What do you do if you’ve been dealt with an oatmeal name (i.e., bland and meaningless), but feel that it’s too expensive or risky to change it? Well, when writing a sentence, what do you do with a noun that’s not adequately descriptive? You provide a modifier, of course. A “man” offers little in the way of a description. A “tall man” tells you more. A “tall, dark man” is more descriptive. A “tall, dark, handsome man” is even more descriptive. A variation on this approach will work for your business.

Companies have been using slogans, or tag lines, for decades. The best are the same as a company’s unique selling proposition (USP). They promote the company’s key competitive advantage. They differentiate. They identify a position.
In the ideal world, the company’s name incorporates the USP. In the real world, this isn’t always possible. You might have inherited a name. You might have started out with an ego name (i.e., named after you) and only recently figured out that the entire world doesn’t know you and associate your name with your business.

Say your name is something generic, like “Ross.” You wish the name identified something about your company. Unfortunately, you’ve got lots of money invested in signage, legalities, and so on. And you’ve got an established customer base that buys from you and knows you as Ross. The solution that discount clothier, Ross, used was to add “Dress For Less” beside and slightly subordinate to the Ross name. Brilliant. “Dress For Less” gives you information about what to expect from Ross. It communicates their position in an understandable, relevant way, rolled into a concise, catchy, memorable, three-word tag line.

Many companies have built great brands with mediocre names, but terrific slogans. American Express says, “Don’t leave home without it;” implying that the American Express card is an essential accouterment for travelers, which if you travel overseas, is true.

Federal Express built its brand around the slogan, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” It’s the essence of the Fed Ex promise.

Timex identified its products with the line, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Typically, this was introduced after some miraculous scene, such as a Timex watch found by a fisherman in the belly of his catch. The fisherman cleans the entrails off the watch, winds it, and son of a gun, it works! Timex equaled reliability.

There are many examples of outstanding slogans that define a brand and suggest what the prospect might expect:
• 7-Up — The Uncola
• All State — You’re In Good Hands With All State
• BMW — The Ultimate Driving Machine
• John Deere — Nothing Runs Like A Deere
• Lexus — The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
• Miller Lite — Everything You Always Wanted From A Beer, And Less
• Morton Salt — When It Rains, It Pours
• Prudential — Get A Piece Of The Rock

These examples are characterized by most, if not all of the rules of good slogan design — they provide information to the prospect about the company, brand, or product; they suggest a product or brand position; they’re easy to understand; they’re relevant to the brand and/or category; they’re memorable; and they’re stable over time.

It’s not coincidence that most of the companies with good slogans seem to have a lousy name. The slogan adds needed clarity where the name does not. Best Buy and Toys R Us, for example, do not have the pressing need to supplement their names with a slogan or USP. This purpose is already served by their brand names.

Now, consider some slogans that violate most or all of principles of good slogan design. Outback Steakhouse is one of my favorite restaurants. Good food. Great service. Fair ambience. But how does “No Rules, Just Right” help me to understand anything about the restaurant? I can’t figure it out. It seems to me that it’s one of those slogans where they’re attempting to appear “hip” and “with it.” Instead, it’s cryptic and meaningless. It doesn’t enlighten. It confuses. It seems like a message targeting Gen Xers, which if true, shows that Outback’s management is confused. The bulk of Outback’s clientele is not 20-somethings.

The height of confused sloganeering is the “UBU” slogan. What the heck was that supposed to mean? This is copycat marketing at its worst. Hey, see what’s happened to Nike with “Just Do It.” They’re making a fortune. I bet we can be more cryptic than that!

Of course, they forgot to factor in Michael Jordan and several hundred million dollars per year of advertising spending. With resources like that, Nike could have made “Huh?” into a winner.

Of course, “Just Do It” wasn’t a true slogan per se. It was inextricably tied to visual imagery. In the end, “Just Do It” wasn’t positioning for Nike, but for the customer. It’s the same as showing slim people eating diet food. The suggestion is that you’ll look like this if you buy our product. It’s a time tested, valid approach. “UBU” however … well, I’m not sure what it was. Apparently no one outside of Madison Avenue was able to figure it out either. Fortunately, it’s long gone and isn’t likely to ever clutter the airwaves again.

“Coke Is It” is another meaningless slogan. It’s what? It? It, what? What’s “it?” Of course, with any slogan developed by the marketing geniuses from Atlanta, just wait and it will change. This one did change; a good move. But why Coke changed some of the company’s other slogans/USPs remains a mystery. “The Real Thing” was the perfect message for Coke in its battle with Pepsi. Coke’s the “real” cola. Pepsi’s not. Great message. Why change it? But then, what do I know. I couldn’t figure out why they changed the formula.

One of the more inane slogans I’ve seen recently is “People Do.” Does this provide information? Does it communicate a brand or product position? Is it easy to understand? Is it relevant to the brand? Is it memorable? You tell me. It’s the primary theme of a petroleum company’s ad campaign.

Even good marketers aren’t immune to botching the slogan. Look at Microsoft. “Where do you want to go today?” is not one of the software giant’s better marketing initiatives. Of course, they’re probably hesitant to reveal too much in their slogan. “Global Domination” probably wouldn’t sit too well with Justice Department investigators.

If you’re saddled with a company name that doesn’t offer a clear description of what you do and/or clearly defines your position, consider adding a slogan. For the best effect, make sure the slogan provides information where there isn’t any, communicates a brand or product position, is easy to understand, is relevant, and is memorable. It’s a tall order. It’s not easy. So for gosh sakes, once you get it, don’t change it. Stay with it . . . for years, decades.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.