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?”

To the unimaginative, brand promises sometimes look like taglines. The tagline can be, as you state, merely a way to communicate the brand promise to the market in a rather literal fashion.

But that is only one of many different tacks to take in developing a tagline. Your brand promise may be that your products make users seem less like jerks. But you probably wouldn't use that as a tagline. Instead, you might say, “Nice people use our product.”

It might not seem like a lot of difference, but trust me; those budding scribes locked in that conference room are approaching the beast from the wrong end. If they start out trying to figure taglines, they'll come up with a brand promise stunted enough to fit the copy.

You want to be slightly more expansive with the formulation of the promise. You might want to tighten it down to a message in tagline form later, but then again you might want to use something completely different. “Just do it,” Nike's famous tagline, isn't a brand promise. It's something that is evocative of an image that may be part of the brand promise. As for the positioning statement part of your question (for definitions and distinctions between brand visions and other elements, see this article), we find ourselves dangerously close to that slippery slope that extends down to brand mumbo jumbo.

I'm not saying that these things can't be useful, but rather that a business needs to choose a brand structure with some of these elements that will help orient and focus the company's efforts. Having a brand promise, a positioning statement and a tagline can be quite compatible. But adding in three or four more of these marketing touchstones, and you have a morass.

It would be as if a country decided to have a president, prime minister, king, consul, emperor and regent. Marketing from such a company would look akin to the European Union's foreign policy, and for much the same reason. Any of these structures have worked in the past, but they have associated with them their own complementary elements. Having chosen to select a brand promise, you've already made an ideological decision for the company.

I would recommend sticking to it and creating the other complementing brand elements in a rational order; i.e., not starting out with a tagline.

Subscribe's free!

MarketingProfs provides thousands of marketing resources, entirely free!

Simply subscribe to our newsletter and get instant access to how-to articles, guides, webinars and more for nada, nothing, zip, zilch, on the house...delivered right to your inbox! MarketingProfs is the largest marketing community in the world, and we are here to help you be a better marketer.

Already a member? Sign in now.

Sign in with your preferred account, below.

Did you like this article?
Know someone who would enjoy it too? Share with your friends, free of charge, no sign up required! Simply share this link, and they will get instant access…
  • Copy Link

  • Email

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Pinterest

  • Linkedin


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.