The tendency is a natural one. We figure, it’s our company, so of course our tagline should be about us, right?

If, say, we owned a burger joint, maybe we’d come up with something like, “Burgers individually prepared to the customer’s order.” It reveals a product benefit, which is smart. But…it’s still a clunky tagline. Back in the ‘70s, Burger King featured that same competitive advantage, but approached it from the buyer’s point-of-view instead of their own.

The result was the much more elegant “Have it your way.” See the difference? It comes down to “how we prepare it” vs. “how you can enjoy it.” The first example talks about the “customer,” but of course they’re only customers from the perspective of the burger makers. In BK’s line, the word “your” projects the message into the world of the burger eaters.

Let’s try another one. Let’s say we run a computer company, and we’re selling against the hugely popular market leader. To differentiate ourselves, maybe we’d adopt a line something like “A different type of computer.” Apple has a history of being in that marketplace position, but in the late 90s, that’s not the company line they used, is it?

Their tagline was “Think Different.” Strategically, it makes sense to target buyers who don’t see themselves as part of the me-too crowd. What’s interesting is that this simple two-word tagline doesn’t mention the product at all. It zeroes in on that individual’s “higher value” of living a life apart from (and presumably above) the faceless masses. A higher value that the folks at Apple just happen to share.

Shared higher values are what turn a one-time buyer into a life-long customer. We all want to feel like we’re a part of something, that we somehow belong to a subculture of people whose hearts and minds are in the same place as ours. People who might be attracted to the same products as we are.

When Lexus rolled out “The relentless pursuit of perfection,” were they talking only about the cars on their assembly line, or the idealized self-image of their daily-exercising, career-aggressive target market? Both, apparently. When FedEx came out with “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” were they referring to their own business mission, or their customers’ business mission? Again, both, and making that connection inevitably creates a visceral bond.

Another interesting line from the automotive world is BMW’s classic, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Here, “what we offer” and “what you can have” become one and the same. There are a lot of cars out there, but only one Ultimate Driving Machine. If you think you’re special (and who doesn’t), then you deserve better than just another car like everyone else…right?

Some great taglines often don’t even refer the product itself, or try to make a connection between that product and the potential customer. Sometimes companies just tap into the existing connection between the reader and what’s already important to them. From the days when film cameras recorded our vacation adventures, one of my all-time favorite company taglines is Kodak’s “Because time goes by.”

It was a clever emotional trigger that reminded us to buy lots of film and take lots of pictures of our loved ones, to preserve life’s precious events and accomplishments. The point is, that tagline wasn’t about the company, it wasn’t about what they were selling, it was about us, and what we already cared about, before we even saw that tagline.

In a crowded, chaotic and ever-evolving marketplace, we ourselves, as well as the people we care about, are far, far more important than any company out there. Perceptive businesspeople understand this, and push past their own company-centric perspective into their prospects’ own circumstances, agendas and rich emotional lives.

Back in the 90s, when the DeBeers diamond company found the sales of their engagement-ring gems declining, they introduced a new tagline. “A diamond is forever” cemented the connection between their product, and our heart-felt, life-long commitment to the person we loved. If we’ve intrinsically bought into that principle, how could we not buy the product?

In fact, the iconic diamond isn’t really positioned here as a product at all. It’s more of a shining symbol for a core aspect of our greater self.

Despite what seems logical on the surface, the most impactful taglines aren’t about getting us to see some company in a certain way. They’re about how we already see ourselves. And even then, perhaps not the person we are right now, but who we aspire to be.

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