Most startup marketing folk seem to love taglines. Practically every web page I see has some version of the classic three-word tagline. As a marketer I appreciate the focus on distilling down the essence of what you do to its most simple form. As a human being however, I hate taglines.

I’ve written about why taglines suck on this blog before. Taglines are generic (if you use the word “connect” congratulations, you share 1/3 of a tagline with 99% of startups in the world), forgettable, and often fail to clearly communicate what the company does. However, it finally came to me exactly why taglines are such a waste of time, energy and space:

They are inherently anti-social

You need to describe what your company does in a succinct way. That’s what people think they are doing when they write a tagline. The problem is the format – generally three verbs smashed together – is not a format that human beings naturally use to communicate. If someone asked me what I did this morning I don’t say “Rise, Consume, Digest!”, I say I got up, drank some coffee and ate a piece of toast. Even on Twitter where barely anyone uses proper english, nobody would ever pick 3 verbs. In fact here’s the tweet that inspired this example:

Coffee & toast. Nom, nom.

Notice the distinct lack of verbs there (assuming nom isn’t a verb). As humans, we don’t communicate in 3 verb phrases. So why are we using this strange form to talk about what our companies do? Here is the exact reason why taglines suck:

Nobody repeats your tagline

So you have a robotic three verb phrase on your website that you hope communicates the essence of what you do in as few words as possible. But you also want folks that discover your stuff to tell their friends about it, right? The problem is, you’ve given them a description that no human will ever say, type, yell, tweet, sing or otherwise share with their friends.

Your customer: Hey I signed up for this cool service yesterday!

Their friend: Great, what does it do?

Your customer: Share, simplify, connect!

Their friend: ????

Nope, never going to happen. Instead they’re going to make up a short description for you. They might do a great job of that or they may not. If you gave them a easy phrase (for example TripIt’s “All your travel plans in one spot”**) they might remember that and just say that. Give them the 3 word tagline and they are left to describe it in their own words which will generally be a long confusing description that may or may not communicate what you do. Customers, especially new ones could never describe what you do in as elegant and succinct a way as you could. Why not help them out a bit?

Your customers are not robots. They are people that communicate with phrases not single words separated by commas. Give them something they can share with their friends.

**Vinay correctly points out in the comments that Tripit has an official tagline of “organize your travel” which I also like because it’s something you might actually say as opposed to something robotic like “Book, Organize, Retrieve”. That said, it’s interesting that neither I nor any of the other commenters noticed that tagline.