Don’t settle for a tagline. Get a big brand message.
But as we look across the marketplace and see what our clients need from their messaging, we’ve seen a shift. A blurring of the lines between mantras, taglines, positioning statements, and what we call the big brand message. That’s a lot of terms to keep track of.
We get it. When the tech industry moves a million miles a minute, it’s tough to keep an enterprise software company’s entire messaging architecture perfectly tidy. Everything neat, ordered, intentional.
To help simplify things, we thought we’d share our latest thinking on brand messaging—namely the big brand message—and why it’s a better, more versatile option than a tagline.
I’ll be the first to (guiltily) admit it: I dig a good tagline. Not because they’re deep, brooding glimpses into a brand’s soul. More often than not, they aren’t. But more so because the word-nerd in me appreciates how tongue-in-cheek they can be. “Don’t be evil” (Google). “We make IT happen” (IBM). “Can you hear me now?” (Verizon). What can I say—I love a healthy sprinkling of wit.
At their best, taglines tell us a little something about the brand. Over time, they become synonymous with their organization. Sometimes they even garner a following of their own, becoming iconic. Case in point—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t familiar with Nike’s “Just Do It” or Apple’s “Think Different.”
But taglines have their limitations.
At their worst, they turn into jingles that serve little purpose beyond shock value. Worse yet, taglines sometimes stick to logos—literally locked up next to visual marks. Soon you’re left with a few short words tacked onto an image, trying to carry the weight of the brand on their tiny shoulders.
Taglines are also prone to being one of the only written forms of “brand” the general public may recognize or remember. Which begs the question—is a catchy, externally driven tagline really the statement the company wants to stake its entire reputation on?
Taglines can be fun and present an opportunity to be playful with your company’s messaging, but they aren’t necessarily the most authentic expression of your brand. They’re often so ephemeral and trend-driven that they feel tied to specific campaigns rather than enduring brand identities. And when the moment for that tagline has passed, it can leave the brand feeling dated—or worse, annoying (“Are they seriously still using that slogan / jingle / angle / pitch?!”).
In general, we advise our clients to save taglines for campaigns with a predetermined shelf life—keeping them firmly in the world of advertising and marketing, not brand.
When it comes to creating that enduring, emotionally resonant message that can move mountains and align teams—dig deeper. Find the right ideas that inspire action or affinity from the inside out. And build from the heart of the organization. That’s where the big brand message comes in.
The Big Brand Message
A company’s big brand message is the highest-level distillation of who they are and why they exist. In just a few simple words, it tells the world what makes the brand different and what it stands for.
Here are a couple of big brand messages we’ve created with clients recently:
- “Build here. Go anywhere.” — Red Hat Developer Program
- “Making open source work better—for everyone” — Tidelift
Unlike taglines, big brand messages are not written with the primary intent of being used externally—though that doesn’t mean they can’t be. The big brand message is, first and foremost, intended to serve as a positioning statement—to sum up the brand’s full story, create internal alignment, and remind the world why the organization does what it does.
In many cases, big brand messages we’ve written for our clients end up working for both internal and external audiences. Poetically telling the story of the brand while relaying some degree of value that’s enticing enough to inspire a customer to take action. The big brand message ultimately becomes the “hero” line that lives on the company’s homepage and at the top of their marketing and sales materials. And we never stick it next to the logo.
So here’s the TL;DR:
Depending on the circumstances and needs of the company, some brands may opt to follow a strategy with separate internal and external big brand messages. But some other brands do just fine using one big brand message both internally and externally.
There are no hard-and-fast rules. The big brand message is a framework we’re continually discussing and evolving to fit the needs of the companies we work with.
But no matter whether the big brand message is reserved for internal use or shared widely with external audiences, it should always be the organization’s north star—the single guiding statement that succinctly sums up what the brand is all about and why it’s in business.
In the world of tech, open source, and SaaS, it’s abundantly clear that the space between internal and external messaging is often fluid—adaptable to guide organizations in times of rapid change and evolution.
Why You Need a Big Brand Message
The strongest brands tell a unified story across every touchpoint. Driving affinity, orienting employees, building loyalty, and shaping incredible customer experiences. And the best brand stories are the product of research and input from stakeholders across (and outside of) the organization. They articulate what’s always been—and what will always be—true to the brand.
Big brand messages are the distillations of those brand stories. At a time when companies only have a few seconds to capture the attention of customers, getting to the heart of their value quickly can be the difference between winning and losing a sale. And having an authentic and memorable big brand message certainly helps.
The value of having a big brand message is felt internally too. When your entire organization buys into your brand story and messaging, employees will likely be more eager to share them. Inspired by the work they do and the impact it has on the world. Armed with simple story-driven statements that align with the reputation you hope to create.
Your big brand message should always be your organization’s north star—the single guiding statement that succinctly sums up what your brand is all about and why it’s in business.
So take stock of your organization’s messaging strategy:
Do you have a tagline—just brushing the surface of the value you add to the world?
Or do you have a big brand message that tactfully and poetically sums up your story?
Ask yourself and your team: Does your messaging feel like it was created by looking inward and really examining the “guts” of the organization? Does it accurately portray what the brand stands for and where it’s heading? And if you only had a few seconds to tell someone what your company does, would your existing messaging cut it?
If your tagline isn’t helping you achieve your goals, or if you’re looking for help articulating your brand’s story or big brand message—we’d love to help. Drop us a line and let us know what you’re working on.