re perceived, you can change the perception by manipulating words or symbols. You can’t. Reality speaks too loudly.) Describe your reality  -- one that you can demonstrate – in a few words.


If you can do that, you’ve got yourself a slogan that may mean something. It doesn’t have to be tricky – just true.


And now, promote the tar out of it. Use it in all your literature, all your printed material, on our web site. Keep flogging it, and keep it always before the eyes of your audience.  And if it’s a true representation of who you really are, it will work for you.


By the way, you may notice the line, at the top of the home page of The Marcus Letter, which reads, “A mind at rest tends to remain at rest. A mind in motion tends to remain in motion.”  That’s not a slogan. That’s a description of what the content of The Marcus Letter is supposed to do – exhort you to keep your mind in motion. It seems to work. Ask our readers.