Positioning statements and taglines: Crafting the foundation of your brand’s creative execution.

Posted December 17, 2012 in by


Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

When you’re creating a new brand (or refreshing an old one), there is obviously much to consider. There’s the architecture, nomenclature, values, brand positioning statement, visual guidelines and more. I am of the opinion that the positioning statement and tagline are the most important.
Why? Because they’ll be used the most. And because these two concentrated nuggets have the job of conveying your entire brand in just a few words.

So, how do we create positioning statements and taglines designed to do this kind of heavy lifting? Like this:

  1. Understand the purpose of each.
    Your positioning statement is internal. Its purpose is to guide the marketing, production and operational decisions of your company. You should be able to use a positioning statement as a litmus test to whether any decision is on-brand. Some famous positioning statements include:

    • Target: Style on a budget.
    • Volvo: For upscale American families, Volvo is the family automobile that offers maximum safety.
    • Home Depot: The hardware department store for do‑it‑yourselfers.

    Whatever products Target supplies, social offers they make, mobile functionality they offer, they have to ask themselves: “Does this help us provide style on a budget?” Disciplined, company-wide adherence to a clear, easy-to-understand positioning statement internally is key to building long-term brand value.

    A tagline, by comparison, is consumer facing. It is the distillation of the positioning statement into a catchy, memorable snapshot of the brand that conveys both the benefit and the personality. Look at the taglines of the brands mentioned before and see if you can tell how they were laddered up to the positioning statements.

    • Target: Expect more. Pay less.
    • Volvo: For life.
    • Home Depot: You can do it. We can help.
  2. Start with structure.
    Positioning statements and taglines don’t just fall out of thin air. In order to make sure that the positioning statement is saying all that it needs to say (without trying to say too much), try this formula from Al Ries’ and Jack Trout’s classic Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind:[NAME OF BUSINESS] is [KIND OF PRODUCT OR SERVICE] for [KIND OF PEOPLE].De Cecco brand pasta, for example, uses: De Cecco is the premium pasta for serious chefs.For a more in-depth structure that accounts for several insights gathered from research or account planning, try this template from Marty Neumeier’s ZAG:

    • What: The only [category]
    • How: that [differentiation characteristic]
    • Who: for [customer]
    • Where: in [geographic location]
    • Why: who [need state]
    • When: during [underlying trend]

    Harley Davidson used this to determine their positioning statement, which is:

    • The only motorcycle manufacturer
    • That makes big, loud motorcycles
    • For macho guys (and “macho wannabes”)
    • Mostly in the United States
    • Who want to join a gang of cowboys
    • In an era of decreasing personal freedom.

    A little long? Yes. But it gives you a crisp, precise picture of what the company does and who they do it for. And it’s easy to see how this generates the brand tagline: American by birth. Rebel by choice.


  3. End with instinct.
    Using a template gives you a good starting point for a positioning statement. But in the end, just looking at it and asking yourself, “Does this sound like us?” is going to be the test of whether you’ve succeeded. This is even more true with a tagline. Try your taglines out on strangers, who know nothing about your company, and ask them for gut reactions. Consumers act on gut reactions, so for your oft-repeated brand snapshot, that’s the reaction that matters.


brand architecture

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