Taglines as therapeutic touchstones
Taglines have become an expected element of our economic landscape, but can be valuable in therapeutic work, too. In this era of business branding, developing an effective tagline is a necessary step in marketing strategy. I have learned, however, that creating a personal tagline that speaks to your own essence and mission or life purpose can be a powerful therapeutic tool, especially useful during times of transition. There is something about a simple, clear statement that reminds others—and yourself—about what is important to you and what you bring to the world that can provide sudden clarity on a dark day. Personal taglines can act as touchstones when life tumbles around us like a chaotic whirlwind.
So, what is a tagline? A tagline is in effect a punch line: the zinger! It is that little statement following a business name that provides a quick understanding of the company’s personality and mission. Big ones we have heard umpteen zillion times are:
Verizon: “Can you hear me now?”
Microsoft: Be what’s next.
Apple: Think different.
Nike: Just do it.
McDonald's: I’m loving it.
The skillful use of taglines are that they often shift over time and size of the company. When the company is small and new, taglines are designed more to answer the question of what a company does, or why we need them, or how they intend to improve their customers’ lives. Over time and multiple uses, the company grows and gets more known and the tagline evolves to a simple snapshot of the company—one that conveys an emotion, aspiration, or the one-two punch that captures the companies essence in a tiny package of three to five words.
The tagline for Kindle Health, my ecotherapy practice, is: I help people rekindle their joy. That, in a nutshell, is what I aspire to do in my health and wellness counseling, coaching, and writing. The tagline for Fox Song Farm, the site and context of my ecotherapy and equine-guided work is, Come home to your herd. I like this tagline as it completely describes the calm welcome that the horses as a herd offer to clients. It also holds true of the goat family and chicken flock. All seem to have a notably kind curiosity toward visitors! And, I love hearing that contended sigh as clients look around and settle, leaning against a fence or sitting in a chair on the deck overlooking the field, watching the horses and goats.
I often work with student nurses who are nearing graduation and still concerned about how they answer questions of medical colleagues, patients, and even family and friends about who they are and what they do as a nurse. Yes, even in 2020 nurses still find it difficult to explain what makes them distinct from physicians and why they have chosen nursing rather than medicine. I find that having students write 2-minute elevator speeches help student nurses begin to truly define their distinctively unique nursing perspective. Often what comes out of the elevator speech is a lovely, succinct tagline that they can use to quickly sum up who they are as a person and what they bring to the nursing or healthcare table. I love to see their shoulders straighten and drop and that sparkle in their eyes when they launch those words that just feel right. Taglines can truly flash a picture of who we are and communicate our essentials to others. They are kind of a mental business card, I suppose! I’ve heard from students how their tagline provides them with a quick touchstone response when they are overwhelmed in a situation or feeling intimidated by those around them.
As I was idly watching the horses while cleaning the barn today, I realized that I have more than enough material to write taglines for each of the equine characters living on Fox Song Farm:
Puck: “I help people question their fears.”
Tivio: “Hay, I’m here. For you.”
Arael: “I see you.”
Penelope: “Size is a mental construct.”
Puck’s tagline came almost immediately. Puck has a huge, athletic body and is in constant motion. He loves to get close to people and connects graciously, but his big size can be intimidating. Puck does tend to push boundaries and cause people to confront fear and trust. Tivio, my puppy dog quarter horse, loves hugs and his food, and yes, often in that order. Enough said! Beautiful Arael generally appears to be in the background, which is deceptive as she is the lead mare of the Fox Song herd. She notices everything, and I value her reactions to situations and people. I learn most from watching Arael with a new client. Penelope is our miniature appaloosa. Although she is physically the youngest and smallest horse in the herd, she has an old soul and I often call her my wise woman. When doing therapy work, Penelope is decisive and determined. When Penelope ‘speaks,’ we all listen.
