I’m at Byron Bay. Mecca for the socially aware. Spending a couple of hours with an old mate who has taken every holiday over the past 10 years here. He has bought a ‘bit of property’ every time he’s visited. He now owns a fair few spots, shops, farms, apartments. He decided to retire, in his forties, and all he does now is surf and drink beer and talk to people. He’s charming, his family are charming; the scene is charming… almost.

We’re lounging on the grass eating fish and chips with our kids. The sky is blue, a few random white cotton-ball clouds tippy-toe across the horizon. Whales jump, miles out to sea. As they do, mobs of hippies, interspersed with Japanese tourists, gabble in awe as the white water plumes shoot up from the sphere of endless blue. The chant of some 30, spoiled, fresh-faced, well-meaning middle class black t-shirted kids, protesting to Make Poverty History, almost drowns out the seagulls.

The seagulls swoop and cackle every time one of my spoiled, middle-class kids tosses half a chip their way. Somehow the noise and eagerness of the gulls is out of step here. This is a serene environment and the mad scramble for food, the flapping of wings, the snapping at competitors, is wrong – it does not fit. The sun is forever shining, the grass is greener, the wind lighter and airy, a perfect 24 degrees, soft unadulterated mellowness. But then come more birds, and with no regard for the peace and calm of the place, they make a violent racket over a few greasy chips.

It gets me thinking about calmness. About a focus on one thing, one culture, versus a loud gabble about anything. About how many marketers say way too much, pester their customers, rather than pacify, staying relaxed in themselves, like the proverbial surfing hippy.

I guess much of it comes down to confidence, to knowing what it is you stand for and proudly pushing that direction. Having the balls to make the big call; and not trying to be everything to everybody.

And I think about who’s successful out there in Marketing Land, and how much they focus their efforts on a single-minded proposition.

I’m simply big

The big operators always focus. In fact, the bigger you are, usually the simpler you get. I’m not sure if you get simple because it’s easier to manage when you’re big, or you get big because you are simple or keep things simple, but either way, simplicity in marketing messages goes hand-in-hand with size. It’s the big groups who say a simple message. It’s the small ones who always want to say way too much in their communications. And I know youre probably saying, “Big companies that are already known have the luxury of being simple and the little guys have to stand out and be different to get big.” Good point. But to stand out to the masses you need to keep it basic. YouTube has grown from nothing to a multibillion dollar company with ‘Broadcast yourself’.

Simple means easy

Simple is so much easier for everyone. From the customer who can describe your ads to their friends, to the marketing department briefing their agency, to the agency’s art directors who know what kind of image to look for, simplicity makes your marketing smoother, your message stronger, your dollar go further.

You simply stand out

By being one-eyed on what you say about the brand, you allow the public to recognise a pattern. They can see you in a field of moving images, in the wash of rubbish that is today’s communication mix. You maximise the effectiveness of your media spend, by being more recognisable among the 5000-plus messages they have to wade through every day.

Yours are the ripest melons

It doesn’t matter what the message is, as long as it can be delivered and you can feel good about it for many years. It must obviously have wide appeal if you are to grow large. (With a narrow focus on a low income target group, like unemployed alcoholics blind in one eye, you might end up very poor yourself.)

A psychological positioning

You need a message that anyone, in the right mood, will relate to. Fortunately there are millions of these messages – we humans can relate to all sorts of situations or emotional positions – but, and here’s the rub, it must be both emotional and somehow fit a ‘logical’ angle too. Logical is easy, the better size, the cheaper price, the more convenient pack. But there are millions of brands out there that do everything right and still fail to make real money. Why? Because people don’t buy on logic, they buy emotion. You and I as marketers know this – the pack looks prettier, the brand says animal-friendly, the vibe is for kids, the lonely old man finds a new friend, whatever. We like the brand.

The choice isn’t easy

More effort goes on this issue than almost any other in Big Company Land. Number two is executive jostling position, three is the financial situation and a long way behind in fourth is anything else.

Why? ‘Cause why we are here and what we say about ourselves makes or breaks waking minds in Senior Marketing Land. The day-to-day is often made up of meetings about psychological locations, moving niches, deep research, chatter online or consultants’ constant ‘revelations’. But most of all, about how we should paint how we are seen. Why again? Because were human, and humans have values, simple values. And these values filter through to everything we do in life, so when a brand has a simple positive value, it has emotional appeal.

This takes focus. And, as we have to do new ads or the public gets bored very quickly, the issue is often very simply ‘How we can hit the centre of the circle again and again without straying from the sweet spot. What is it we can say, that says it again even better?’

And this focus is the job of the positioning line, the tagline.

Role of a tagline

To remind people why you exist. To summarise your brand’s values. To reinforce the good things they believe about your brand. To make you stand out and stand for something specific. To enhance your brand’s memorability and to hopefully generate a long-term positive feeling towards your business. And, most importantly of all, to give the agency and the marketing department something to aim for with most ads.

Big company discipline

Good taglines are a big company discipline, like decent marketing budgets, professional, intelligent briefs and accounts departments that pay on time. Smaller, dumber, lesser-skilled businesses wonder whether they need them, can’t decide on what to say and often grasp the first thing that sounds OK, without putting the effort into decent analysis of the implications. Taglines, like any other key business communication tool, deserve real thought.

Research your market

Ask around the business. Interview customers. Run focus groups or quant studies if you’re that well-known. Be hard on the researchers – did they really mean that? How can you be so sure?

Test your taglines post their development too. Run a few focus groups or some quant on the take-out and how they are seen – make sure what you think it says is actually the take-out.

Decide if you’re there yet

Many players settle for how they are seen now. You need to add the one magical ingredient – vision. Choose a tagline that says as much about where you are going, as where you are now.

