Un-Differentiators – Branding Fails When It’s Bland

Category: Branding

Are you brainstorming possible marketing taglines for your product/service or overall brand? Or perhaps you already have a tagline or slogan? In this strategy post from George Baily of UK digital consultancy KnowledgePower, exclusively for the Enlightenment Media blog, we look at how to avoid being boring or meaningless, and instead focus on finding the best differentiator to communicate to your customers…

The problem I describe here is something you will start seeing everywhere, once you tune into it… Businesses which advertise a tagline, slogan, or benefit headline… THAT MEANS NOTHING.

Some examples:

  • We care
  • Top quality at affordable prices
  • Complete solutions
  • Service with a smile
  • We have what it takes
  • Your trusted expert
  • Serving you
  • Highly trained team
  • We go the extra mile
  • Providing service excellence
  • We pride ourselves
  • Our customers come first

They all sound nice, but you know what? ANY BUSINESS COULD SAY THOSE THINGS.

And many, many businesses DO say those same exact things.

You’ve probably tuned out of reading hundreds of such ‘marketing’ messages just on your journey to work today. Don’t let your business branding fall into this lazy blandness trap.

When writing copy for your marketing, and especially headline and tagline copy – it can be hard to think of original words… But you must try, otherwise just writing generic filler copy is a waste of space and tells your customers to zone out.

You have to look at your tagline ideas critically and AVOID saying what everyone else is saying, because generic wording fails to differentiate you and automatically triggers boredom in your customers.

Avoid generic vocabulary

Here are some more words which you may be tempted to use to describe your business, but which you should AVOID making part of your main tagline/pitch because they are GENERIC:

  • competitive
  • full-featured
  • experienced
  • top of the line
  • reliable
  • robust
  • quality
  • flexible
  • integrated
  • smart

There is nothing wrong with these words in context, but they can’t stand alone as your main headlines, taglines, or callouts to tell customers what to associate with your brand.

You don’t want your customers to associate your brand with a YAWN.

Some real-life un-differentiators

The following may be strong and established brands, but it seems they lack meaning and differentiation in their taglines…

Zappos logo - powered by service

“Powered by service” tells you a lot about their headcount and internal philosophy but it is next to useless at priming you why you should buy stuff from them.

Segway logo: simply moving

“Simply moving” is clever but meaningless.

Nationwide logo: on your side

Wait – why would you not be on my side?

blueberrywave logo: making data personal

You know what they were trying to say, and what they were trying to say is not a differentiator…

accenture logo: high performance delivered

Oh, thank goodness we now understand what accenture do and why we should pay them megabucks!

Symantec banner - the global leader in cybersecurity - stay ahead of tomorrows threats - protect your critical data wherever it lives - achieve a higher level of security

Symantec’s ad agency brainstormed four taglines… and kept all of them. Result: meaningless generic impression on the reader that fails to differentiate.

Saying you are unique does not make you unique!

The following words can be found everywhere and so are not differentiators:

  • unique
  • innovative
  • outstanding
  • excellence
  • exceptional
  • awesome

The more you rely just on assertions like these, the less unique you seem.

You should also avoid falling into cliché traps that are specific to your industry, e.g. apparel “discover your style“, “affordable elegance“; or software “unparalleled efficiency“, “highly scalable architecture“. You may want to talk about these things, but they are hardly likely to be unique benefits of your offering.

base CRM banner: this is not your normal crm - we are different - we are base

Sorry Base, just saying you are different doesn’t really differentiate you!

screenshot of google search results for the phrase - we are different - with over 58 million results

I rest my case.


Headlines, taglines, slogans, and callouts should differentiate you. Almost no business operates without competitors, and the free flow of information online means that most of your customers are probably more educated about your competitors and alternatives than you are!

If you can’t clearly define what your top differentiating feature or (better) benefit is… don’t feel bad: actually, that is a great place to dive into a business strategy rethink.

If you can pivot and focus your business on a unique, differentiating benefit, GREAT because then all of your marketing will be so much clearer in message – both for you and for your prospective customer audience.

