Jennifer Vander Molen

Jennifer Vander Molen

Jennifer Vander Molen is the Manager of Communications at The Colossian Forum and a participant in our Mentoring Program. Today she  shares her organization’s process of creating a new tagline. ~Kristina

Guest Post by Jennifer Vander Molen of The Colossian Forum

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d sing the praises of something like criteria. Iced orange creamsicle oolong tea? Yes! The benefits of a quick walk outside? Absolutely!

But criteria doesn’t make you want to erupt in spontaneous applause.

But I’m a believer. Let me explain…

We’re knee-deep in a rebranding process here at The Colossian Forum (we’re a small religious nonprofit). At our founding, the emphasis was on faith, science, and culture, but now we’re working toward helping Christian communities actually look Christian when they’re in the middle of divisive topics. We bring people together in messy situations and work to transform divisive topics into opportunities for truth and witness.

A fantastic new logo was already picked out, and then came the tagline, which would help us capture our new focus.

The group of taglines under consideration weren’t wowing us, and as the communications person, I was at a loss on how to move forward. We’d done some brainstorming around words that resonated, everyone had sent me back their top three choices, and I had no clue how to get us from this stage to settling on a final tagline.

I chatted with Kivi (a fantastic benefit of her Mentoring Program) and her advice was to craft criteria to guide our staff through finding a tagline that worked.

She also pointed out that the only criteria I had at the moment was that everyone agreed on it, which wasn’t likely to be helpful. She was absolutely correct.

I’ve found it beneficial to frame conversations with our thoughtful, academic staff with a few basics: in this instance, what is a tagline and why it’s important. Then I jotted down a few evaluation criteria I felt could guide our discussion. They were:

  1. Aligns with our brand storyboard and builds our brand.
  2. Directly communicates the essence of The Colossian Forum to our target audience.
  3. Is instantly understood.
  4. Inspires us to be proud of what we offer.

There were a few more evaluation criteria options, gleaned from the staff’s responses to the taglines and things that came up in discussion about the taglines, but not as important. They were:

  • No flashpoint words for our diverse audience
  • Clear: avoiding abstractions and lofty Christian concepts
  • Focus on the positive instead of negative (avoiding “conflict”, “disagreement”, etc.)

During our discussion, we went through the basic framework (what is a tagline, why it’s important), read through our brand storyboard document, then I went through the evaluation criteria, and everyone agreed those four criteria worked well and were the correct main criteria, with the other options worth considering but secondary.

Next, we turned our attention to the taglines. We wrote the criteria on our white board wall as we went through the taglines that the staff had identified as their favorites. With the criteria in front of us, we were able to quickly winnow out ones that were too ethereal, not specific enough, and used negative words.

That didn’t leave us with a lot of options, but our conversation quickly turned to other words and ideas we’ve had throughout the branding process. “Hope in Practice” was brought up as a past favorite for a different project. There was a long pause while we all considered it, looked at one another, and said, “This could really work!”

It was really exciting to watch this unfold. We held up “Hope in Practice” against our evaluation criteria and noted that it helped build our brand (how you get through the divisive topics by applying Christian practices), it communicated the essence of our organization to our audience (people tell us over and over how much hope they have seeing us tackle this in an uplifting and positive way), it’s instantly understood (plus it makes you think—is the hope in the practice? Or is it by going through the practice you find hope?), and every last one of us was proud of this tagline. It even met all the optional criteria: no flashpoint words, negative words, or lofty Christian concepts.

I never expected to leave that meeting with a tagline, but we did, we love it, I’m thrilled, and am now an advocate for how criteria can move you from stuck to a great finished project. And yes, there was some spontaneous applause.

Jennifer Vander Molen is the Manager of Communications at The Colossian Forum in Grand Rapids, MI. She loves loose leaf tea, knitting, reading, connecting with people, and taking impromptu lunches to celebrate coming up with a tagline.