Is there a “Just Do It” for the professional services world? Jeff and Jason explore the pros and cons of taglines in B2B marketing.
Taglines. Critical Marketing Asset? Or Waste of Resources?
Speaker 1 (00:08):
You’re listening to Rattle and Pedal. Divergent thoughts on marketing and growing professional services firms. Your hosts are Jason Mlicki and Jeff McKay.
Jason Mlicki (00:21):
Jeff, convinced me to do a podcast on taglines, which is I actually, I think your most hated subject. I don’t understand why we’re doing this, but we’ll do it anyway.
Jeff McKay (00:31):
Well, isn’t that what we always do? You’re like, “Man, what didn’t you really want to talk about? All right. Let’s talk about that.” Because there’s a reason we don’t want to talk about it. It’s a funny way to start a podcast. That’s for sure. But it’s not as funny as where you are right now. Why don’t you tell our listeners where you’re sitting?
Jason Mlicki (00:50):
Well, I’m in a closet. I’m sitting in a closet. There’s probably a lot of metaphors coming to people’s minds. I’m sequestered in a closet doing a podcast with you. I don’t know what the tagline is for that. Maybe we can create one by the end of the episode.
Jeff McKay (01:02):
“Dedicated to Rattle and Pedal.” [inaudible 00:01:05] Dedicated because Jason’s on vacation, but we have to keep the presses running. He is in the closet. Is the family out at the pool, out at the beach? Where’s the family?
Jason Mlicki (01:18):
It’s raining right now. I think they’re watching shows or something probably.
Jeff McKay (01:22):
This is going to be a podcast that’s going to be really tight because the subject is one we both love, and you need to get back on vacation.
Jason Mlicki (01:33):
Yeah. I mean, so taglines. Huh? What are they good for? Right? I made a list of taglines that I’ve either liked, or have stuck with me over the years in preparation for this. That one time I had mentioned this to you, and I didn’t take the time to dig it up. We used to have a framework for this, where we had a whole bunch of different sort of types of taglines, and their intended use cases. Man, I don’t remember all of them off the top of my head, although I think I managed to remember a few of them, but I think the central question before we get into specific taglines would be, “Are tagline’s even a good investment for a B-to-B market, or a professional services for our [inaudible 00:02:05]?” If so, when and how? When would it make sense, and why would it be a good investment of resources to develop a tagline? Do you have any thoughts on that? I hadn’t thought about it coming into it, but you probably have.
Jeff McKay (02:18):
I have thought about it because I’ve had to work with taglines that my forebears have created, or have been asked to create them. I’m just not a big fan of taglines, particularly in professional services, firms. The impetus for this podcast was my disdain, or objection, to taglines in professional services, prompted me to write a blog post. It is one of the most popular blog posts on my website. I’m sure it’s popular from an SEO perspective, primarily because people are out there looking for taglines, and the SEO long tail word on it is simply, “Professional services taglines,” I think. It’s one of the most popular, as I said, blog posts, but we don’t do taglines because I think they suck up so much resource. When I say resource, marketing time, but more important in a partnership, everybody trying to agree to what the tagline should be, that they’re really not worth it. If you were to think about taglines in professional services in particular, and maybe B-to-B in general, you’re hard pressed I would think to remember any tagline. Say maybe Accenture’s, “High performance. Delivered.”
Jason Mlicki (03:49):
Yeah, and that’s a great one. We’ve talked about that rooted out of their Tiger Woods campaign. All the work they were doing about high performance. They are a rare exception of a firm that manages to, to still eat the central premise of the firm, the central idea of the firm, down to a very simple concept. I mean, my sense is that the biggest challenge of a tagline for a firm is just simply that. I mean, it’s so hard to get a firm to agree on where it wants to grow and how it wants to grow. Even what their ideal client looks like. Let alone get down to three or five words that describe firm in some meaningful way to clients that it just seems like almost a fool’s game to try. That title didn’t actually make it on my list for whatever reason, but it is a great one.
Jason Mlicki (04:35):
I mean, the only other one I can think of, I don’t know if it’s a tagline per se, but it’s just IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign that they’ve done. I don’t think it’s a tagline per se, but it certainly feels like one. That’s one that I think has been a very successful campaign for them. It’s positioned the organization in the right way. Of course, IBM is much broader than those professional services firms.
Jason Mlicki (04:56):
Another one on the B-to-B front that came to mind for me was not really a tagline either, but is back in the day, it’s been really critical was the no software mark that Salesforce used for a long time. I don’t know if they’re still using it, but it’s just a software with a red X over it. In a lot of ways you could argue that Salesforce basically built the SAS industry on the back of that philosophical belief of no software. Even though SAS had been around, before that it was called ASP before it became SAS, but it had been around for a long time. But in a lot of ways, it was that mantra that carried the movement of SAS forward. As I recall, Salesforce was the first billion dollar SAS company. Those were just a couple that jumped out to me. But, yeah, I agree. I look at my list, very few of them were in the B-to-B space. None of them were really in the professional services space purely.
