Jul 13, 2009

Tag(line), You're It!

Ah, the tagline -- that memorable phrase that pithily encapsulates the tone and premise of your brand or service.  No short string of words has ever proven more  frustrating to compose, or produced such satisfying results when it hits the right note.  After all, a terrific tagline (like solo David Kaufman's We Do Business Brawls or David Fuller's Lawyer for Tough Times) simultaneously conveys what you do while letting you stand out, while a clunker (We Care Because You Pay Us To) draws groans.  Perhaps the worst, however, is the the litany of utterly non-descriptive, generic taglines ("Committed To Your Success"; "A National Law Firm Creating Solutions") that run common to law firms and don't generate an iota of memorability.

Importance of a Tagline 

Creating the right tagline for your practice is a challenge for several reasons.  First, a good tagline begins with self-knowledge -- what makes your law firm unique and how that uniqueness benefits your clients.  So tagging your firm as "Compassionate, caring attorneys" addresses only one, the "uniqueness" part of the equation (and to be honest, compassion and caring isn't all that unique), but doesn't share how these characteristics will benefit clients.  An improvement on this tagline could be "Compassionate, caring attorneys who fix your credit problems, not criticize you for them."  It's not a great improvement, but the new tagline has some alliteration and more importantly, tells clients who may be ashamed about their financial situation -- that you'll help, not judge them.

The other tough part of a creating a tagline is making it sing -- finding the right rhythm and clever phrasing -- so that it sticks in people's minds.  This task is particularly difficult for lawyers accustomed to writing briefs and memos in thudding prose that lacks the light, bright precision that makes for a great tagline. 

Below are some ideas, from posts around the blogosphere, on ways to create your own unique tag line.

1. Take the tag line seriously.  Set aside some real thinking time to develop a tagline rather than just attempting to toss one out in an offhanded matter. You don't have to devote weeks or months to creating a tagline, but you should allow yourself six to eight hours over the course of a week to come up with some ideas.

2. Don't get caught in perfection-paralysis.  Some lawyers get too bogged down in creating a tagline, trying to anticipate all of the directions that their practice will take so that they can achieve nirvana with a tagline, when nifty would serve just as well.  The point is that taglines aren't set in stone; if your practice takes you down another path -- as it invariably will -- just change your tagline. 

Even major corporations' taglines evolve over time.  Growing up, I associated McDonald's with the tagline, "You deserve a break today," but now I'm accustomed to hearing my daughters' chanting, "I'm loving it" from the backseat as we go through drive-through.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, McDonald's has changed its slogan 23 times over the past 45 years.

3. Don't outsource your tagline to "professionals".  Over at Legal Practice Pro, Jay Fleischman cautions against outsourcing your marketing vision  to professionals, advice that applies with equal force to taglines.  A marketing professional may devise a tagline which sounds terrific but that doesn't accurately convey the essence of your practice, in which case, it simply won't feel genuine.  Or worse, a professional can create a tagline that you're uncomfortable with or embarrassed to use.  As Fleischman says, a marketing pro can help you implement a marketing vision, but you have to do the legwork in figuring out what kind of image you want your tagline to communicate.

4. Take a lead from non-lawyer tag lines.  Most law firms have embarrassingly awful or just exceedingly bland taglines.  Not great precedent to follow.  By contrast, you can likely think of dozens of neat corporate slogans and taglines as inspiration.  Here's a link to a Business Week article from a few years back that surveyed top branding and advertising professionals in search of the top ten tag lines since 1948.  The winners included Got Milk? (#1), followed by American Express' Don't leave home without it and Nike's Just do it

5. Study the characteristics of a great tag line.  Before sitting down to create your firm's tagline, familiarize yourself with the characteristics and linguistic structure of a well-constructed tagline.  This post from the site Named At Last sets out a rating system for evaluating a tagline.  Factors include distinctiveness of the tag line, richness in meaning, rhythm, and resonance in target markets.  There are also certain rhythms and patterns common to most great tag lines, such as rhyming (Skills to pay the bills), doubles (News for nerds. Stuff that matters.), alliteration, or repeated emphasis (Friends don't let friends drive drunk).

6. Check out the competition. While you shouldn't try to copy the competition with a tagline or stake out a negative position (We're NOT compassionate and caring lawyers), taking a look at other lawyers' taglines might give you some ideas -- and will also let you know whether your preferred approach is already taken. In addition, as Business Week points out, sometimes, you may be entering a saturated market where many of a product's attributes are already summarized by existing taglines.  For example, when Tom's Toothpaste came on the market, most toothpaste taglines touted their cavity-fighting, clean, whitening brightening powers, leaving Tom's to place more emphasis on its products' environmentally safe characteristics. 

7. Step-by-step guide to developing a tag line. Once you've taken these preliminary steps, it's time to get busy crafting your tag line.  Generally, the first step is to brainstorm -- just jotting down single words that describe your firm or your mission, then playing around with different combinations of words and phrases until you hit the right formula.  This post from Chillibreeze gives a great step-by-step summary of how the company arrived at its tagline, Indian Talent, Global Content

Another site, Thresholds Workshops, describes a Six-Sentence Exercise, in which participants write six sentences:  three true sentences about the company and three sentences about themselves and their job descriptions which are untrue, but written as if true.  (One participant wrote, "My desk has wings and I fly all over the world looking for financing".)  Afterward, the participants compared their sentences to identify word combinations that don't usually go together and came up with the tagline We bring imagination to light.

8. Seek feedback from others. It's especially important for a solo who's developed a tagline independently to seek feedback from others.  Your tagline may seem terrific to you, but its meaning may elude others or worse, it could inadvertently offend.  So share the tagline with  others -- a spouse, non-legal buddies, and lawyer colleagues -- to see if the tag line that you're so proud of works for them.

Final Thoughts

So now, it's tag - you're it.  Use these steps to develop a tag line that makes you the "it" lawyer.