Houston, we have a problem
This is the story of a problem Craggy Peak had. For many businesses, the name of the company gives customers a good idea of what they do. Down the road a little from where I sit right now is Ace Hardware. Pretty sure I could get a hammer or a paint brush there. If I go in the other direction, I get to Discount Tire. I wonder what they sell? Go a little farther and I come to Whole Foods. Again, the name tells me a lot. So, we're Craggy Peak Research. What do prospective clients get from our name? Pretty much nothing.
I don't want to be too hard on myself here. When I first came up with that name, I was a budding entrepeneur with lots of enthusiasm but not much practical know-how. And it's not really true that the name tells you nothing. It was important to me that the name convey a sense of place, because where the business is located is a big part of who we are as a company. "Craggy Peak" is a reference to the jagged mountains of the North Cascades, which serve as a giant backyard for our home town of Bellingham, Washington. Also, climbing a mountain is often used as a metaphor for achieving success, in business and elsewhere. But overall, it mostly just leaves people scratching their heads.
On the face of it, it seems like I might have done a little better with "Research" - after all, that's the central thing the company does. But it turns out research means different things to different people, and many of those things are far removed from what Craggy Peak does. For example, some people think of medical research, like developing vaccines and finding cures for cancer. That's great work, but how is it going to help a bike shop attract more customers? If people do think of a more business-oriented sense of the word, they're likely to land on research and development. That's cool work, but gets people thinking about coming up with new and improved products, which isn't what we do.
It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a tagline!
Enter taglines. A tagline can serve a lot of functions. Sometimes it's about differentiation. For example, the sandwich chain Jimmy John's is "freaky fast." LG uses "life's good," which is presumably how you will feel after buying their products. But it can also focus on spelling out a value proposition. Home Depot uses "You can do it. We can help." This much more clearly communicates what the company does than the name alone.
So what we needed was a tagline that could be paired with our name to give potential clients a better sense of what we do. How hard could that be? (for those of you who have gone through this process yourself: we'll wait until you stop rolling on the floor laughing to continue)
We did some reading at first on what other people have said about taglines to give us some direction. Then, because we are a research company, we started doing our own original research. We generated possibilities for taglines - many, many possibilities. Next, we put them in front of consumers and got feedback on what they did and didn't like. Then we generated a revised set of taglines, and went through the process again.
After doing this 1,000,000 times, we felt like we were starting to converge on a good tagline for Craggy Peak. Oh, I'm being told it was actually only 4 rounds of consumer feedback. Well, it felt like forever. One thing about asking people's opinions is that they often disagree with each other - a tagline that one person loved, another person hated. Trying to find the magical sequence of words that worked for everybody - or at least almost everybody - was exhausting. But by the end of it, not only did we have a tagline that seemed to work pretty well, we also had learned a ton about how consumers look at taglines in general. It seems selfish to keep all that hard-won know-how just to ourselves, so we thought we'd share it here. Not surprisingly, our recommendations overlap with what many other people say. But unlike most lists out there, ours are based on actual data from research with consumers. So we think ours is better!
What we did
The recommendations we give here are based on three separate surveys, where we tried out a total of 7 different taglines, and got opinions from 125 different respondents. In each survey, we asked which option they thought was best and which was worst, and why they made those choices. Three different members of our team went through all the responses separately, and grouped together responses that seemed to be talking about the same thing - a process called coding (not to be confused with writing code!). Then I merged all our different codes together and got them down to a manageable number using a technique called an affinity diagram.
Anatomy of the perfect tagline
A good tagline...
- Is concise.
- Nuff said.
- Is informative.
- Consumers prefer taglines that provide useful information about the business.
- Is catchy.
- Your tagline is no good if people don't remember it.
- Builds trust.
- This is about positioning your business as professional and credible - the expert in your line of work.
- Is personable.
- You want to be perceived as an expert, but not as an arrogant know-it-all. In the end, it's about the customer, not about you.
What respondents didn't like...
- Being generic.
- Plain vanilla is safe but boring. Consumers said this is both not memorable and boring (implying that the company is boring as well).
- Being clunky.
- Your tagline shouldn't sound awkward or be hard to say.
- Being confusing.
- Okay, I read your tagline. Now, what does it mean?
- Using jargon.
- Consumers really didn't like jargon and buzz words. They wanted substance, not flash.
- Being unprofessional.
- There's a fine line between being personable and catchy and just not sounding professional anymore. The example I always think of is the much used and abused butcher shop slogan, "You can't beat our meat!" If it would make a bunch of middle schoolers giggle, it's probably not a good idea.