A few years ago we were hired to guide a tech startup through a brand transformation. In a conversation with the founder about the tag line, we quickly arrived at an impasse. The tag line read…
The founder was firmly committed (entrenched you might say) to his perceived value of the meaning of the tag line because it stood for what he valued. He believed that the IT services industry had lost touch with truly focusing on results for the customer. He believed their brand had a mandate to get back to that focus...an honorable pursuit and the back story that fueled the creation of the tag line.
Unfortunately, the meaning of the message was crafted through the lens of the brand rather than the lens of the audience. Despite using the words “customer” and “results”, the tag line was in fact a description of the brand. It begs the question, “who wouldn’t describe themselves as customer-centered and results-driven?” At a minimum, customers expect that from us. Declaring it in our messaging doesn’t make us more trustworthy. In fact, it often has the opposite effect. It’s such a clear “table stakes” expectation, it strikes one’s mind as curious…and not in a good way.
While a tag line is just one representation of our brand stories, it is an important one. We can learn a lot about creating all our content, brand story and marketing, from effective tag line creation. A tag line is specifically designed to serve as a call to engage. That call to engage needs to be something that the audience can own themselves as a pathway to their WHY.
And it has to be quick.
We have little time to make a first impression with our brands, or more pointedly to achieve a “first opinion” from our audience. First opinions are lightning quick. How quick? One, two, almost three seconds… opinion formed. According to a recent research project performed by the Missouri University of Science and Technology, 2.6 seconds, to be precise, is how quickly our audience forms an opinion about what they are considering to consume.
There's a lot of noise out there. We’re all competing, not just against defined competitors, but against an endless sea of content producers. Brands that win the attention of their audience are brands that view themselves through the lens of the audience. That means they know how to immediately draw in their audience with authentic value. Authentic value is something of which the audience can immediately take ownership because it opens the door to their WHY. The audience WHY is whatever results they want to achieve. American Economist and Harvard Professor Theodore Levitt said it best, “people don’t buy a quarter inch drill bit, they buy a quarter inch hole.”
Back to our startup tech founder story. How was he going to translate the meaning of the tag line into a pathway to the audience WHY? The answer came in part by way of a three-way comparison with two of the world’s top brands. The comparison offered two choices for each brand. One tag line was crafted through the lens of the brand resulting in a brand description. The other was crafted using the lens of the audience resulting in a pathway to the audience WHY.
Since none of us have been living under a rock, we know which tag line Apple and Nike actually used. After some time to reflect on the comparison (and an audience survey about the options), the founder chose the right path. He chose his audience.