All posts by Peter Kerr

Where does a company’s story start?

Often right from its brand name. But often that doesn’t really tell you what it does, what it promises, why a consumer should care.

That means a tagline has is in fact its headline. It is the beginning of a company’s story.

Indeed, it is what someone can and should say when asked, “what does your company do?”

So, the two to six word ‘headline’, which should be the first thing people read on the homepage of your website, needs to do most of the heavy lifting for your story. If someone reads nothing else, it still has to carry your message.

What can these taglines look like?

David Heitman, of The Creative Alliance, has a great blog article on ‘How NOT to write your next Company Tagline.

Quoting him, he gives five types of tagline categories – once the decision has been made to create one.

His categories and descriptions bear repeating.

Descriptive: the goal is simply to clarify what your organisation does. This can be helpful for a new entrant into its market, or perhaps a company whose name or initials are not self-explanatory. Often these descriptive taglines are incorporated into the company logo

Concept Ownership: a tagline – if well worded and frequently repeated – can enable your company to “own” a word in the customer’s mind. Go to Meeting’s tagline, Online Meetings Made Easy is a good example of owning the word “easy”. Every online conference provider can deliver a meeting; but “easy” is a great concept to own, especially with som many non-technical people embracing teleconferencing for the first time. What’s the one word (or short phrase) your company can own?

Differentiating: a tagline that differentiates is one that sets you apart from competitors, promising one core virtue that you can credibly claim above all others. Citibank’s Citi Never Sleeps is a creative differentiator as it suggests that while other banks are asleep, Citibank is wide awake looking out for you. The play on words gives Citibank a sophisticated, metropolitan feel – like New York City, the city that never sleeps.

Anticipatory: the approach here is to paint a picture of the future – of what the customer’s life will be like with you as their vendor/partner/provider. Lending Tree’s When Banks Compete, You Win is a great example of this.

Aspirational: these taglines connect your company to the dreams and goals of your audience. The U.S. Army’s iconic Be All You Can Be is an example of this. Regis University’s Learners Becoming Leaders is another good example. It’s short, it uses alliteration, and has a compelling aspirational element: prospective students immediately identify the university as a place to achieve their dreams of making a difference in the world.

Thanks David.

The infographic, also known as data visualisation, is one of those a picture is worth a thousand words examples, literally.

Their ability to convey information, and ideally knowledge, of the sort that allows you to go “ah ha” that’s interesting, is increasingly important.

That’s because images themselves have much more ability to be viral – to be shared through social media such as Pinterest, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter.

In making data understandable (beyond its Excel or spreadsheet prison), you’re free to ask, and answer questions.

Mohawk Media’s Helen Baxter gave an excellent presentation at a recent Netsquared Wellington Meetup, on ‘Beyond the graph – an introduction to data visualisation’.

Infographics is one of Mohawk’s many (they’re a talented bunch) storytelling skills. Helen is often a go-to media comment person as well – so the facts she comes up with are invariably the real McCoy.

Check out the Prezi of her presentation here.

This wasn’t part of Helen’s presentation, but here is an infographic on the value of infographics, by zabisco.

Infographic Credit to Zabisco



And here are Helen’s whats, whys and hows – a summary of the presentation.


What is an infographic – visual content with data

  1. Static – popular online/print
  2.  Animated – linear video standard
  3.  Dynamic – real time/interative


Why infographics

  • 87% of viewers read text on infographics
  • visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text
  • content with visuals get 90% more views
  • visual content is 40% more likely to be shared
  • infographics can increase traffic by 12%


How do you use them

  • visual executive summary
  • illustrating surveys and reports
  • communicating to the general public
  • increased transparency in reporting
  • creating shareable content


Benefits of infographics

  • show context and data
  • easy to understand
  • shareable – use creative commons


Getting ready

  • clean datasets
  • attribute sources
  • key messages
  • target audience
  • channels



  • data
  • storytelling
  • design
  • publishing (including metadata)
  • communications


DIY tools

Static design templates

Blackboard/whiteboard animation tool


Free dataviz tool




Punchline understands the the how and why of infographics. If you’re the who, looking for some help, give us a call.

