How to Sum Up a Company in 5 Words or Less.

Lessons from the Field

Sometimes brand strategy work gives you a chance to create a name or tagline for a brand everyone’s heard of. It has a history to build upon. For better or worse, people have some knowledge it.

But, when you work on a more niche brand, well, the words you choose must work a lot harder. Not only do you need to ground the audience in what the company does, you have to capture the vision of the executive team – often the CEO – who likely has a very tried and true way of expressing the brand.

Because for the CEO, it’s personal.

That was the case with a recent assignment in which we were asked to develop a new corporate tagline for a B2B tech company that was entering its next phase of growth.

Stakeholders ranged from HR and Recruitment to marketing, but final decision-making would go to the CEO/ Founder. For him – and his executive team – it was truly personal. Our process needed to be customized to secure buy-in.

A customized plan pays dividends.

As with any creative assignment, it all starts with the brief. Of course, it must tick the usual boxes like brand positioning, target audience (in our case, an erudite segment of academicians), and what the line needs to accomplish.

But this company needed more – the authentic tone of voice of the CEO, himself.

We asked:

  • How does he speak with the internal team?
  • What about when he courts clients?
  • What are the messages he consistently delivers?

We even dug up expressions he used and anecdotes he shared. A good source turned out to be recordings of presentations at industry summits and interviews we conducted with colleagues who easily quoted his often-used expressions and forward-looking themes.

Lesson 1: Create an approach that leans heavily into the CEO’s voice and vision. This applies to many projects that are strengthened by a personal touch – a corporate name change, an annual B2B event theme, employee campaigns, even Board of Director and Investor messaging.


Start broad to set the guardrails.

As we developed the work, we started with several presentations of conceptual areas (with visuals, strategic intent and desired tone of voice). To support the concepts, we included examples of possible taglines, rather than focusing on the taglines themselves.

After multiple rounds we narrowed the focus of concepts and collected a list of favored taglines. By this point we had discussed all possible meanings and interpretations of lines under consideration.

Lesson 2: Push the envelope without appearing to stray “off-brief.” Free the client to react to a concept, rather than specific words, and to try to envision how each concept might impact all communications. As a byproduct, certain taglines will surface as being “of greatest interest” and others can be saved for later – for thematic or copy ideas.


Always pressure test.

Finally, we ran a quick “quali-quant” survey with the target audience. We exposed half a dozen favorite lines and found the most valuable responses were to these questions:

  • What does it mean?
  • Is that meaning relevant to you?
  • Does it give you a positive impression of the company?

We also included concept statements and a list of headline ideas that surfaced during the exploration. In addition to a clear tagline “winner,” our research gave us rich ideas for PR, event and copy themes, and inspiring headlines for advertising and social media.

Lesson 3: Include in the survey secondary content from the exploration. Learnings that can apply to future marketing communications add value to the project overall.


There is no one-size-fits-all.

The creative process will always benefit from a customized approach that fits the challenge and provides decision-makers with a way to participate. So, when writing for a Founder/ CEO, remember they already have a vision for the company and a favorite way to tell the story.

Keep an open mind – and ears – and you’ll find the words you’re looking for.


“Lessons from the Field” come from decades of transforming brands ranging from global corporates to non-profits, where I always stay close to the client and close to the work. Please share your ideas or questions.

Special thanks to my collaborator, Creative Director Laura Stamm Boyd. And, stay tuned for our reveal of our reveal of our client solution and their the new tagline, after launch.