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The tagline for What’s The Idea? is “Campaign’s come and go…a powerful brand idea is indelible.”  Perhaps a little lengthy and the real ballast lies after the ellipses, but it works. And that brings me to taglines; taglines and strategy.

Here’s an admonition to all brand managers and CEOs — Don’t use a campaign line as your tagline. They are communications or ad-focused, not strategic. One that immediately comes to mind, one that hits close to my planning heart, is the tagline for Northwell Health. Their tagline is “Look North.” Other than suggesting one look at Northwell, it doesn’t really have a strategic message. Wasted space, if you ask me.

I wrote a tagline (and brand strategy) for Beacon Health Partners, an accountable care organization that was strategic “Healthier Practices.”  That’s was the claim. It applies to improved physician practices, both economic and in the healthcare delivered. It applies to patient practices, putting more responsibility on people for their own health. And it appeals/applies to payers, the insurance companies who carry much of the reimbursement water.

Strategic taglines come from brand strategy companies. Tactical, flimsy taglines come from ad agency creative departments. Big diff.




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I was presenting my strategy framework earlier this week and as part of my preso used examples of actual brand strategies (claim and proof planks). One of the claims presented ended up being a tagline for the company. When I shared this brand claim/tagline with the group a couple of people reacted by saying “That doesn’t sound so differentiated. That feels like other marketing claims.” And they were right.

The reality of brand claims and taglines is they just lie there unless you prove them. Every day. With the brand claim in question, the purchasing CEO and work team loved it because it reflected their key value like nothing they’d ever heard before. Plus it was aligned with a key customer care-about. The 3 proof planks supporting the claim were so business-winning, so strategic, that the claim/tagline struck them like a lightning bolt. They were willing to go to war based on this organizing principle. Were the three words below the logo people have never seen before? Nope. Were they poetic to the masses? Nope. But they struck a chord among the senior team. And motivated that team to new levels of marketing awareness.

We have become inured to marketing lyrics and taglines for tagline’s sake. When taglines are the craft of the ad agency they often fall short. When they come from a deep-dish brand strategy, they can last and last. Peace.



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I don’t know why colleges don’t get branding. At its most basic a brand starts with a tagline  — a 2 to 5 lyrical “word grab” of company or product intent or mission.  Tagline’s are often campaign ideas written by ad agencies, that are so well received they find their way under the logo. For years. Mostly misunderstood, taglines lock up with logos and lie like faded wallpaper in poorly lit hallways.

Hofstra University has a new tagline: Pride and Purpose. It’s not 3/4s bad.  I’m pretty sure the word Pride refers to Hofstra’s mascot…a group of lions. Pride is a great motivating word in brand planning – one I chase all the time.  And Purpose is what all great university educations are supposed to engender in students.  The fact is though, when a good tagline does not support the advertising – and I mean every ad – someone is not doing their job.  You can’t tell the world you are all about Pride and Purpose then make a non-supportive, generic claim.  You just can’t do it.  And if you do, the tagline and strategy are either wrong or the leadership is.  Sorry to go all hard butt on Hofstra, but they just came off of 8 years of a campaign called “the edge” which was built around an art director design frame showing an arrow in all the print work.  It’s incredible to me that any academic institution would not know how to create a claim and prove it. And Hofstra is not alone.  The entire college and unversity body of work is abysmal. Peace!

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Following a successful pitch a number of years ago, I was told we won the business because we were bold enough to suggest keeping the previous agency’s tagline. According to one board member who had been with L’Oreal, this was unheard of in the healthcare industry.  The brand strategy we pitched was perfectly in synch with the organizations existing tagline, so why get rid of it?  The problem was, the incumbent agency’s advertising wasn’t proving the tagline.  Their ads were communicating and informing but not in an organized, brand-building fashion.

Marketers have to find a brand promise, believe it, live it and invest in it. It should be supported in news, trade shows, retail, ads, Adwords, tweets, etc. As a client once said to me, all communications need to make deposits in the brand bank.  Not random deposits — planned, meted, brand-differentiating deposits, based upon a brand plan. A brand plan is hard to make but simple to follow.  It comprises a claim or promise and three discrete support planks. Prove the promise through the planks every day – in messaging and product development – and you will build your brand and market share. The brand plan sets you free. Peace!

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I’ve been in touch with a few tech CEOs over the past year and I know it is not easy being them; they are responsible for financing, product development, legal, the code, usability, hiring, business metrics and last but not least strategy. 


The true test of a great CEO, though, is what happens after these two words pass through his or her lips “major rebranding.” “Major rebranding” is code for we don’t have a focused strategy. Sadly, most rebranding assignments often yield a PowerPoint deck filled with marko-babble, a logo (nice), tagline (generic), a visual symmetry discourse and bill for some serious money.  Most of the bill, by the way, pays for tactics.


Branding is all about strategy. It is forward looking, consumer-facing, fresh, it pushes the culture (business or societal), and all the heavy lifting is done before any visual tactics or art are employed. The precursor of a branding idea is a suit strategy and it should reflect each and every element the CEO cares about (see first paragraph).  When the suit strategy talks to the CEO and makes him/her smile, the rest of the job can begin.


If you run into a CEO who when commenting about a rebranding project says “I’ll know it when I see it,” give the check back and run.  



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