Inspired, or rather uninspired by the use of the world ‘solution’ in a brand name or tagline, the thought came around what other words should be given the big miss.

Without too much trouble, superior, excellence, committed, unique.There’s two good reasons to steer well clear of such terms.

  1. They mean nothing – and, in actual fact draw attention to the fact it is probably what your company isn’t (i.e. superior, committed)
  2. It is wasting the opportunity to really describe your point of difference, the reason a potential customer might use you


So, while your company might actually come up with answers to their own clients’ problems, even in this particular can using the word solution or solutions is wrong, wrong, wrong.

In fact, thinking about it, the only time solutions could be used is if you’re a chemical company, but even then you’d need to make sure such answers are, literally, liquid-based.

Is is also obvious with many taglines and brand names that it has been an ‘everyone’s’ ideas thrown into the middle and let’s vote on what we think is best’.

The best in this case is invariably bland, boring, beige.

It results in a generic nothing, it doesn’t differentiate you.

It results in using a word like ‘Solution’.

David Heitman, of The Creative Alliance, has a great blog article on ‘How NOT to write your next Company Tagline. Check out some of his ideas

Taglines should not be overly long, in fact, they should be as short as possible.

A tagline is shorthand for your story – and everyone who reads it, should be able to get it.

That’s why I use Punchline – Messages that Matter

It is also some of the premise of Secret SAUCE – How to pack your messages with persuasive punch. You can download a free copy here.

If we’re being persuasive with our messages, we must make it easy for our readers.

One of the keys to this is making your idea, or whatever it is that you’re selling, easy to picture.

No matter how abstract your concept, unless someone can see it concretely in their mind’s eye, you’ll never get them to ‘buy’.

A pictureable image, well described, is a shortcut to understanding. It subconsciously allows a person to think “I see what you mean”.

But how do you make ideas, especially abstract concepts easy to picture?

The answer is that it requires simplification. That is, reducing the product or service to its central truth. This in itself may be pictureable.

If not, you have the theme to be described – as a picture.

And don’t be afraid to use a metaphor as the describer. If it was good enough for Aristotle to describe the use of metaphor as a sign of genius. In his view a good metaphor implies an eye for resemblance.

The following extract, from Secret SAUCE, pages 14 and 15, gives a brilliant example of the power of a pictureable message.

“Social psychologists Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson were asked by a local power company to help sell the advantages of home insulation. The utility offered householders a free energy audit. A trained auditor would go through each consumer’s house identifying the requirements to make it more energy-efficient. The utility even provided an interest-free loan.

The benefits seemed obvious. Energy savings of 40 percent were common and power savings following the installation of insulation would quickly pay for the cost of the loan.

The puzzle was while large numbers of home owners requested a home audit, only 15 percent of them actually followed the advice of the auditor – even though clearly it made excellent financial sense.

Why? Researchers interviewed several home owners and discovered that most had a hard time believing that small cracks under a door or the lack of insulation in an attic could result in such a large energy loss.

To solve this problem, Pratkanis and Aronson trained the auditors to communicate their findings and recommendations with words that could be pictured. They advised the auditors to tell this to the homeowners.

“Look at all the cracks around that door! It may not seem much to you but if you were to add up all the cracks around each of these doors, you’d have the equivalent of a hole the circumference of a basketball. Suppose someone poked a hole the size of a basketball in your living room wall. Think for a moment about all the heat that you would be losing from a hole that size – you’d want to patch that hole in your wall wouldn’t you? That’s what weather-stripping does.

“And you attic totally lacks insulation. We professionals call that a ‘naked attic’. It’s as if your home is facing winter not just without an overcoat, but without any clothing at all! You wouldn’t let your young kids run outside in the winter time without clothes on, would you? It’s the same with your attic.”

