Capital Ideas Blog

The tricky business of marketing slogans

By Pradeep K. Chintagunta
December 17, 2012

From: Blog


This post originally appeared on the Kilts Center Faculty Blog
             
In the sci-fi cult classic Bladerunner, the Tyrell Corporation uses the tagline “More human than human” to convey its ability to make “replicants” that resemble real people. Marketing slogans reflect how companies would like to be viewed—primarily, by their customers, but also by other key stakeholders in the business, such as investors and employees.

An effective marketing slogan distills the benefits provided by the firm’s products and services for its target customers into a message about how the company is different from its competitors. So when Wal-Mart says “Save Money. Live Better,” it is telling its stakeholders that by shopping at Wal-Mart rather than a rival store, customers will save money, have access to better products, and thereby lead better lives.

When “You’re in good hands” with Allstate, you get the benefits of security and trust at the moment when you are likely to be most vulnerable—after an accident, a natural disaster, etc. When you are in the “Ultimate driving machine” experiencing “Sheer driving pleasure” you are experiencing the joys of the road in a performance luxury car (BMW) as opposed to other luxury cars that may isolate you more from the road and from the driving experience (Lexus).

And with Tom’s of Maine, the maker of eco-friendly products, it is “Naturally, it works.” Not only does the slogan lay out the differentiator—“Naturally,” it also alleviates a potential concern with the efficacy of the product by reminding the customer that “it works.” A company’s marketing slogan should also serve as a “rallying cry” for its employees. If the external message being given by Wal-Mart is that one can save money by shopping there, it is critical that the entire organization is aligned to fulfilling the promise conveyed by the slogan.

Organizationally, then, the firm should strive to lower costs of acquiring products, to control overhead associated with offices and stores, to have more efficient logistics, etc. If Allstate wants to deliver on the message of being in good hands, its employees and agents need to be trained in conveying the necessary assurance to an irate customer. Tom’s of Maine is dedicated to providing products that are natural, sustainable and responsible. This “forms the basis for our everyday decision-making” according to Mark Dobrovolny, the company’s Director of Research and Product Development.

Having a clear, well-defined, tangible or “hard” slogan makes it easier to translate what the firm would like to be viewed as externally to what it needs to do internally. A softer or more “fuzzy” slogan might appeal to customers by allowing them to interpret it for themselves. However, using such a slogan as a rallying cry within the organization is difficult for precisely the same reason. If each employee (or any other stakeholder for that matter) interprets the slogan differently, there could be a mismatch between what is promised and what is delivered. Consequently, organizations resorting to such slogans need to work extra hard to ensure an alignment between what is said externally and what is done internally.

In a recent column, the marketing guru Al Ries makes the point that softer slogans may not translate well into sales. The subject of Ries’s column was the new slogan being used by my alma mater, the Kellogg Graduate School of Management—“Think Differently” (a tag line that bears more than a passing resemblance to Apple’s “Think Different.”) From the school’s perspective, the “soft” slogan is backed by four principles of how to think differently—understanding the “architecture” of collaboration, understanding the demand side of markets, mastering the art and science of innovation, and having broader wisdom, which includes appreciating public–private partnerships, understanding legal and regulatory frameworks etc.

The principles are intended to translate the slogan into tangible factors for the school to deliver on. Clearly, these principles constitute important aspects of business education. The questions for Kellogg are: does the slogan effectively translate these principles for their target audience?; are these principles differentiated from what one might be offered at other business schools?; do the employees—faculty and staff—see the clear nexus between the slogan and the principles to be able to deliver on the “Think Differently” promise? The answers to these and other questions will likely determine the slogan’s success.

A final note: having a slogan that effectively communicates the positioning of a firm’s products may not always work, and needs to take into account the context in which the slogan is used. Who can forget the memorable slogan from the Swedish manufacturer of vacuum cleaners, Electrolux—“Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”!

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