Small Business

Creating a Slogan from Scratch


I am starting an online business selling a little bit of everything, and I need a good, short slogan. I can't afford to pay an agency to come up with one for me. How do I create a slogan myself?

--M.F., St. Louis, Mo.

While some startup entrepreneurs hire professionals to develop their branding materials (a company logo, slogan, tagline, and other marketing materials), many others are like you. They're counting every penny they put into their fledgling enterprises. Fortunately, coming up with your own slogan isn't too tough. You will need creativity and clear thinking, as well as feedback.

Start by hashing out what specific role your slogan will play in your business communications, suggests Steve Price, of Sausalito ( Calif.)-based Lexicon Branding. What do you want the slogan to do? "Try to create complementary relationships between your business name, its slogan, and other communications devices, such as the Web address. Avoid redundant messages," he says.

In other words, don't pick a slogan that simply reiterates your company name. It should enhance and complement that primary statement about your company and provide would-be customers with new, positive information about you. "Remember, one plus one should equal three here," he says.

DEFINE YOUR NICHE. Once you have an idea how the slogan will advance your brand, sit down, either by yourself or with a key group of collaborators, and take a hard look at what your company is, what it does, and why the world should care.

"Ask tough questions about your vision, the rationale behind your firm, how is it unique, and what will separate your company from the pack," advises Eric Swartz, president of TaglineGuru.com. "Come up with some nouns and adjectives that you think are attributes of your company—words you and others would use to describe it. Think specifically about defining what is your niche."

As you begin listing the values and vision of your company, some powerful words should start emerging that reflect your "brand promise," Swartz notes. "Your slogan should reflect the experience that you want your customers to have with you," he says.

TEST ADAPTABILITY. After that brainstorming session, you, or someone to whom you assign the task, should come up with several ideas for slogans that you can discuss at a second meeting. If you're working alone, you do need to get some feedback at this point on the ideas you're generating. "Use slogans you admire as… models," Price suggests. "Ask for and collect creative ideas from friends and associates."

Rank the top few slogan possibilities by how well they hit your message and how clever and compelling they are (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/28/06, "Small Company, Big Brand"). The winning possibilities should lend themselves to permutations and variations that might be improvements if a word is tweaked here or there.

Ideally, a slogan should be fewer than seven words. "It should be used everywhere, including your e-mail signature line," Swartz says. "It doesn't have to be funny, clever, or rhyme, but it should be simple, positive, believable, memorable, competitive, original, and benefit-oriented. Always avoid [slogans] that are vague, awkward, confusing, complicated, or communicate an unintended double meaning. Don't use trendy business jargon."

CHECK FOR MATCHES. Narrow down your selection to the top three or four slogans and run them past people whose opinions you respect, making sure that you aren't so wedded to one possibility that you ignore constructive criticism. Sometimes an outsider can have a better perspective on how well a particular slogan works, or doesn't work, than you do. "Ask for free professional advice," Price says. "The worst they can do is say 'no.'"

Run your finalists through the Web site of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, http://www.uspto.gov, to check whether someone else has already filed or registered the same, or a very similar, slogan. "Query the database to make sure there are no obvious violations," Swartz says. "Don't go with anything you think raises a red flag."

Once you settle on a slogan, consult with an attorney about pursuing legal registration. For more information on this topic, Price recommends Managing Brand Equity by David A. Aaker (Simon & Schuster).


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