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Is Your Tagline the Same as Your Brand Promise?

Posted by on February 14th, 2011
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Copywriting, Nonprofit Messaging, Nonprofit Taglines    Tags: , , ,

I recently had a debate with a nonprofit marketing guru on whether or not the brand promise for an organization was the same as the tagline. Yes, I know that this is the kind of question that makes brand geeks happy, and I confess that I am one.

And before you role your eyes at the word “guru” as overused hyperbole let me reassure you that Joe Fay, Executive Director at Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation, really is my marketing guru.  He taught me most of what I know about the importance of branding for the nonprofit sector, and I admire him more than any boss I ever had (and I have had some good ones!)

Joe thinks the tagline is the perfect summation of the brand and that a good tagline says it all.

Because the word tagline is marketing jargon, I’ll define it.  The tagline is that marketing message used consistently with your organization’s name and logo.  For more on taglines and how to create great ones, read my older post on this subject.

At Mission Minded, though, we believe that there’s a step that comes before the tagline: the brand promise.  The brand promise is a summation of all of the essential ingredients of your brand:

  • Personality
  • Brand Values
  • Value Proposition
  • Brand Positioning (how you’re positioned relative to your competition)

The brand promise is a summation of these elements and is written for an internal audience — and used as a guidepost by which to measure the effectiveness of all external communications in conveying that promise.

Our view is that a good brand promise works as an internal rallying cry. A good tagline is an external marketing message that inspires your audience to understand and support you.

Here’s a good example from a recent re-branding engagement we ran for National Equity Project.  The brand promise is “personal empowerment to make change” and is written to remind internal stakeholders what to convey externally.  But to actually convey that brand promise their new tagline became:

Deliver on the promise of a quality education.

The brand promise, as written, is fairly lackluster.  That’s because it is written to summarize the elements of the entire brand architecture and isn’t meant to dazzle.  But the tagline is meant to be a powerful call to action for everyone who comes in contact with National Equity Project.

We counsel our clients not to shortcut the brand development process by going straight to trying to write a clever tagline. How can you know you’ve written a good tagline without first knowing what idea(s) you’re trying to convey about your organization?

What’s your opinion? If you’ve had success doing it our way or Joe’s way we’d love to hear from you.


Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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4 responses to “Is Your Tagline the Same as Your Brand Promise?”

  1. This is a great reminder of why some folks think it’s “easy” to write a tagline. Sure, it’s fun to play with words (NY Times crossword puzzle, anyone?), but a tagline is really the external expression of a strategic idea. There’s often a lot more going on behind the scenes — the rigor to define clearly who you are, what you do, and why it matters. A tagline can point to that, can intrigue possible donors, volunteers or funders, but it can’t tell the whole story, nor should it.

  2. The marketing world is littered with mediocre taglines that fade from memory quicker than the time it takes for a teenager to grab the last seat on the Bart train. And why? Because the hard work that helps a brand/organization fully define itself – including its personality, values and unique point of difference – has not taken place. Everyone always wants to jump to the fun stuff first. But you can’t create a great tagline without doing your brand homework. If you skip that part, count on yours ending up in the pile of forgettable taglines – like Delta’s “We get you there,” Mobil’s “We want you to live,” and Sara Lee’s “Heck, you don’t need a fork.” A good tagline is worth its weight in gold, so don’t scrimp getting there.

  3. “Yes, I know that this is the kind of question that makes brand geeks happy, and I confess that I am one.”

    I, confess, that I am gleefully one as well. This was a well written, humorous article that makes a valid point… brand development must be fully invested in within a company before a tagline is chosen.

    As you so astutely observed, a tagline is more of “an external marketing message” than anything else. It can be modified or replaced as the needs of your audience evolve over time.

    @Lori: You’re right, though, a good tagline is definitely worth its weight in gold!!!