A confession: I used to hate taglines.
Okay, let me clarify. I didn’t hate taglines themselves. But I’ve long been confused by the fact that tech companies assign mythical power to them.
You see, for many founders, taglines are an object of fixation. And for the longest time, I just couldn’t figure out why.
If enterprise B2B companies are fine-dining restaurants, taglines always struck me as the fancy linens in the dining room. A gorgeous linen might be the detail that makes a great meal unforgettable. (And of course no Michelin restaurant serves on dirty paper napkins.)
But nobody’s going to eat at a restaurant because of the linen – and why focus on napkins when the kitchen is on fire?
Well…I’ve completely changed my tune. Here’s why taglines matter, a lot – and how enterprise B2B SaaS companies can get them right.
What a tagline is
A tagline is a company’s marketing slogan. That’s it, plain and simple.
It doesn’t need to be the website headline. (See Dropbox, whose tagline is “All Yours” – but whose website headline is currently “Join over 700 million registered users who trust Dropbox.“)
But it does tend to crop up across a lot of marketing materials: conference banners, swag, digital ads, sales presentations, and more.
That’s what a tagline is. Now let’s talk about what a tagline isn’t.
What a tagline isn’t
Above all: a tagline isn’t a silver bullet. Just like a killer logo won’t save a company in financial distress, even the world’s best tagline can’t solve all of a company’s problems.
Every CEO knows this. At least on a rational level. But sometimes it’s hard to escape the alluring myth that the Tagline that Will Change Everything.
Not long ago we worked with an enterprise B2B SaaS client that was struggling to find product-market fit. “We’ve got a positioning problem,” the founder and CEO told us. “We don’t know who we are.”
And it was true. They had a fuzzy concept of their target market and were trying to straddle multiple product categories.
So we ran a monthlong process with them to help them distill their ideal customer profile, category, and differentiators. The project demanded a lot of research, diplomacy to navigate tension between internal stakeholders, and real strategic insight. We thought we’d nailed it.
But at the end of it, they looked at me bewildered. “So where’s the tagline?”
This was exactly the type of interaction that left me with deep skepticism about the value of a tagline. Again: the kitchen is on fire, and you’re worried about napkins?
What changed my mind
But working with two companies changed my perspective completely.
- One operates in the very crowded cybersecurity space, in a well-defined category. Its main challenge is standing out from the crowd.
- The other is an AI platform in a still-emerging category. It’s trying to succinctly convey what it does to buyers. (In their case, these are buyers who are more accustomed to buying consulting services than software.)
What became clear to me in both cases is that these companies are asking a lot of their markets. They’re asking to occupy a place in their brains – to change the way they think about the world.
They’re trying to perform inception.
One of the most memorable takeaways from Christopher Nolan’s film Inception is the notion that in order to get an idea to take root in someone else’s mind, you need the simplest version of the idea – an idea stripped down to its absolute basics.
Simplicity is magical. Simplicity is transformational. Simplicity works.
And a good tagline is the epitome of simplicity. It takes all of the complexity and effort and strategic insight that goes into great positioning – and distills it into a form that’s so, so simple.
Simplicity is great when you have to explain what you do to overwhelmed buyers. But it also works for employees. No employee is going to remember your positioning statement. But every employee will remember a crisp, well-written tagline – and use it to guide the day-to-day work they do on product development, customer support, or selling.
How to do it right
There are lots of best practices around writing good taglines – focus on your audience, convey your differentiation, be catchy. There are even free tools that will generate plausible B2B slogans for you. (A particularly cheesy ChatGPT-generated Blue Seedling tagline: “Growing your tech startup from seed to success.”)
But I want to share four less-discussed rules of thumb – lessons I learned the hard way:
- Start out there, then reign it in. If you start with “End-to-end enterprise HR for the modern era” – it’s unlikely that you’re going to end up with something memorable and fun. Start with something provocative, edgy, human. “Feel like a startup again.” “The rush of startup hiring – minus the hangover.” Then you can workshop your way to something ready for primetime.
- Avoid weasel words. Words like “empower,” “unlock,” and “unleash” are all the rage in B2B taglines. For example: ”unlock the power of your products” (Amplitude). Or “unlock your Customer Data Potential” (Lytics). There’s nothing inherently wrong with these words. But a) they’re overused; and b) they tend to result from thinking about technical features rather than benefits. After all, people don’t worry about whether they can “liberate their data in the privacy-first era” (BlueConic) – they worry about how they can do their jobs better. Focus on the actual benefits to your customers (and your customers’ actual emotional responses to using your technology) to cut through the noise.
- Use the grandparent test. B2B technologies are often very complex – especially in highly technical domains. But your tagline shouldn’t be. Again, simplicity works. That’s where the grandparent test comes in. Is it easily understandable to someone with limited familiarity with your company? Some great examples: “In-demand talent on demand” (Upwork), “Where work happens” (Slack).
- Get comfortable with non-consensus. Here’s the cold, hard mathematical truth: there’s basically a 0% chance of writing the perfect, simple, catchy tagline that will also satisfy everyone. And the odds are even lower if you have multiple customer segments or a complex product line. Accept this early on. Good taglines don’t need consensus – and good tagline > bad tagline > no tagline.
The bottom line
Taglines aren’t a silver bullet – far from it. Even the perfect tagline won’t catapult a company to product-market fit.
But taglines are a potent tool for enterprise B2B tech startups to distill their positioning into a crisp, crystal-clear, and memorable message: one that’s equally powerful for winning their markets and rallying their teams for long-term success.