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Maybe the Taggies are no Biggy

Nancy Schwartz, one of the best known bloggers, speakers and consultants in the not for profit world has just released the results of the 2011 Nonprofit Tagline Awards – or Taggies as she and her marketing material refer to them. This year she’s even created a slick video to announce the winners.

Remarkably, over 1700 organizations submitted a total of 2700 taglines for consideration and over 6000 votes were cast to choose the winners. That’s pretty incredible considering that the prize for winning is nothing more than being recognized.

Nancy deserves a lot of credit for coming up with the idea three years ago and developing it into something that 1700 organizations know about and want to participate in. And, through the contest, Nancy is making nonprofits devote at least some attention to their marketing efforts – which is a very good thing.

I think the contest raises some troubling questions.

The video proclaims the tagline to be a “vital marketing tool” and that a “smart tagline is a powerful tool for connecting with your base.” Not only am I not buying it, I think it sends the wrong message to nonprofits. The vital marketing tool is the strategic plan from which a tagline emanates. A well-crafted and implemented plan with a lousy tagline will have better results than the converse any day. Amongst the tools that a nonprofit can use to connect with its base, a tagline is probably one of the least effective.

The awards are distributed without knowing anything about how well they represent the mission, goals or stakeholders of an organization. The winner in the Fundraising category – Oregon Zoo’s “Bring Back the Roar” is smart but is it anything more than that? How did it fit into a broader plan? How did it relate to the target market? How did it contribute to results? On top of that a visit to the Zoo’s website shows no vestige of the tagline. So, while it may have been an award winner it clearly wasn’t a keeper (no pun intended).

The video also declares that a tagline will allow you to “build your brand in 8 words or less.” Brands are not built on 8 word taglines. They are built on thoughtfully considering and developing the relationship that your stakeholders have with your organization. There are many successful brands that – believe it or not – have no tagline. In the for profit world, companies like Apple and Starbucks come to mind. Here in Toronto, York University has just completed a $200M campaign marking the 50th anniversary of the institution. While the “York to the Power of 50” campaign name (is that a tagline?) is creative, I suspect the campaign would have been equally successful with a different – and less creative – name.

Too many organizations already want to skip the strategic steps that will lead to effective marketing. They just want the good-looking logo, the pithy headline and maybe now the award-winning tagline. Ultimately, I worry that the Taggies celebrate the end while ignoring the means.

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