Want to write better taglines? Here's how

What is a beer advertising doing on a hotel technology and marketing blog? It is undoubtedly the most efficient and best marketing tagline ever crafted. It has become synonymous with the brand and is so powerful that today they hardly need to advertise the brand, they just state "Probably... the best in the world" and everyone knows what is being spoken of. They've tried to change it and came back to it. In short, it is probably the best tagline ever written.

Working with students, hotels and travel tech companies I've come to realize that taglines are often misunderstood if not totally abused. The tagline is everything - it is the one sentence that explains the entire business, product, hotel, project or whatever else you're trying to promote or sell.

Download the high-resolution chart, "The Path to Better Taglines"

It strikes me how wrong these can get. Some people try to be overly clever, some are too poetic, and most fall into the overused trap of "it will save you time" or "it will save you money.”

Test a tagline by replacing the logo or company name. Does the same tagline still work? It most probably does. In fact you could probably take a totally unrelated company, plug in the same tagline, and it will still work - which is the worst a tagline can get. For example in the final section I mention one of Heineken’s taglines which is “Open your world” if you read that line on it’s own, it doesn’t mean much and it could be applied to anything. Travel, photography, media and somehow it seems to apply to beer. The point is - your tagline should describe your business, very very clearly.

So let's look at how to build a good tagline. And remember, a good tagline is one that describes the entire concept in a single phrase.

1. Research satisfied customers only

The first thing to do is find out what makes your product, company or hotel unique. This will require a brainstorm session of some other thought process. You can of course do a SWOT analysis but keep in mind that it will be influenced by your own opinions, so the value is limited.

Go talk to customers

To find out what is unique, special or different about your product or hotel, the most objective way to do it is go talk to customers. But not just any customer, you need to select only the most satisfied customers. You don't want to know what they think about your product, hotel or company. You want to know what they love about it.

If you have reviews that's great - go read all the best reviews. Pull out your pen and paper and note recurring phrases and topics. Tally up what comes up most frequently and you will have the basic data you'll be using later on.

In the examples below I'm using a hotel and an app that have amazing reviews, but this will work for hotels and products that have mostly negative reviews, too.

Once you have tallied up the reviews with phrases that keep coming up, you need to work out what your angle will be.

2. Working out the angle

Hotels will notice that it comes down to a combination of Location, Comfort and Value. One or two of those three will be where the hotel is considered great.

Other businesses fall into the categories of saving time, money or improving one's quality of life.

However, these are categories or angles you can use later - they aren't your tagline. Think about it: I doubt you would believe someone who says "I will save you time," or "Buy my product it will save you money." Those benefits are things the customer needs to experience, not told.

Instead, categorize the phrases you have found to be recurring themes in step 1 into these three categories: Time, Money or Quality for non-hotel products, and Location, Value, and/or Comfort for hotel products. This will clearly describe what your angle is for the tagline.

But you still don't have a tagline. Yet.

Let's try this example for a hotel. The Four Seasons hotel in Geneva has a tagline on their Booking.com profile that reads, "Live like a local in the heart of Geneva." Let’s break that down. That's not what is unique about the hotel (I know some locals in Geneva and they surely don't live like that). Plus there are at least a handful of luxury hotels in the city that could offer something similar.

Yet, when you go on TripAdvisor and read all the raving reviews for the hotel (and they have many) what comes up is the service, and they have incredible service. So much so that they are ranked the best hotel in Geneva on TripAdvisor.

What is unique is the comfort. But as we mentioned earlier, the angle is not the tagline. You can't say "great comfort" as that is something the guest needs to experience rather than be told.

Let's try this exercise for an non-hotel product: an app.

The Magnet app has some great reviews, in fact the reviews were so good I went to buy the app right away. Their tagline is, "Magnet keeps your workplace organized." That’s not a bad tagline... Especially if you believe you have a disorganized workplace. So what do customers say? When you go through the great reviews on the AppStore they sell it even better than the tagline does: “A feature you never knew was missing in macOS…” And “A clear improvement in quality of life for Mac users.” These user testimonials are not only powerful, they will certainly resonate with other potential customers. Your customers are your most powerful resource here. Listen to them!

Once you have determined what is unique about your business, hotel or any other business or product, you need to qualify it. You must put it in context in order to give the reader a clear idea of what your business does and what they will get from it. So now that we have the angle, let’s move to step 3 and turn that angle into a tagline.

3. PLACING it in Context

Putting it in context means making it clear why this is the best or the cheapest option for the customer. It doesn't mean that "best" or "cheap" needs to be in the tagline but nobody wants to buy something that is second rate. We want the best, or we want the cheapest. When you qualify a product, company or hotel's tagline try to figure out what it is the best in, or the cheapest. This may not be used in the text but will help tremendously when you're going to write additional copy.

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This is why "save you time" is boring. It means nothing to the reader. Save you time from what? How do we know they're not already super time-optimized.

Within the hotel context, let’s look at location. Note the hotel’s great location: Location near Notre Dame, or location near St Paul's Cathedral, etc. Now we have context, we have meaning. On the other hand, In the heart of Paris or In the heart of Manhattan are lines that too many people use. Steps of Broadway and Times Square is a lot more descriptive and therefore powerful.

To go back to the Four Seasons Geneva I mentioned above, we could say that this hotel has excellent service in Geneva. It works because it is true.

