You don't need a tagline. Seriously. No. Don't.

I have a habit of talking people out of giving me work. 

In just the last few weeks, I've spoken with three startups who wanted help in creating a new logo, a tagline, and a new name. If I were at all decent at business, I throw a proposal together on each and get going making my mortgage payments. But instead, the first thing I did (and always do) is made them prove to me why they feel they need this new or revamped piece of their brand identity. (Unrelated: Villain is hiring a head of new business...)

The two main reasons why I suggest brands avoid changing their identity? It's really expensive and they're often treating symptoms, not the cause.

Money: Often the most expensive part of your brand is your name with logo and taglines not too far behind. And the cost is not just in creating the name (which will set you back anywhere from $20-100s of thousands in strategy, creative, trademark, and URL work) but in the dollars it will cost you to get it out into the world and build equity into it. 

Treating the symptoms: many times companies are trying to solve an internal problem with the wrong tools. Maybe they hired a new CEO and s/he wants to prove s/he's shaken off the old guard by giving the brand their own personal touch. Maybe they have a new product coming out and want a quick way to make a splash and get it some attention. Maybe they're trying to raise a round of funding and need a reason to get back into the news.

These are all normal business challenges. They're just not ones that should be solved by messing with your core brand elements. They should be solved via sales strategies, messaging, personality (visual/design elements, verbal style and tone), PR, and internal structural changes. 

It's the job of messaging, style, and communications to evolve and grow your brand, to change the perception that is associated with your brand's name and logo.

When it comes to brand identity elements specifically, part of your brand is has a specific job to do and a strong brand allows each element to do that job and nothing more.

  • A name can only communicate 1-2 points at first until all the other elements of the brand (messaging, logo, products, executives, etc.) do their job of adding more equity and meaning into that name.
     

What do you think of when you see this name?

I'm going to bet you didn't say "1 to the 100th power," which is what a googl is, the original intent for the name. Google as a brand name now stands for so much more – for search, for innovation, for advertising, for playful logos, for really high stock prices. The brand name has evolved in meaning.

  • A logo is the visual representation of the brand. It should support and expand the intent and personality behind the brand, not duplicate the meaning of the name. Slack uses a visualized hashtag as their logo, a modern symbol of connection.
     

To quote Metalab, the agency that created the Slack logo,

"Most enterprise software looks like a cheap 70's prom suit — muted blues and greys everywhere — so, starting with the logo, we made Slack look like a confetti cannon had gone off. Electric blue, yellows, purples, and greens all over. We gave it the color scheme of a video game, not an enterprise collaboration product."

Slack as a word means casual, relaxed, but Slack as a brand means fun ways to connect. That's where the logo came in. 

  • A tagline is a high-level strategic message used for a long period of time (multiple years) in partnership with the name and logo. I often call a tagline the "lead horse" for a brand. It should be your stake in the ground, telling the market where you are headed.

Arguably the most popular and effective tagline of 2016?

While one may (vehemently) disagree with the intent behind the tagline, objectively the tagline did its job: It was the lead horse, proving what the Trump brand stood for. Even if the campaign messages changed (or were proven to be anything but truthful), the tagline stayed consistent.

Remember, unlike capabilities lines and headlines or campaign lines (most of the time), taglines should be trademarked to ensure you're not stepping on any competitive toes and you're protected if others try to step on yours. That means strong financial investment. They can all be used together purposely and effectively, such as the below Accenture example, but that requires a great deal of brand management and commitment to long-term strategy. 

 Accenture ad displaying how a name, logo, tagline, capabilities line, and headline work together.

Accenture ad displaying how a name, logo, tagline, capabilities line, and headline work together.

Net-net: most startups don't need a tagline.

They're changing direction so often, they're testing out their audience messages, they're seeing what sticks and positioning that way until their products and the market push them in a new direction.

Brand flexibility is vital to a startup's success.

Often when a startup is asking for a tagline, they're doing so because they want to clarify to the market what they're offering. They want something descriptive, a clear headline or capabilities line to prove what they do and who they do it for. It's not always an easy challenge to solve, but it's rarely solved through a tagline. 

Save the money you'd invest in trying to be catchy and trademarkable and instead use that to create a simple, smart brand message that supports the brand in the long-term and allows for the most flexibility.