Focus on your findings

What to focus on is your core competitive advantage – real, perceived or intended. Easy to say, huh?

A broad advantage

Make it something that will appeal to all of your customers and most of your competitors’ customers, not something that just appeals to those you might like to focus on. The more universal, ‘motherhood’ the statement is, the better to win a large customer base. Motherhood – everyone is in favour of motherhood (otherwise we all wouldn’t be here…), except I guess if you happen to be becoming one right this day, then you might be in favour of reliable contraception… say, nine months ago.

Make it deliverable

When Coles adopted ‘Where quality costs no more’ in the mid 90s, it lost market share hand over fist (which is a bit like the way it was wanking itself, I guess) because the punters said: “Quality always costs more – this is a lie” (I did focus groups on it for the company’s competitors). It was demonstrably undeliverable in the public’s eyes and so lost the company credibility.

Do a style guide

Set up the situations in which the tagline will be used – how big it is to be in relation to the logo. Will it be used on all communications or should it vary by demographic group? But take the decision side of the style guide out of the designers’ hands – set a strong brief yourself. If you leave it to the designers, they will often do it on the basis of their perception of how it looks best, not how it works best strategically.

Leave the details out

If you haven’t got the meaning from the tagline, the tagline is not working. If people have to think for a little while first, it may be OK, in fact is often better, because they will remember it more if they ponder or ask someone, but if it plain doesn’t communicate properly, go back to the drawing board.

Resist the temptation to qualify

Sometimes companies make the mistake of trying to be too specific – too accurate. To explain exactly what you mean. This makes for very dull ads, and does not acknowledge the public has any brains, which is insulting. The push to do it usually comes from anal accountants or engineers who want everything perfect and who don’t understand how humans really think or behave and/or middle-weight lawyers who believe the ACCC still has some teeth and are always sure you need to make everything as plain as the nose on Graeme Samuel’s face.

Nice examples

  • BMW 3 Series – ‘The ultimate driving machine’
  • Vodafone – ‘Make the most of now’
  • Panadol – ‘It’s my choice’
  • Tatts – ‘Life could be a dream’
  • Lexus – ‘The passionate pursuit of perfection’
  • Coles – ‘Something better every day’
  • Life Health Care – ‘There’s more to life’
  • TXU – ‘We care about electricity, even if you don’t’
  • YouTube – ‘Broadcast yourself’
  • American Express – ‘Don’t leave home without it’
  • Hewlett Packard – ‘Invent’
  • Commonwealth Bank – ‘Which bank?’
  • And I love this one from our boys bearing arms in the States…
  • Colt 45 – ‘It works every time’
  • Dumb ones
  • Schwarzkopf – ‘Professional hair care for you’
    How could it be? I’m doing it at home!
  • ANZ (1980s) – ‘The best bank is the bank that serves you best’
    Hardly rolls off the tongue.
  • Holiday Inn – ‘Look again’
    Well, what the f#%* does that mean? Keep looking for another hotel?
  • Toys R Us – ‘I dont wanna grow up, Im a Toys R Us Kid’
    Fine in principle, but it would have been far better if it was ‘Dont grow up’. Again, less is more.
  • Johnnie Walker – ‘Keep Walking’
    In Australia, ‘Keep Walking’ means piss off, should we just ignore Johnnie and go straight for Jim?
  • Fanta – ‘Dont you wanta Fanta?’
    Just stupid.
  • Coca-Cola – ‘The Coke side of life’
    That’s the fat side for those who’ve had too much.
  • Camel cigarettes – ‘Id walk a mile for a Camel’
    You probably wouldnt make it a hundred metres.
  • Best Western – ‘Best everywhere’
    Talk about under-delivering on a promise.
  • LOréal – ‘Because Im worth it’
    Youre worth using a home hair colouring kit instead of going to a professional? Nup.

Types of positioning lines

Traditional taglines

Said after the brand’s name as in ‘National Australia Bank – Tailoring banking to your needs’. Not a very original way to do it, but probably the most effective.

Before lines

‘Seriously… Network 10′. Sets the public up often better than telling them after – but needs to be short or the brand gets lost in the process.

Surround line

‘Go Harvey Norman Go’. In their case it says to me ‘Go away from Harvey Norman’ – and one quick walk around their furniture department with the gorgeous vibrating plumped up armchairs designed for the super obese, said run to me.

Non-taglines

The classic fashion industry ‘we’re so cool we don’t need to say anything. We’ll just use grumpy, stick-thin models and guys with a three-day growth and you’ll know we’re it and a bit’. Which is fine if you’re the first one in your sector who takes this approach, but when they all do it? Just another way to blend your brand into all the others and stand for nothing. No wonder the rest of the marketing world laughs at the fashion industry. And why, when they do say something, like Benetton’s ‘United Colours’ (anti racist), or Rip Curl ‘The Search’ (for the perfect wave), they get noticed and remembered.

Live the dream – deliver the reality

Get everyone in the business to buy into the positioning focus – this is not that easy with 20,000 employees (often requires considerable internal work training courses, intranet emails, relaunch parties etc.). But the public doesn’t care if your internal communication system is shite. When Westpac says, “We know and respect our customer” the punters expect the staff in their branch to say, “Hi Mary, how are the kids?”, not ask her for frickin’ ID.

Get over it

Yes, you’re not sure what the message should be. And you’re not sure if the current one is working. This is a good place to start. Giving decent consideration to things is invariably way better than bog determination to shove a dumb idea down the public’s throat. So often the case…

The steps to find a simple promise, and the focusing of your company on that, aren’t hard really. It’s a bit like eating an elephant – one bite at a time. It should be quite uplifting and will give you heaps of excuses to debate issues with other senior management and the board. With any luck, you can even launch a new campaign, which is always nice for your CV.