And using the Magnet app as another example, it seems that the reviewers who most love it are people who are switching from Windows or Linux to Mac because macOS is missing this familiar Windows feature. So putting the app's uniqueness in context would be something like: Organize your Mac's desktop like you did with Windows.

This is very specific and powerful in context. It may not be a great tagline yet, but we now have the content for the tagline. We’ve found what is unique and put it in a context that is relevant to the customer.  

The final step of working out your tagline is the artistic part. Now you need to work your language skills to convert the data into something that is easy to read and which instantly communicates the concept to the reader.

If you have done your homework well, this shouldn't be too hard if you have any wordsmith skills. And if you don't, you can always hand it over to someone who does.

It’s important to note that this final execution part can can still go wrong in various ways.


  • Don't get too clever

Clever can work if you're really good. But most of the time it doesn't. The problem with being overly clever is people remember the clever line but they don't remember the brand or product. Rather than being clever, be direct and clear. Being direct is so much more useful than any level of poetry. By being direct you are helping the customer understand instantly, and they will thank you for it. “Probably the best beer in the world” Carlsberg’s famous tagline, is direct and clear it leaves little room for doubt. “Open your world”  from Heineken’s campaign is not very clear and could be applied to anything.

  • Forgetting the customer

Sounds obvious, but the tagline needs to be something that the customer will get, which is too often forgotten. “Best view in New York” is something they will get. “Decorated by Joe Smith” is cool but is could alienate some or be easily forgotten. So, after you have written your tagline, spend some time to clear your thoughts and and re-read it as if you were the customer: Is this something you will benefit from?

  • MISSING filters

Words act as filters, if you use them right. By putting the right keywords in your tagline, you will attract the right visitors. If your tagline is too broad your customer won't realize that you are talking to them. If your hotel appeals to families, then you need to make sure the word family is in the tagline. If it appeals to romantic couples put it in the tagline. By inserting the keywords in the tagline you make sure you get the right people interested. Unlike click bait, which is designed for everyone to click, you are better off with fewer but better  qualified people trying your hotel, company or app. “Great Location near the Eiffel Tower” will immediately filter off those who want to stay in Saint Germain - and that's OK because they would be disappointed otherwise.

To come back to the Magnet app, I've been using it for a few days now and it works well. But I've switched from Windows a long time ago and I've become accustomed with Mac's way of handling windows. I don't have need them to snap to a grid I place them in approximative regions on my screen. So the app didn't really change much for me. Hence going after people who switched from Windows would filter those who really would love the app. I didn't dislike it, but it wasn't as much a game changer as it seemed.

  • Little white lies

Nothing will kill your marketing and reputation faster than lies, even little, white ones. There's a simple theory here, that if you promise a great location in SoHo you will get people to stay at your hotel who want to be in SoHo. If you then deliver on that promise and slightly exceed expectations, customers will be happy and mention it, plus will tell everyone this was the best stay in SoHo. And because of that you will get more word of mouth and it might just become an upward spiral. Now the minute you start stretching the truth in your tagline to "optimise sales" you begin what can rapidly become a downward spiral. 

  • Non-descriptive

This is the last one but the most important one. A tagline must be descriptive. It needs to say extremely clearly what it is about. If you remove all imagery and logo, is it clear? “Simplified. Useful. Hotel Analytics.” is clear. Imagery will only reinforce the message. It will appeal to a precise audience and expectations are precise. The imaginary tagline “Computers vary, Mountain App works with them all” is not descriptive. It doesn't say what it does or what you'll get.  

To test how descriptive it is, remove all imagery and brand names and any supporting text. Do you still understand what it is about? Do you understand what you will get? Do you understand what it does? These questions need to be answered clearly.

So let's go back to the examples above. For the Four Seasons Hotel in Geneva, they have a clear advantage (per guests) on service. So much so that they are voted number one hotel in Geneva. So the tagline here could be “Best service in Geneva” or “The best hotel in Geneva.” This is more descriptive (has the word hotel in it). It is pretty arrogant though and might not fit the brand style so we could change it to “Voted best hotel in Geneva,” which would be a little softer but still quite descriptive and clear.

For the Magnet app we have a few clues from the reviews which would make for great tagline material. Let's pick it up where we left off, “Organize your Mac's desktop like you did with Windows.” is good because it has context, but it isn't clear for everyone. And many Mac fanboys will never try it as they don't want to compare Mac and PC. So “Windows that snap in place,” is maybe a bit better, but it’s lost the context. “Multitasking made easy” has some of the context back and appeals to power-users who seem to be the main users. Not perfect, but good enough, I think!

What's next

So once you have written a clear tagline, that reads well and describes the product or company you have the core part for the rest of your story. The tagline sets the tone, you can vary it in your descriptions, build talking points around it and more. This also tells you how the photography should be taken.

It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea.
— David Ogilvy

In marketing we have the concept of a big idea, and that tag line should be the big idea. This is what will set you apart from the competition and give your brand a unique identity in the eyes of your clients.

With the tagline set, you can start the build the story, and everything needs to communicate around the message in the tagline and in as many ways as possible direct back to the tagline.

You never alter the line once you’ve worked it out, it stays the same and you use it again and again and again. Until it becomes synonymous with the brand. Of course there are exceptions, Carlsberg’s great line was customized incredibly well in multiple ways. But you can play with that, later - when you have branded the line globally.

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