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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