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How to Decide if You Need a Tagline

Sara Tetreault

Brand Strategy Director, Forum One

Choosing to use a tagline can be challenging. To guide you, consider three key questions to determine whether your organization needs one or not.

Just today, you’ve probably already encountered at least one tagline—they’re everywhere. It’d be near impossible to browse the web, listen to a podcast, or watch TV without coming across a two to seven word tagline. When you’re out in the physical world, taglines are almost always in plain sight underneath company names, at the end of print ads, and on billboards. They’re even included in our LinkedIn profiles! 

As digital communicators, we seem to be programmed to sum up ourselves and our mission-driven organizations in two to seven words so that the world gets a better understanding of who we are and why we matter. That being said, not all organizations necessarily need one. But before we get into that, let’s first step back and consider: what’s the purpose of a tagline anyway?

The purpose of a tagline

A tagline can help explain what an organization does, especially if that organization has a particularly abstract name (e.g., think of the big tech companies before they were well-known such as Amazon, Google, or Uber). It can also help an organization communicate its promise, differentiators, and value. In the mission-driven organizational world, names that have very similar ideas can benefit from an extra hook. Taglines can also be a rallying call or little pep talks for internal or external audiences, reminding staff and brand champions why the organization is special.

However, remember that no one part of your branding should do the job of the entire brand system. A good nonprofit or public sector brand doesn’t put a lot of pressure and responsibility on one element of the brand, such as your tagline. You may have seen some organizations try to describe everything about their brand in one tagline, and the tagline becomes too long, too broad, or too limiting. Either way, when a tagline is too long or too limiting, it can overwhelm or confuse your audiences instead of telling them more about what you do. 

But how do you decide if your mission-driven organization is in need of one? Here are some questions to consider when deciding if your organization needs a tagline or not.

1. Does your name describe what you do?

Think about your tagline in context of everything else people know about your organization,  particularly your name. If you have a descriptive name that tells people what you do without needing extra information, you might not need a tagline. If you are the “Pacific Whale Conservancy,” people can tell what you do without having to read any further. Consider what value a tagline would add if you believe you truly need one. However, if your organization’s name is abstract or not specific enough to explain what you do, you might benefit from having a tagline to describe what your company does. 

2. Do you already have a tagline?

If you are in the process of rebranding and already have a tagline, think carefully about how well that tagline has been working for your organization’s brand. Just because you are rebranding doesn’t mean that you need to change your tagline or keep it at all. Perhaps your current tagline has helped gain brand awareness and it is no longer needed. Maybe you have significant stakeholder investment in your current tagline and it would be worth keeping. No matter the case, you have the opportunity to reassess how your current tagline serves you and determine if it is worth keeping, replacing, or dispensing with altogether.

On the other hand, you may not have a tagline and this could be an opportunity to assess if that has hurt or helped your brand awareness with key stakeholders. If you don’t have a tagline and are significantly changing your organization’s approach to your work, this may also be an opportunity to help make that transition more smoothly.

3. How important is “action” to your mission?

A common way for organizations to use taglines is as a call-to-action (CTA) or to remind internal stakeholders what makes the organization great. If your organization includes action—whether that is advocacy, program work, or something else—you may consider how your tagline can be a key part of that part of your brand. This is particularly true if your organization’s name is too vague to tell the story of the great work you do or the rallying call you are communicating to audiences. 

The utility of a tagline within your brand

If you’re still not sure if you need a tagline, consider the utility of a tagline for your organization’s brand. If it helps you attract new audiences and achieve a greater understanding of why your work is important, then leverage it. But if you’re doing it because you were told you needed one, think about what the other parts of your brand–such as your logo, messaging, and brand framework—could do to help you be more impactful.

Written By

Sara Tetreault

Brand Strategy Director, Forum One

Exploring a new tagline? Let’s talk!

Forum One’s branding team works with some of the world’s largest mission-driven brands to craft messaging that inspires people to take action. Get in touch today; we’d love to strengthen your organization’s brand promise.