Jeff McKay (05:47):
Yeah. I cannot for the life of me, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading taglines, from big four, the human capital space. I couldn’t remember one that was memorable, including at the firms I was at. Actually the only one that I do remember was at one of the HR firms that was so bad. It was memorable.
Jason Mlicki (06:18):
They’re doing damage?
Jeff McKay (06:19):
Oh my gosh, no, it was, “Building relationships. Producing results.” When I saw that, I’m like, “What does that even mean?” But it’s the outgrowth of market testing. I’ve said this before, there’s three drivers of brand preference. Expertise, results, and relationship. You have nuances on that. That firm just took that research almost verbatim, and created a tagline on it. It’s just a glittering generality that means nothing to clients.
Jeff McKay (06:54):
I think more importantly, and this gets to the point that you made about Salesforce and Accenture, both of those firms, and the taglines that we spoke about, were all culturally driven. We talked about the Accenture one when we were talking about, what was it? Ad campaigns, I guess, and the whole Tiger thing. But the high performance came before.
Jason Mlicki (07:21):
Jeff McKay (07:22):
Tiger. That was the leadership team saying, “This is what we want to be known for.” And then the ad campaign was out. Most of these create an ad campaign, and then try to change the culture to accommodate that. But the same with Salesforce, I mean, very strong personality at the top of that, that was driving that rebel against the machine, right? I mean, oh gosh, got to have an enemy.
Jason Mlicki (07:50):
Well, and that’s a really great point. We talk a lot about, in our branding model, we talk a lot about point of view. The idea that a firm has to have a governing perspective on the world. It has to have a worldview. You can argue that that’s a firm wide point of view, or maybe a practice specific point of view, or maybe you need a little bit of both. We talk a lot about that point of view being about attracting and rejecting. It’s philosophically driven. It’s about attracting people that think like you do, and pushing away people that don’t think like you do. You could argue that maybe taglines are an encapsulation of that, a nutshell of that. And that may be, if you’re trying to invest in a tagline in professional services, it’s not about creating name and brand recognition and memorability the same way a consumer tagline is. Maybe it’s more about just imparting the philosophical belief systems, and then using it as a way to direct culture.
Jason Mlicki (08:37):
I mean, as you were talking, I dug up an old article I wrote. It’s a really old article on rebranding versus refreshes. The difference between the two, and why you would consider one versus the other.
Jeff McKay (08:47):
Did you write that in crayon?
Jason Mlicki (08:49):
Did I write that in crayon? I don’t even understand the question. Actually I didn’t even write this article. You’re quoted in the article, as a matter of fact. It was written by our account.
Jeff McKay (08:59):
Oh, no kidding?
Jason Mlicki (09:00):
Our then account director. One of the examples that he used, I thought it was a really great example of a rebrand. It was the transition from Ernst and Young to EY. It was the example of a firm changing, literally changing the way it was communicating to the marketplace. The taglines they used at the time are pretty interesting. You have, “Ernst and Young, quality in everything we do. EY, building a better working world.”
Jason Mlicki (09:23):
They were literally trying to just change the conversation around the firm. “We don’t want to be Ernst and Young anymore. We don’t want to be driven around quality. Quality is table stakes. We want you to connect with EY philosophically because of the way we’re trying to approach the world of work,” right? I could see that tagline being effective, not from the memorability standpoint, because I didn’t remember it, but potentially in changing the conversation inside the firm, when they were trying to go through that transition to your point, leadership saying, “Hey, we’ve got to change the way we talk here. Clients don’t want quality and efficiency. Those are expectations. They want something different than that. Something more than that.” I’ll link out to that article. It’s a nice article, sort of explaining the difference between a refresh and a rebrand, and that it alludes to that as well.
Speaker 1 (10:07):
You’re listening to Rattle and Pedal. Divergent thoughts on growing your professional services firm. Your hosts are Jason Mlicki, principal of Rattleback, the marketing agency for professional services firms. And Jeff McKay, former CMO and founder of Strategy Consultancy, Prudent Pedal. If you find this podcast helpful please help us by telling a friend, and rating us on iTunes. Thank you. Now back to Jason and Jeff.
Jeff McKay (10:34):
That was a rebrand. McKinsey just rebrand. We talked about that. I don’t think they added a tagline at that time, did they? Or slogan?
