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Dear Tig: Distinguishing the Differences Between Brand Promise, Tagline, and a Positioning Statement

by Tig Tillinghast  |  
June 10, 2003

Dear Tig,

I need some clarity, please. We are using a cross-functional team to articulate a revised brand promise. The good news is that we are using market research to find promises that are customer-relevant, something rarely done around here. The bad news is that the cross-functional team is stuck arguing about what's the difference between a brand promise and a tagline. Everyone seems to just want to write taglines. My view is that a tagline simply flows from the broader brand promise, attempting to capture it in a succinct, meaningful, memorable way. What is your view? Can you help the team distinguish the differences between brand promise, tagline, and other key terms like positioning statement?

Many thanks in advance,


Dear VP,

Well, you came to the right place. Of course you asked this question to me because you knew that I'd be on your side. Not very fair, now, is it?

Somewhere back in the bowels of your company is a room (presumably locked from the outside) full of your colleagues, drinking Diet Cokes and passing around a Koosh ball, playing at copywriter. “No idea is a bad idea, Jane. Just put it up on the whiteboard!” All that fun needs to be put to a stop, and you want me to be the bad guy.

Well, all right. The “brand promise” isn't so much something you plaster on the bottom of your ads, but rather the way in which potential customer senses that the essence of your brand is going to fulfill some need of theirs. It's the answer to the customer's question “What's in it for me?”

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Tig Tillinghast writes from the banks of the Elk River near Chesapeake City, Maryland. He consults with major brands and ad agency holding companies, helping marketing groups find the right resources for their needs. He is the author of The Tactical Guide to Online Marketing as well as several terrible fiction manuscripts.

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