When homeowners heard this speech they signed up in droves. Where previously only 15 percent of the householders signed up, now 61 percent signed up to have their houses insulated. Vivid, pictureable language had turned barely visible cracks into holes the size of basketballs. The idea of running around naked in winter also grabs attention and strongly encourages you to take action.”

Show me someone who knows it all – and I’ll get them to run for god.

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your point of view) no one knows everything.

No writer, no matter how intelligent, can know the ins and outs of a particular industry or sector.

No business person, in spite of a depth of knowledge about their sector, can also be superb with words.

That is why, most especially when it comes to uncovering and refining a message’s one central truth the only way it can be done is TOGETHER.

The notion that a writer can (or should) go away to a darkened room and come up with the essence of company’s story, on their own, is folly.

Such a distillation of message can only be done by at least two people – one of them a writer, a wordsmith, one or more of them with deep understanding of the business.

This is because shooting for simple takes a willingness to punch ideas around, propose and discard notions, look at key descriptive words from alternative angles, be willing to start at square one, again. And perhaps again.

Just as new business, product and social enterprise ideas are created in the space between people (ideas have sex and create a new idea!), so does the creation of the first few words of a company’s story which must ring true.

This is why Secret SAUCE’s (currently available for free download) recipe for crafting persuasive messages starts with SIMPLE – and the essence of simple is defining the soul of a message as one central truth.

But a writer alone cannot do this. Neither can a business person alone.

Together they can.

Together there is a synergy that allows 1 + 1 to equal 3.

A recent Quartz article compares The Economist magazine’s style book for writing to Bloomberg’s.

Across a lot of differences – including one major one on how much you should ‘interfere’ (my term) with or edit a writer’s words – the style books both agree on one thing.

That is, that  George Orwell’s six timeless rules for writing still apply. Both styles guides reference him throughout. These rules are from his 1946 essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print
  2.  Never use a long word where a short one will do
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word or jargon is you can think of an everyday English equivalent
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous

Obeying those rules won’t necessarily result in persuasive words however.

Messages that matter need SAUCE – an acronym for Simple, Appealing, Unexpected, Credible and Emotional.

The Secret SAUCE book is presently available for free download – its a diagnostic and recipe for persuasive messaging.

If nothing else, it will forever alter the way you look at messages and what they’re trying to say.

Look at the following picture outside Trade Aid’s central Wellington shop.

A tagline that hits the spot

Then check its tagline (which indeed is the first thing you see)

Hand made change

Three words that combine to make a distinctive, different and desirable message.

Not only does it reflect the change that Trade Aid is helping to bring to under-developed economies, and more importantly the individuals and families that make up any nation.

But it also alludes to the (small) change required to purchase many of the products in the over 40 year old New Zealand business.

Trade Aid’s a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation, and imports over 3,000 products to go into 30 shops dotted around New Zealand.

And it has nailed its tagline, its promise.

It is one I’d love to have on my own CV, so the least I can do is praise it.

Or, why your tagline needs to nail your company’s promise

If your company name doesn’t indicate what you do, then the tagline, sometimes known as a slogan, is especially important.

It needs to be distinctive and different; and that’s what makes it valuable.

That’s because it is the start of your conversation with your customer.

It also usually forms the opening line for you or a company representative, whether at a formal or casual function (like a BBQ). It provides the basis for the rest of your story.

As the headline – if someone reads nothing else – it lets people know what you’re about.

It is therefore surprising the number of websites that, after the company name, DON’T have a tagline.

It needs to be the first words someone sees on your homepage, and on every other page – also seen on the printed out version of the site.

And just as Secret SAUCE (with its acronym Simple, Appealing, Unexpected, Credible and Emotional) can be used as a diagnostic tool and recipe for any persuasive message, so can its metric be applied to a tagline.

Freelance copywriter Kimberley Freeman, writing in the advertising section of considers a tagline to be the most important ad you’ll ever create.