Alibaba logo: global trade starts here

Massive global brands can afford to be vague and clever, but this example from Alibaba is still a good differentiating tagline because in four words it says what they do and asserts they are the starting point, i.e. the market leading vertical. But for normal SME branding your tagline needs to be more specific and less clever.

global sources logo - reliable exporters - find them and meet them

Global Sources is an older online trade directory than Alibaba and it is differentiating well versus its competitor, with this tagline that emphasises the in-person meetings and reliability that are (presumably) lacking from Alibaba.

Importance of Taglines

Not every brand has a tagline, and in many cases the “what we do” is stated separately from “why we are good”. There’s no rule for this but the underlying discipline is essential: to be able to state ultra-briefly what you do and why you are good.

If an elevator pitch is 30 seconds, text differentiators need to be 3 seconds!

Taglines are not just about putting text under your logo. Here are some places a clear tagline (or any other focused statement of your differentiated benefit) will be useful:

  • meta descriptions
  • social media profile
  • ad extensions / callouts
  • homepage slider headlines
  • ad banner text
  • email signatures
  • business cards
  • product line ads (where you want to mention why you as well as why this product)

A good tagline is how people will remember you… and even more importantly how a happy customer will describe you when recommending you via word of mouth. You should provide the exact words you want those happy customers to use.

xero logo - beautiful accounting software

“Beautiful accounting software” is generic-sounding but it does say what the product is, and it probably IS a good differentiator since it has surprise value (accounting? software? beautiful?!) and the idea ties into an overarching benefit of usability and design. Xero would be happy if customers recommended it based on this tagline.


salesforce banner - sell smarter and faster with the worlds number one CRM - connect with your customers, anytime, anywhere

This headline from Salesforce combines several strong factors: world no.1, CRM (says what it is), and “sell smarter and faster” is the benefit to the user. However the second line “connect with your customers, anytime, anywhere” is generic fluff and detracts from the punchiness of the main headline – cut, cut, cut!

An Exercise

If you are finding it difficult to pinpoint your business’s top unique differentiating benefit, do this exercise: pick ten things you regularly shop for by BRAND, such as food, clothing, restaurants, or even books/films. For each one write down ONE TOP reason “I go for this one and not any other ones because —“

You are already writing differentiators the way they should be done: from the point of view of the buyer. Look for phrases like “the only“, “the best“, “the most“, “the easiest“. For this exercise your reasons may be very specific and personal, for example there is one killer feature or taste involved. But it gets you in the right mindset.

Once you are in this mindset you can turn to your own brand, through the eyes of a buyer who likes you and deliberately chooses you over other alternatives. Fill in the gaps: “we are the only —“, “we are the best —-“, “we are the most —-“, “we provide the easiest”.

The way you phrase your tagline and benefits should not be all “we / us / our” talking about yourselves. You have to take those “we are the only —” lines and then rephrase them into punchy taglines.

dyson v6 banner - the most powerful cordless vacuums

“The most powerful cordless vacuums” – tells you what the brand is/sells without assuming you already know; focuses on the superlative “most powerful” which just happens to be the no.1 thing you want when sucking up dirt. You likely associate “cordless” with weak suction so this tagline has subconscious surprise value.


microsoft surface pro 4 banner - the tablet that can replace your laptop

“The tablet that can replace your laptop” – you may not love the Microsoft products, but this is a beautifully simple bit of tagline writing. It explains in 7 words what the product is and why it is good.

Tell People What You Do!

One of the biggest problem with generic un-differentiator taglines is that you assume the customer already knows who you are and what you do. Wrong! The vast majority of the planet don’t know you, don’t know what you do, and don’t care (yet!).

The worst temptation is to act like you are famous, when you should be using your brand and tagline to introduce who you are, what you do, and why you are good.

