Blog | Oct 24, 2012 | 4 Comments

What is a tagline, anyway?

The board of a local nonprofit recently got into a long, heated discussion over a new tagline, which ended when they found out that the member who brought up the issue really meant their mission statement.

It’s easy to get confused

Unfortunately, in business and in nonprofits, people continually mix up the following concepts.

Tagline: “A variant of a branding slogan typically used in marketing materials and advertising. The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and premise of a brand or product (like a film), or to reinforce the audience’s memory of a product.” (wikipedia)

Value proposition: “Why should your ideal customer purchase from you rather than anybody else? If you can answer this question in a sentence, then you have a strong unique value proposition.” (Kinesis Inc.)

Key messages: “Key messages are the most important things to say on a specific subject to audiences…They are clear, concise, bite-sized chunks of information that may stand alone, but more likely are used to develop other materials.” (Environmental Protection Agency. Yes, you read that correctly.)

Mission statement: “A statement of the purpose of a company or organization, its reason for existing.” (wikipedia)

Vision statement: “A description of a company’s values and its long-term goals.” (Wise Geek)

While we’re on the subject of marketing concepts, here are two more that cause confusion.

Brands and branding: “A brand is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with…Branding is also a way to build an important company asset, which is a good reputation.” (Brick Marketing, LLC)

Positioning: “A marketing strategy that aims to make a brand occupy a distinct position, relative to competing brands, in the mind of the customer.” (

An organization’s brand is “in the eye of the beholder”

Organizations do branding but consumers actually define the brand. Organizations do positioning, often through good branding, but their competition and customers have a lot of influence over it, too. That’s why this work has to be externally focused. Want to find out how your nonprofit’s brand is perceived? Don’t rely on the opinions of the board, staff, and volunteers. Go out and ask the public, and keep a very open mind.

I write taglines, value propositions, and key messages on a regular basis

To do this work, I’m sometimes asked to analyze and make recommendations about branding and positioning. Let me know if you need help.

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Image: Tony Dowler on flickr

Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


Claire, this is fantastic. I was leading an arts education advocacy meeting defining our mission statement when all of a sudden someone said, “Isn’t that our vision?” Everybody looked around at each other to see if someone had a solid opinion. This is not my first rodeo and even I had to stop to think. I will be sharing this post with many 🙂


Claire Wagner Reply:

@Suzanne Oehler, so glad to hear it was helpful. After I wrote this, I heard about a new trend in corporations to craft a “charter” statement. It’s sort of a combo of mission and vision. I need to look into this!


Suzanne Oehler


I have marketing clients who consistently confuse a tagline and a headline. Sigh! Maybe I’ll show them this.


Claire Wagner Reply:

@Chris Finnie, people get mixed up all the time!


Chris Finnie


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