Jason Mlicki (10:44):
Not that I’m aware of, but I’m going to put you on the spot. Why don’t you give me a McKinsey tagline if you were to create one for them? I want to hear this out of you.
Jeff McKay (10:52):
I can’t even think of one.
Jason Mlicki (10:54):
I’m just teasing you.
Jeff McKay (10:54):
Did they have one at one time?
Jason Mlicki (10:56):
I don’t think they ever did. And to your point, I don’t know why they would need one? They are the strategist in the corner office for virtually every major corporation on the planet. That’s how you think of them, and know of them. As we’ve talked in that rebrand discussion, the need for them to go downstream a little bit, do more implementation work, do more industry specific thought leadership, all the things that they’re doing to expand the visibility of the firm in other directions, a tagline’s not going to solve that problem most likely. Would it be a good investment of resources? I wouldn’t think so.
Jeff McKay (11:25):
Yeah. I think it’s seldom is except to the point where you said we’re trying to coalesce the culture. I think here’s the important takeaway from this. Firm leadership, I think, often looks at taglines as a shortcut to a strong brand. “If we just got that right memorable line, people would understand the value that we offer,” but I just don’t think the world works that way. Particularly in B-to-B firms. In generally in professional service firms, they don’t because number one, they’re made in committee, and they don’t want to alienate anybody. The strongest taglines, as you said, alienate people, right? Because they tell, “You’re in, you’re out, of our worldview,” and most firms don’t want to do that.
Jeff McKay (12:19):
The other thing that’s really important, Accenture, and we talked about Tiger, is if you want a tagline to root, you have to spend millions of dollars to hear that thing over and over, and see it over and over and over on everything and everywhere. If it doesn’t have an emotional resonance to it, then it just becomes noise and annoyance. It has to speak to some kind of Zeit Geist, if you will. I think this is one of the fundamental flaws of B-to-B taglines. You just can’t hit an emotional tone in a B-to-B purchase other than, “Hey, this is a safe purchase, and you’re not going to make a career limiting move.” And maybe the flip of that, “Oh, if you buy us then you’re going to keep climbing in your organization,” but I mean, there’s no real emotional resonance with any B-to-B tagline.
Jason Mlicki (13:20):
Yeah. For the most part, I would agree. I think the one outlier to that where you can bring emotion to the marketing, and emotion to the tagline, if you wanted to do one, would be if you’re targeting business owners, particularly small business owners. I can’t think of the name of the firm right now, but I know there was a firm at one time that really targeted the owners of small businesses. It was a consulting firm. The message was really about, “This isn’t just about your business. It’s also about your life and your family.” When you’re speaking to private, or family owned businesses, private owners, you have to recognize that there’s a blurry relationship between work and life and it’s fuzzy at best. That’s the one place where you probably can speak to some emotional feel, but it’s not going to be easy. There’s not many firms that really want to target that audience for obvious reasons. That’s the only place I can think of where there’s some of that.
Jason Mlicki (14:15):
Although, I guess, Salesforce accomplished it, right? They accomplished it with a philosophical way of looking at the world, and getting people behind that. And that there’s certainly an emotional, “Us against the establishment,” type message to that, that could be played in many places. I guess I wouldn’t exclude it altogether, so it’s not possible. It’s just incredibly hard. It’s hard to get the emotional context of a buy. That’s not about risk reduction, as you said.
Jason Mlicki (14:41):
Well, when I was thinking about this interesting thing to me is I think some of the best taglines actually come out of local marketing. I don’t even necessarily mean that they’re great taglines that you love them, they’re great taglines because you remember them, and you connect them back to the organism of the company over and over again.
Jason Mlicki (14:58):
Auto dealers, HVAC contractors, those people that are advertising still on television using audio tags, have some of the most memorable taglines that stick. You can remember them, and you can tie them back to those organizations very easily. To me, that’s where an investment in a tagline is paying back in spades for organizations. I’ll give an example. In Columbus there’s a HVAC contractor called Atlas Butler, and they’ve got a tagline, it comes with an audio tag and it says, “Atlas Butler, at your service. Call 1-800-FURNACE.” I remember it off the top of my head any time. They’ve been running that same audio tag forever, but it’s in that instance it works exceptionally well because how many HVAC contractors can I name in Columbus, Ohio? I don’t know three? How many of them can I name a phone number for? One? I also think, especially for local marketers, they drastically underestimate the value of those types of simplistic messages that bring with them, audio resonance, and memorability.
Jason Mlicki (16:00):
Some of that art of marketing has been lost, and the firms that have hung on to it, the organizations that have hung on to it, that have the right type of product for that type of advertising are still having a lot of success with that type of very simplistic tagline driven theme-based audio based advertising.
