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The Worst Tagline of All Time

I guess one could argue that the title of this post is The Worst Blog Title of All Time, but I thought something flimsy and superlative was appropriate to the content.

A common obstacle small-business owners encounter is a desire to serve more than just a target audience, in the name of diversification (or, in stronger terms, "throwing a bunch of shit at the wall to see what sticks"). I think it's often considered a protection--if business wanes in one avenue, hey, you can always sell t-shirts!--and also sometimes an indicator of head-too-big syndrome or pure greed. "We're a plumbing company, but really, we can do anything for anyone... what, who says I can't decorate a cake? I'm sure it doesn't take a brain surgeon, and have you seen how much money people spend on wedding cakes?"

Trying to expand what you offer the world is great. Thinking that it can instantly happen or can be blended with your current product or service is not so great. Would you buy a new washing machine from your fishmonger?

I recently was asked to meet a high-end chocolatier for a marketing consultation. I had come prepared, having researched their current materials, history, and web presence. Their brand (and their prices) painted an image of pure luxury, backed by generations of tradition and a commitment to quality. The ecommerce website was full of beautiful photography and listed locations in upscale neighborhoods and a string of clients including celebrities, dignitaries, and socialites. Their web business was solid, but the family wanted an increase and wanted some better action in their flagship brick-and-mortar store.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled up to their shop in Beverly Hills, and the first thing I saw was a "Passport Photos Here!" sign in the window. Next to that was a "Notary Service" sign... then I noticed balloons. And purses. And tchotcke. And a bulletin board littered with flyers. Was this a luxury chocolatier or a thrift store?

After some discussion, I realized that all of the clutter surrounding their prized confection was a complex issue:

When you are in a neighborhood for many years, you get to know the residents, customers, and fellow business owners, and at some point, a lot of them become friends.

  • A good customer asks you to post a flyer for her missing dog. Fast-forward a few decades, and that flyer has sprouted into a board the neighborhood feels they own. 
  • A friendly business owner needs some client gifts in a pinch but is a little short on cash and suggests a barter for his merchandise. Fast-forward, and you have dusty inventory that won't move. 
  • One summer, when the Sugar Busters diet is all the rage, business plunges 50%. Everyone in the family commits to pitch in: Mom keeps the store open a couple of extra hours each day, Son works on gaining corporate clients, and Sister decides to volunteer her notary skills and add the proceeds to the till until things get back to normal. Eventually, the business recovers--but instead of retracting the notary service, the family sees this as something to have in place "just in case" another crisis arises.

With these examples, it should be more understandable how some businesses stray from what they do best.

What I'm a little less clear on is why new businesses start off with this trap.

On my morning hike today, I read this tagline on a commercial van that passed: "For ALL Your Environmental Needs." The design of the vehicle wrap was very clean and modern, but I had all sorts of questions, including:

  • What are "environmental needs?" Do they mean landscaping, or solar panels, or creating soothing interior environments, or garbage collection, or recycled products?
  • Is their service (or is it a product) intended for homeowners or businesses? Is it related to construction, or are they who you call if you want the radon levels checked? 
  • Couldn't they be a little more specific about what they provide? Surely they can't satisfy ALL (in caps) of my environmental needs, whatever they may be?

I was curious, so I Googled their tagline. I couldn't even remember the company name, only the stupid tagline. What I found was pages of results for companies using the same tagline, which was not a surprise.

Why? Because "For All Your ______ Needs" is sort of a joke, right? How many times have you seen this tagline in your lifetime? Many. 

  • For All Your Plumbing Needs
  • For All Your Clothing Needs
  • For All Your Dental Needs
  • For All Your Marketing Needs
  • For All Your Accounting Needs
  • For All Your Scientific Needs
  • For All Your Healthcare Needs
  • For All Your Plastic Needs
  • For All Your Legal Needs
  • For All Your Catering Needs

It's lame because it simultaneously says little (with too broad a category) and claims a lot (we do it all). It's also very rarely true: One place is unlikely to meet everyone's clothing needs, because one person's "clothing need" is a pair of pants while another person's "clothing need" is a replacement button. Outside mega-department stores like Wal-Mart and Target, you're unlikely to find those things in the same place. Likewise, if you were facing trial for manslaughter, my guess is that you wouldn't have faith in someone who also claims expertise in IRS audits, tort claims, and real estate negotiation; you would want an expert. Does a business with "All Your Catering Needs" cater parties or provide supplies to caterers?

In addition, this tagline is extremely overused. Go to Google and search any of the phrases listed above (in quotes), then marvel at how many businesses are using this exact claim as an official tagline or major selling point. How can anyone stand out from the pack? Well, they can work with a professional to create something truly unique and focused... but for starters, they can make a simple vow to respect what they offer the world and never cheapen it by using The Worst Tagline of All Time.