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How to write a strapline

Straplines are tricky little blighters. They’re supposed to say everything about your business – who you are, what you do and why it’s great for your customer. And you’ve got to do all that with a tiny handful of words.

“Does exactly what it says on the tin”

You see? Brilliant. When Dave Shelton and Liz Whiston came up with that line 20 years ago, they changed Ronseal from just another varnish into a brand leader. With 8 words.

OK, I’ll be honest. It’s not easy to come up with a great strapline, let alone an iconic one. But if you’re struggling to come up with a neat little nugget that summarises your business, these 3 tips may help.

Keep it simple

Simplicity is key. Don’t try and be clever because it just doesn’t work with straplines. They need to be so straightforward that a 3 year old will understand the vocabulary. They also need to be short. You’re aiming for between 3 and 8 words.

Use simple words that are meaningful. For heaven’s sake, avoid “solutions”. It’s not just overused and wordy, it’s meaningless. And besides, you haven’t the space to prove you’ve understood the problem so nobody will believe you. Tesco don’t offer “low price solutions”. They tell you a universal truth:

“Every little helps”

Brainstorm some words

Which words describe your business? Forget about how you see it. Try and think about how you’d like your customers to see you.

Write down 10 simple words that summarise your brand. Then write down another 10 words that explain how you benefit your customer. Don’t be ashamed to use a Roget’s Thesaurus. Believe me, copywriters do it all the time.

After you’ve found some words, play around with them. Don’t rush it. The less that’s required, the more time it takes to get right. As well as writing, the process will involve talking to yourself, staring into space and uttering sweary words. Miller Lite’s copywriter would have probably turned the air blue writing this:

“Great taste, less filling."

Be honest

Don’t over-sell. Can your business deliver on the promises it makes in its strapline? Are you really “the best”, or “the number 1”? Customers tend to ignore hyperbole. After all, everyone else is saying the same thing so they won’t just take your word for it.

Being honest sets you apart from your competitors. It’s trustworthy and it makes you much more memorable. The Avis slogan “We try harder”, which they still use today, was written by Paula Green in 1962. The original strapline was this:

“We're only number two, so we try harder"

Helen Beckingham is an SEO copywriter at Keyword Copywriting. Expert scribbler on websites, blogs and e-books, rather good bassoonist, terrible singer. Contact helen@keywordcopywriting.co.uk here

3 things that make your website truly awful

Have you come across any truly hideous websites lately? You know, the kind that make you want to lie down in a darkened room and cover your eyes - either from embarrassment or because they've given you eye strain.

I like bad websites. Seriously, they make me happy. I cheerfully tonk about on the web actively seeking out website disasters. And then I ring up the company, politely diss their website and offer to make it better for them. This works surprisingly well.

Anyway, I’m guessing you won’t want that phone call. So here’s a quick rundown of 3 things that would put your website on my hit list:

Gibberish

Gibberish is a great way to attract the attention of a copywriter on a mission. Let’s start with an example from one of the big boys. This is Microsoft, apparently trying to talk to a customer who doesn’t know much about computers:

"Discover and map permissions across multiple systems to individual, assignable roles, leveraging role mining tools to discover the various permission sets for users across the enterprise to be later modeled and applied centrally. IT and auditors with a single view of individual users and resources can increase visibility into compliance and the security state of systems across their organization along with in-depth auditing and reporting. ”

Really, I haven’t made that up. It’s actual copy from the Microsoft website. Do you have any idea what they’re talking about? Me neither. It’s rubbish and it doesn't speak to the customer. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Don’t tell your visitor what you do

I do love a website that leaves me flummoxed about what a business does. Here’s a perfect example from a company called Genicap. If you can manage to work out what they do, feel free to let me know.

Anything and everything? Hey, thanks that’s helpful. But it’s comforting to know that they have a MISSION. What their mission is… Well it’s anyone’s guess really.

Incidentally, they also get my phone call for the glaring grammatical error in the second paragraph. Honestly, I adore this website. If the copy alone weren’t enough to make it awful, the grammar would seal their fate.

Put everything on one page

There’s only one thing more splendid than a website that fails to explain. And that’s a website that’s tries to explain EVERYTHING. On a single page. Look, here’s one.

You’ll probably find the kitchen sink in there somewhere. If only you had a spare lifetime to find it.

That Arngren example is obviously an e-commerce site, but the same rules apply to brochure sites. Your website is there to persuade your visitor to take a specific action – whether that’s to contact you for more information, sign up, download or make a booking.

Don’t try and dump too much information on your reader. They'll run away with a headache and won’t take any action at all. And you’ll get a call from me.

Helen Beckingham is an SEO copywriter at Keyword Copywriting. Expert scribbler on websites, blogs and e-books, rather good bassoonist, terrible singer. Contact helen@keywordcopywriting.co.uk here