Her guest blog shows what makes some taglines more effective than others, and includes:


  • What makes them tick and what makes them stick
  • Taglines as brand builders
  • It’s never too late to improve


She gives a (at least) a couple of great pieces of advice when it comes to taglines.

If you left your business card somewhere, could someone glance at it and know exactly what your company does?

She’s also especially anti an exclamation point (one of these !) after a tagline.

To quote her:

“This is the mark that tells consumers to RUN AWAY! You might as well put on a bad suit and sell cars if you’re going to paste an exclam on the end of a company slogan.”

What do you think the billboard pictured below in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, is ‘selling’?

141021 - Call Active sign (2)

You certainly can’t tell from its tagline – defined at as “a slogan or phrase that visually conveys the most important product attribute or benefit that the advertiser wishes to convey”.

Well, if “Delivering exceptional customer experiences since 1975” is what CallActive wishes to convey, it is missing a heck of an opportunity to tell or remind people what it does, or promises.

Now, CallActive is a Melbourne, Australia headquartered business, with an offshoot lured to New Zealand by a then Wellington city-councillor in 2013.

John Morrison, a former test cricketer as it also happens, is now CallActive’s business development manager.

As he was quoted by writer Dave Burgess in a 17 September 2014 business section piece in the local Dominion Post newspaper, the confusion about CallActive’s offer seems to be pretty widespread.

(Apologies here, I can’t find an internet link to the actual article, and went to the local library to find the quote below in its online collection).

The past year has been a strong one for contact centre CallActive, New Zealand business development manager John Morrison says.

“We are a service company doing all sorts of things, from Facebook and Twitter to technical support. People think we just sit here and answer phones. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We even have a couple of teams that do door-to-door.”

Considering that thousands of people a day either drive or walk past its prime Victoria St location, and that such billboard advertising costs at least $3000 – $5000 a month, wouldn’t it be a clever thing to get the tagline right?

Not that would be easy to craft the two, three, four, five or six words that would crystallise its message – but it certainly would be better than wasting money on a meaningless term.

Just a thought CallActive, and John.

To use a cricketing analogy, it would be a bit like using John Morrison’s superior batting skills by putting him in at #11 (the last one to bat for those who don’t know anything about the game)!

In other words, a wasted opportunity.

Simplicity thrills, complexity kills.

And, somewhat paradoxically, the shorter the message, the more effort it takes to refine it to simple.

(That’s why an organisation’s tagline – the two to five word description, promise, ‘story’ after its brand name – can be so tricky to distill).

But what must a message contain to be considered simple yet profound?

The first and most important element is one central truth.

No matter what you’re selling, what idea you’re pushing, what cause you’re promoting, if it isn’t encapsulated in a sound-bite (verbal or written) that has a reader or listener thinking “ah, I get it, tell me more”, then you’ve immediately lost them. That is, assuming they have at least a passing interest in what you’re talking about in the first place.

One central truth is the nub of what you’re talking about, rendered in such a way that a relative stranger can tell another relative stranger pretty much what your message is.

This one central truth needs to be stated in terms that are easy to grasp, and preferably easy to picture – and be able to create an image in your own mind.

It is a trade-off between being brief and being clear. It means having just the right amount of detail for the circumstances.

This is where the paradox of message length comes in – the longer the message; say content marketing or native advertising – the easier it is to write mainly because you have more words to play with.

The Secret SAUCE book, at the time of writing this blog still available as a free download, has a diagnostic tool that allows you to gauge the three criteria relating to simple:

  • One central truth
  • Easy to grasp
  • Easy to picture

This allows you, and your friends or colleagues to objectively decide whether your message has the necessary characteristics that embody simplicity.

However, it may mean you have to go back to the drawing board to achieve such a message outcome.

Keep in mind that from a message point of view (and much of the rest of life and business for that matter), getting to simple can be difficult.

After all: complex is easy, simple is hard.