Jason Mlicki (16:20):
I have another one I can give you. It’s not a local brand, but it’s another one along those lines. This is one, I actually just happened to know a guy inside of the organization, and I’m not going to name him because I don’t want to get them into trouble, but it’s Safelite. I assume you know what Safelite does? What does Safelite do?
Jeff McKay (16:35):
Jason Mlicki (16:36):
Yeah, windshields. Their audio tag, and their tagline is, “Safelite repair. Safelite replace.” That’s a little audio thing that goes with their ad campaigns. What’s really fascinating about their ad campaigns is that, and this is why I brought it up, is that that’s one of the few organizations I’ve ever encountered in my entire life, where there is literally a direct relationship between ad spend and sales. Every time they fly a media campaign, there’s a direct correlation to sales life, no matter where they run it. It all hinges goes back to this very simplistic message about repair and replace. To repair or replace your windshield? There’s no cost to repair it by the way.
Jeff McKay (17:14):
Well now that is such a perfect example, in particular, if you’re on radio, you’re sitting in your car, and you’re looking through a windshield that’s cracked or has some kind of pit in it. And you’re just like, “Well, look at that. There’s a radio message. There’s my problem. I can call and fix on it right now.” It’s the perfect combination of hitting your buyer right where they’re at. I can understand why that one would be very good.
Jason Mlicki (17:42):
Where do we net out on this? I mean, I don’t know if we added any new language or new thinking here. I mean, so taglines, good investment, bad investment?
Jeff McKay (17:50):
Well here, I’ll net it out with this advice. If you’re a managing partner, CEO in the B-to-B world, don’t ask your marketing team to give you a tagline before they do hundreds of other things. First, and marketers, if a managing partner, CEO or partner comes to you and says, “Hey, we need a tagline,” say to them, “No, you don’t. We need to focus on our culture, and make sure we have a consistent culture that we’re living out that both attracts, and repels, customers and future employees.” If you use that as a starting point, and then you know what you’re trying to accomplish. If the tagline’s going to be about coalescing, as you said, an internal culture, you don’t need a big ad campaign or anything with that. But if you are going to make an investment in this, you have to invest a lot.
Jeff McKay (18:51):
There has to be a huge sustained ad campaign. Most firms I just don’t think have the tolerance for that. And more often not, they get bored. They’re like, “Oh, we’ve had that tagline for so long. It’s time for a new one,” which is actually the time it’s probably starting to resonate in the market. By the time you’re getting sick of it, that’s when people are finally just starting to hear it. But I just think there’s so many other places to invest time and money than a tagline. Which, in most firms is an attempt to, a shortcut to growth, and it just doesn’t work.
Jason Mlicki (19:28):
I think that’s a great way to close. I was going to say to that, I was going to add on the thing you just said. The only other thing I would add to it would be maybe a reason that you see a partner looking for a tagline. You mentioned that’s a shortcut, it’s a quick way, in their mind, it’s a quick solution to a very complex problem of, “How do we get growth?” In some instances they probably work with a lot of the consumer oriented companies that have used taglines, and that type of very simplistic advertising messaging to great success. They think to themselves, “Well, why can’t we do that here? Why can’t we simplify our message down to five words and ride that to success?” There’s sort of this belief system that, there’s always that conversation about, “Do consumer marketing principles apply to B-to-B settings?”
Jason Mlicki (20:10):
As we’ve talked in times, there are some things that absolutely do, and some things that absolutely don’t. This is probably one of those things where it usually probably doesn’t work very well. You don’t have all of the conditions to be successful as you pointed out with that Safelite campaign. There are specific conditions that make that successful related to getting the right message in front of the right person at the right time. And in the context of a firm, a tagline is probably rarely the right message. Often not the right time for it to be seen. It probably fails all those conditions would be fine.
Jason Mlicki (20:42):
All right, so next week we’re on the world tour of edge marketing ideas here. We’re going to talk about naming next week. You took us down a path of taglines, now you’re going to take us on a path of naming. We have a guest joining us. I think it’ll be really interesting. I’ll look forward to having that conversation next week.
Jeff McKay (21:00):
Yeah, what an interesting time as so many iconic names are changing. I think it’s going to be a fun conversation.
Jason Mlicki (21:08):
All right, man, well, I’ll talk to you next week.
Jeff McKay (21:10):
Have fun at the beach, buddy.
Jason Mlicki (21:13):
All right, man.
Speaker 1 (21:13):
Thank you for listening to Rattle and Pedal. Divergent thoughts on marketing and growing professional services firms. Find content related to this episode at rattleandpedal.com. Rattle and Pedal is also available on iTunes and Stitcher.