It’s tough to come up with a good tag line. Unlike a logo, your brand isn’t lacking something if you don’t have one. This makes it a gamble—if you have a bad tag line, it’s worse than not having one at all. But if you have a good one, it can work wonders for you, especially if your company name is not in itself memorable or descriptive of what you do.

Bad tag lines

I’ve noticed a few awful company slogans around Des Moines lately, and now I’m going to pick them apart. The first two are local companies which will remain unidentified. (If one of these is you, please give us a call!) The third is an international company with thick enough skin to withstand our BB gun of mild criticism. So, without further delay:

“So You Don’t Have To.” The problem is that this tag line is true of literally every business. The most basic definition of a business is that it exists to make money, and it makes money by doing something for you “so you don’t have to”, and as a result, you pay them. Sometimes it’s cutting fruit, sometimes it’s building a bridge, but either way, you have cash and someone else has the time and materials and expertise. If a business isn’t doing something so others don’t have to, no one will pay them any money.

“We Do What We Do and Do It Well.” This is a business variant of “it is what it is”: five words that tell me, the potential customer, nothing at all about what you actually do. Your value proposition to me, your case for how you’re different and why you deserve my business, is that you do what you do. Can any of your competitors match that?

“People and Products You Can Count On.” This tag line is actually a perfect fit for a company with the name “Systems and Services Company.” It’s bland, safe and, like the other tag lines, it applies to any respectable organization. All companies have people, and all companies have products or services, and all companies aspire to be dependable.

You’ll still see this tag line on the side of many of the Sysco trucks around town, but they actually changed it when they updated their brand in 2008. Their current slogan is “Good Things Come From Sysco.” Less bland, but it still prompts the question: What company wouldn’t want you to associate them with good things? So far, between two tag lines and a name, this company has provided no indication of what they do. The total amount of information we have is, “Good things come from the systems and services company whose people and products you can count on.” Good systems, good services—what more could you want? Sign me up. What are you going to do for me again?

…But not from us

It’s easy to call out the worst offenders and pick on them, which the main reason I did that here: it makes for entertaining reading. But it also illustrates a point about how we approach the services you pay us for, such as naming your company (which may also include tag line development).

I could write a whole other article, and might some day, about bland company names, but if you come to us looking for a name for your company, on my honor I can tell you we won’t come back to you with suggestions that contain words like services or advanced or that are just the owner’s initials. In the same way, if you trust us with the new tag line for your company, it’s going to make you stand out, not camouflage you. And it’s not going to leave potential customers scratching their head wondering what exactly it is you do.

Now, a good one

Contrast these with another slogan I saw recently for a cleaning and restoration company called ServPro. The side of their van parked in my neighbor’s driveway said: “Like it never even happened.” ServPro has the misfortune of a generic and forgettable company name, but the tag line makes up for it.

Here’s what’s good about it—the message is about what I need, not how great they are. It captures both how I feel right now and what I’ll feel like when they’re done. Right now I’m overwhelmed by my flooded basement or some other home disaster, and the one thing I want more than anything is for this never to have happened. This tag line goes beyond simply telling you that “we clean and restore better than anyone else and you’re guaranteed to be satisfied with the result.” That’s easy. Their competitors all say the same thing. Instead, they promise undoing—a real-life Ctrl+Z. That’s powerful!