If you follow Don Draper and the rest of the Mad Men on Madison Avenue, you might be forgiven for thinking the inspiration behind a memorable slogan or advertising campaign comes from a bottle of whisky and a packet of cigarettes.
Of course life is never that simple. Take, for example, Apple’s false start with its corporate identity. The company’s first logo, designed in 1976, showed Isaac Newton sitting under a tree with an apple dangling above his head, waiting for gravity to happen. And the strapline that accompanied it was ”Newton… A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought … Alone.” Would they really have become one of the most successful businesses on the planet if Steve Jobs hadn’t decided on a bit of a creative re-think?
If you are looking for a slogan that people will remember, you might want to keep it short. “All the best tag lines or slogans have three words,” says branding consultant Duncan Owen. Apple might not agree, and Budweiser’s “Wassup?” or Clairol’s “Does she… or doesn’t she?” are among a number of exceptions, but there are plenty of examples to make the case. Nike’s “Just Do It”, KFC’s “Finger lickin’ good”, and McDonalds’ “I’m lovin’it” (albeit technically four words) all spring to mind.
That is good news for The University of Pennsylvania‘s Wharton School, which has just spent two years turning the brand lens on itself, resulting in the message “Knowledge for Action“, with the ability to swap ‘action’ for other subjects that include ‘innovation’ and even ‘life’. What makes Wharton’s self-examination so interesting is the comprehensive approach they took, trying to define the essence of their business school, and involving faculty, students, staff, alumni and recruiters along the way. With the help of technology, the school also launched a crowd-sourcing tournament based on the methods of one of their faculty, Karl Ulrich. Students and alumni were asked to submit taglines and themes, from which Wharton’s knowledge theme rose to the fore.
So no whisky, no cigarettes, and only time will tell if there are no regrets. But what are the real pointers and pitfalls in finding a company name or a slogan that will work?
Frank Goedertier, who teaches Brand Management and Marketing at the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium, and is currently a visiting scholar at the Kellogg School of Management, suggests there are eight keys to successful branding:
Memorable. Is your slogan (or other brand element) easy to recognize, and easy to recall? Does it have ‘sticking power’? A striking image or a word carrying some emotion such as courage or bravery might help.
Meaningful. This can be achieved in a descriptive way, such as a clear link with what you do – a product category, the business you are in. Or it can be done in a persuasive way – emphasizing your unique selling proposition, or a key point of difference, such as a special benefit you offer. In either case, credibility is essential, as a slogan must link with customer expectations.
Likeable. Does it look good, and does it sound right? Try using linguistic devices like alliteration (Coca-Cola), unusual or incorrect spelling (Kwik-Fit, Vodafone), abbreviations (7UP), acronyms (Amoco), compounds (Cup-a-Soup), metaphors (Aquafresh), association with a particular quality (Midas), or what the branding experts refer to as paranomasia, and that we think of as a play on words (half the restaurants in London and New York).
Transferability. Is the slogan universal enough to cover new categories, new business ventures and international markets? Make sure the words are easily pronounceable in as many countries as possible and look out for possible misinterpretation. Particularly if you’d like to avoid following Pepsi whose ‘Pepsi brings you back to life’ turned into ‘Pepsi brings you ancestors back from the grave’ in Chinese, or Coors whose ‘Turn it loose’ became ‘Suffer from diarrhea’ in Spanish.
Protectability. Think about the aspect of copyrights, and make sure you can legally protect your brand elements internationally. Also, make sure you don’t invest in building up awareness of brand elements that can be easily and legally copied by others. When Molson launched their Ice beer they thought they were onto a winner. Unfortunately for them, however, you can’t copyright the word ‘ice’ and they quickly found themselves facing competition from Miller Ice, and then Bud Ice.
Authenticity. The best slogans reflect the essence of a company, its very soul. And the best way to achieve authenticity is to work from the inside out, by understanding what your people believe the business is about because every single one of them will need to be an ambassador for the brand in the outside world.
Simplicity. In an age of information overload less is most definitely more. Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it clear.
Adaptability. In a rapidly changing world you need to future –proof your brand as much as possible, which means making it as adaptable as possible. Look at how other companies such as Google and MTV play with their logos through the use of different colors and backgrounds to create new messages while retaining the essence of the brand. Brand consistency and brand relevance are not mutually exclusive. With courage and inventiveness they can be made to work hand-in-hand.
At the end of the day you need to own the identity or slogan you have come up with. And whether you are Fedex with “The World On Time”, or the guys at Chick-fil-A who aggressively protect “Eat Mor Chikin”, always make sure you can deliver on the promise you have chosen.