Un-differentiators are often meaningless head-office-speak. For example: “Acme: Delivering Solutions“; “Bettar: Driving Enterprise Change“; “Cool.io – Harnessing The Big Cloud“. It doesn’t help explain who they are or what they do. Don’t speak like this in taglines, especially if you are actually a small business not a faceless global corporation.

Don’t forget that you know your business but a tagline explains it to someone who has not heard of you. Therefore, in a tagline one of the most fundamental things you need to do is tell people what you do. BUT in a way that differentiates you.

Acme: Dallas Plumbers

is better than
Acme: We Care

BUT it would be better as
Acme: No.1 Rated Emergency Plumbers In Texas 3 Years Running“.

Or, if you are not no.1 yet,
Acme: The Fastest Emergency Response Plumbers in Dallas“.

MySQL logo - the worlds most popular open source database

Good: MySQL tagline simply says what it is and that it is the top.

mongodb logo - for giant ideas

Poor: mongoDB has a clever but meaningless tagline.

Don’t Distract Customers!

An extra note to the rule of “tell people what you do” is to focus ONLY on your main product/service. Far too many businesses make the assumption that customers already know what their main business is, and so create taglines about other things they do.


  • Acme: Not Just A Realtor
  • Bettar: Beyond Finance
  • Cool.io – We Don’t Just Make Apps

Why do businesses create taglines like that? In customers’ eyes, especially the ones who don’t know you yet, doing lots of different things is distracting and makes you seem as if you are not strong in your main thing. Focus your tagline on your core business activity and performance advantage.



kashflow homepage screenshot showing the headline award winning accounting software

Kashflow software has won multiple awards and describes itself in the homepage headline as “award-winning”. This is good for a tagline but there has to be some proof or specifics since “award-winning” by itself is highly generic. Kashflow has a tiny footer link leading to the following page, i.e. they have the proof but don’t promote it clearly:



Referring to proof of being better is good for your marketing. For example “2015 best website designers, voted by 100,000 webmasters”. But it has to be (a) up to date, and (b) specific. It’s close to meaningless to say “award-winning” because…? That’s right, because everyone says that, so it doesn’t differentiate you.


Tag Heuer logo

“Swiss avant-garde since 1860” – clever and meaningful: combines age/trust with style/originality.

Since 1776

If your business is really old then saying “since —” date or similar probably IS a good differentiator. But if the date is too recent – which is likely the case for anything online or digital, then it probably lacks that implication of trust. Most small businesses can’t rely on this and could think about other numerical trust signals such as total number of customers.

Travelzoo logo - the deal experts - over 27 million members worldwide

There is nothing glitzy or clever about this tagline but it does the job!

Simply stating how many clients you’ve served can be a great differentiator, e.g. “250,000 delighted users and counting” since that is kind of an all-in-one validation for being good at what you do, and being an established (trustworthy) provider. Strictly speaking it might not make you unique or even the biggest, but the chances are that your competitors (who your customers are comparing you to) are not saying their numbers prominently. It’s surprising how seldom big brands use this angle. But if you haven’t got any big numbers to talk about yet, then you will have to look for other meaningful boasts!


There is no fixed rule about what slogans and taglines have to say, but it’s an important space to say what you do and why you’re good, in a nutshell. Don’t waste the space by including clichéd platitudes!

The chances are, if you can state your USP in a punchy way, it will also be a memorable line.

A good example of this is Rackspace “fanatical support” – which is so central to their pitch that the phrase is now one of their registered trademarks!

Rackspace banner titled fanatical support for your cloud - the words fanatical support are marked with the registered trademark R sign

Rackspace: their tagline is such a strong and memorable benefit that they trademarked it.

About The Author

George Baily is a digital marketing consultant with KnowledgePower: a UK digital marketing agency specializing in pay-per-click campaign setup and optimization. Differentiator? “Probably our strongly anti-SEO stance!”



Un-Differentiators - Branding Fails When It's Bland
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Un-Differentiators - Branding Fails When It's Bland
Don't forget the differentiation in your marketing taglines: the clue is in the word "different"!
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Enlightenment Media
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