Well, that was fun! Want to write your own tagline for yourself, your business or career, or your own pets? Here are some tips:
- Keep it simple and short. Taglines are stronger if they convey one idea that is understood easily. Don’t use more than 5-7 words at most.
- One simple way to begin is to distill into a word or two what it is you do, what is most important to you, or your essential purpose. A simple phrase to begin this is the word, “I ….” For example, “I help …” or “I can …” or “I will …” can lead into several directions, but the focus is on YOU and what YOU DO.
- If the first part of the tagline is about you and what you do, your essential purpose, the second half of the tagline is about what you do for others, community, clients, profession. This simple meaning can come from a phrase … “I can …,” “I provide …,” “I give …..” Or, for me, it was, “I help …” as in, “I help people rekindle their joy.”
- Think about the ‘feel’ of the words you choose. What emotion do you want to convey, or to produce in someone on the receiving end? For example, the blend of emotions I wanted for ‘I help people rekindle their joy,’ was a remembering, or nostalgia, for recalling when we have experienced personal passion and joy in our lives. The choice of the word ‘rekindle’ had a two fold reason: to give the feeling of relighting a flame inside us, as well as a nod to my practice name, Kindle Health. For ‘Come home to your herd,’ the emotion was a warm, homey feeling of belonging. After you have the content of what you are all about, you can choose language that conveys the feeling you want others to experience. Although this emotional stuff feels like it would be unimportant, the funny thing is that this step often produces that quintessential bit that turns out to be the biggest contributor to your tagline. Frequently, people rewrite their tagline completely when they discover the right emotion they want to convey. By choosing the words that best portray the feeling often comes a stronger message!
- Not sure where to start? Look for inspiration with power words that inspire you or move you in some way. Google a thesaurus and start word shopping! Write down the words that either feel like a match to your essential self, or that move you toward what you aspire to be or do. Then, with those self-identified power words, go back to tips two and three and begin to try these out in the short sentence linking who you are and what you bring to the world.
Elevator speeches and taglines can be powerful ways of bringing us back to the existential question of who am I? and what is my purpose, or mission on this earth? Especially during times of transition, deeply reflected upon phrases can be touchstones for us. They also can help remind us of why we do what we do, even when the world does not seem to notice our efforts.
For several years, I had to put my fiction writing on the back burner as I developed my nursing career and continued my education. Then, life happened, and bill-paying needed to take priority while we experienced medical challenges in the family. Through these years, I struggled often to understand a seemingly stymied life purpose. Many, many times I went back to the tagline that I had developed years earlier while working with Madeleine L’Engle as her teaching assistant in a creative writing course.
Although we didn’t call them elevator speeches or tag lines then, Madeleine had us all introduce ourselves with a short 'blurb' about who we were and what was important to us. I had just been accepted into nursing school and was struggling to understand this new path that, although felt right, would undoubtedly take me away from writing full time. I remember standing on the University lawn where we had assembled the class and clutching my brand-new stethoscope as a visual aid, giving my little talk and ending it with: “Although these two paths, writing and nursing seem unconnected, what I am realizing is that they are both about my intention to promote healing. I heal through my hands and my words.” That tagline truly has become my touchstone through the years, especially during times when I could not find time or energy to write fiction. The core of my essence, or life-mission, remained, healing; I was simply doing it a different way for a time. As well, I strove to have my academic writing be creative and inspiring and healing in its own way. I am sure that I haven’t always met my own bar for this, but the intention has been there, and my tagline-touchstone helped keep this in my line of sight.
This afternoon a big heavy box was delivered to our door. When I opened it up, I found copies of the newly published nursing reference text that was a three-year writing project. Although this academic writing project was not ‘fun’ in the same sense as writing stories and poems are stimulatingly mesmerizing for me, again, my tagline kept me on track. I kept my intention to heal through my words. In a very real way, this nursing text is a demonstration of healing with my hands and my words.
Taglines as touchstones. For me, they have for many years kept me joyfully moving on mission. Maybe for you, too?