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Straplines: preaching what we practice?

Lots of tech marketers want a snappy strapline for their brand. Something taut and twinkly to tuck under the logo. We enjoy doing them and have come up with some that we’re proud of…

‘You fire, we aim’ seemed to nicely sum up a service that re-formatted mobile content for different handsets.

‘Think like a user, test like an engineer.’ works well for a client that does end-to-end testing of mobile services. And they shorten it to simply, ‘Think like a user’ in different contexts.

‘Profit on demand.’ has energy and attitude for a client that provides digital proposition management for on-demand services like IPTV.

But we’ve always shied away from having a strapline of our own. It’s partly a cobbler’s children thing — client work tends to trump in-house buffing & shining. But its also a vague feeling that straplines (or ‘taglines’ as some people call them) can be uncomfortably reductive.

Sure the consumer guys need their straplines, but they also go in for jingles and celebrity spokesmodels. Do we B2B marketers need the slick stuff? Can we really boil down entire complex propositions into a few words? What’s a strapline really for anyway?

There are some things a good strapline can do:

  • Indicate the business you’re in
  • Communicate a benefit or two
  • Gently counter a misleading connotation in the company name (I think US Shoe must have confronted this problem when it sold off its footwear division)
  • Add a bit of attitude
  • Help associate your name with an idea
  • Smuggle in a message with the logo (useful for the times when the logo & strap will be on their own, on an event banner or a sponsor list.)

But for many companies, there are things a strapline cannot do. For companies with complex technologies that play an arcane role in a value chain and for companies who are inventing a new category, a strapline probably can’t tell people exactly what you do. In fact, very few companies can say what they do in a few words.

But a good strapline can summarise larger ideas and complex stories once the reader has already heard the story. This is not necessarily a bad thing. A strapline that works retrospectively like this can still be a good strapline (as long as it isn’t too opaque or alienating for those not yet in the know). ‘Profit on demand’ works this way. It won’t tell people the whole story of digital proposition management, but for those who have heard this story, the strap is a good summary. And for others, it still communicates a benefit (profit) and indicates the market that the company operates in (on-demand entertainment).

The narrower the focus of a company, the more it seems to benefit from a snappy strap. Massive multinationals with broad product portfolios always struggle a bit. We were working with BT when “Bringing it all together’ came about (it’s not ours). Considering how many constituencies it has to serve and the sheer variety of offers it has to embrace, I think it’s not bad at all — and mine were no better.

I also happened to be around for the birth of a strapline for AT&T in the US, just after the courts broke it up. They spent a lot of money with several top agencies. Committees were formed. Hordes of copywriters (we need a collective noun here) were rounded up and super-glued to their IBM Selectric Composers (remember them?). Account Supervisors were seen doing that half-run, half-walk thing down the corridor to the Group Director’s office, then seen minutes later moping back to their lairs.

The outcome: ‘AT&T. The right choice.’ I kid you not. And I dare you to find a company in any market that couldn’t slap this lump of white noise under its logo to equal effect (or lack thereof).

Maye that’s the day straplines lost their magic for me. And I still have a nagging feeling that we’re all asking too much of these concentrated little phrases.

Still, we do them for lots of clients. And I like it. Creativity within strict limits is always more fun — I’d rather struggle with a sonnet than a novel. So why not a Velocity strapline?

We got stuck in, generating straps in two broad camps:

Descriptive: Straps that try to tell people what you do. “The shower curtain ring people.”

Evocative: Straps that ooze attitude. “Just Do It.”

Most of our candidates riffed on the speed theme:

Velocity. Pull your finger out. (Yuk.)
Velocity. Get on our bike. (Cute. We hate cute.)
Velocity. Scream if you want to go faster. (Huh?)

In the end (actually closer to the beginning), Roger said, “How about ‘B2B marketing for the Interweb era’.

Descriptive (B2B marketing), but evocative too (‘Interweb’).
Short, but not flippant.

Not sure exactly where or when we’ll use it, but maybe we can live with this one…

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