Why you need a good baseline

A startup tagline can be many things: a company signature, a catch phrase on a website, a slogan for a print commercial, a punchline for a video or a motto for a team.

Whatever the type, the power of a tagline is to help you

  • inspire your users (Just do it). 
  • differentiate from the competition (Think Different -Apple vs. Microsoft; Real Beauty - Dove vs. the whole cosmetic industry) 
  • memorize your mission (Everyone’s Private Driver - Uber)

Sometimes it’s a useful exercise to imagine a tagline even if you don’t put it in front of your users. Just to define the essence of your vision.

A good tagline should:

  • ALWAYS be about the user - We Try Harder, the signature of car rental company Avis, seems to be about the company but is totally about pleasing the customer;
  • have TRUE emotion - Organizing the World’s Information byGoogle seems a bit cold but shows a tremendous dedication to a huge task;
  • have an element of SURPRISE - play with words, don't go for the obvious, play with the rhythm - Don't be evil by Google is the most unexpected mantra for a software company.
"The trick is to deal with cliches in such a way that people will relate to it in kind of a new way." 
- Bob Larimer


Where to find inspiration

Looking for the right slogan is usually a long iterative process. It helps a lot to read other people’s words to ignite your imagination. Try googling this:

  • signatures of companies in your industry - someone must have made a list (e.g. automobile signatures)
  • slogans of iconic companies that share the same spirit you want to convey (e.g. NikeVolkswagenIkeaStarbucksApple)
  • idiomatic expressions, usually inspiring life lessons that you can twist to generate an interesting play on words (e.g. "drink")
  • song, book or movie titles that are crafted poetry or have a condensed meaning that you can also twist (e.g. "life")
  • synonymous of words that are strongly related to your brand universe (e.g. "simple")
  • sentences using those words - in the right column of thesaurus.com or on linguee.com (e.g. "simple")
  • videos or interviews of eloquent thought leaders who speak in catch phrases (e.g. Seth Godin
  • websites that have great copywriting 

How to craft your baseline

Before you nail the right baseline, you have to come up with a ton of them. First it's crucial to find the right tone of voice.

Are you about... joy (Here Comes The Sun), perfection (Drive it like you hate it), celebration (Life needs bubbles), getting to the point (Read This. Skip That), redefining your industry's standards (The end of the plain plane)?

To help you find the right tone, imagine what actor/actress could embody your brand and what actor/actress could embody your user. Then imagine what the first would tell the latter to convince her to embark on the brand’s journey.

A good baseline is generally:

  • short (a good counterexample though is "What if you could learn anything in one month?" - edit: it used to be the tagline of onemonth.com, but it has changed to "Are you ready to advance your career, build your own app, and grow your business?", which is not a tagline anymore...);
  • leaves some space for imagination (avoid things like:  “The fastest, real-time, free social network for investors and traders.”);
  • creates some kind of tension (Everyone’s private driver is a good example that plays with the exclusive image of the private driver and the populist image of everyone).

The toolbox

Shop Victoriously (eBay)

More fun than a monkey (eBay)

1,000 songs in your pocket (iPod)

For movers and makers (Google Nexus)

Gives you wings (Red Bull)

The way banking should be (Simple)

Seeing is believing (Visua.ly)

Live in Italian (San Pellegrino)

The "Think" camera (Leica)

Make things big happen. A little every day. (Simple)

The ultimate driving machine (BMW)

Plan less. Escape more. (Hotel Tonight)

Unböring (Ikea)

Live boldly (Fanm Djanm)

Read This. Skip That. (The Daily Beast)

The end of the plain plane (Braniff International Airlines)

Build it beautiful (SquareSpace)

We make the complex simple. (Instrument)

Bring your stories and ideas (Medium)

Think small (Volkswagen)

Google Analytics tells you what’s happening. KISSmetrics tells you who’s doing it (KISSmetrics)

The most easiestst way to send files (Infinit) - edit: it has changed to Sending files, re-imagined.

A better dining experience (Reserve) - edit: it has changed to Your dining concierge.

Be a hero (GoPro)

Ideas for others and ourselves (Partners & Spade)