Brand positioning tip #3: the brand mantra

In previous posts, we’ve covered three of the four elements of good brand positioning as I learned them from Dr. Kevin Keller, strategicbrandmanagementauthor of the classic branding textbook Strategic Brand Management:

  1. Points of difference: the things that make you different from your competition (and that your customers value)
  2. Points of parity: the places where you may be weaker than the competition and need to ensure you are “good enough” so you can still win on the merits of your points of difference
  3. Competitive frame of reference: the market or competitive landscape in which you are positioning yourself

Today we will be covering the 4th element of good brand positioning: the brand mantra.

What is a brand mantra?

A brand mantra is a 3-5 word shorthand encapsulation of your brand position. It is not an advertising slogan, and, in most cases, it won’t be something you use publicly.

According to Scott Bedbury, author of A New Brand World (one the of top 10 books behind Dark Matter Matters), the term brand mantra was coined during his time at Nike.

The Nike brand mantra is probably the most famous, and has been written about a lot in blogs over the years (a couple of examples here and here).

It is three words: Authentic Athletic Performance. From the book:

Nike’s brand mantra put a particular emphasis on maintaining authenticity, by which we also meant integrity and purity, front and center… All products and activities associated with Nike likewise had to be athletic, not leisurely… Finally, every Nike product had to exude world-class performance and meet the demands of the world’s finest athletes, even though such athletes represented a microscopic piece of Nike’s total business… “Authentic Athletic Performance” was a simple idea, but like so many simple ideas, its execution and implementation could be complex, not to mention challenging, daunting, — and even painful, when it came down to forgoing revenue-generating activities because they violated these accepted core values.

When used in its proper context, a good brand mantra is not simple sloganeering. If you asked most people to name Nike’s brand mantra, they’d probably say “Just do it.” In fact, “Just do it” is a tagline, not a brand mantra, and an external manifestation of Authentic Athletic Performance (a pretty darned good one, I might add). It’s a killer example of how great advertising can be built on the back of solidly-constructed positioning.

But if the brand mantra is simply used as a building block for advertising campaigns, it is not living up to its true potential. A brand mantra is at its most powerful when it becomes a deeply resonant piece of the DNA of the company and is used as a touchstone to return to when making difficult decisions.

What businesses should we be in? What businesses should we not be in? How should we handle this crisis we’ve gotten ourselves into? How do we make this painful choice? Let the brand mantra be your guide.

Kevin Keller likes to tell the story of how Disney (Brand mantra: Fun Family Entertainment) at one point made the choice to get out of an investment business they had entered based on the fact that it was vaguely family-related, but neither fun nor entertaining. A great example of a brand mantra being used to keep the ship on course.

So how do you create a brand mantra? A good place to start is with the points of difference you uncovered in your positioning exercise. Many brand mantras will include one or two key points of difference in them. You might also consider looking at your company’s core mission and values for hints. You are getting close when you uncover a phrase you can uniquely own, that no one else can claim. But the real test will be when you show it to others in the company, and their eyes light up and they get big smiles on their faces. Then you’ll know your mantra has arrived.

If you want to learn more about brand mantras, and how other leading companies have used them, definitely check out Strategic Brand Management or purchase Kevin’s paper on them here. There’s no better way to learn than by studying the best examples.

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


12 thoughts on “Brand positioning tip #3: the brand mantra

  1. Hi,

    This is what i understand generally about Branding :

    What is a Brand ?
    It is a mixture of :

    1. A Company
    2. Product and/or Service
    3. Quality
    4. Rational Features
    5. Emotional Features
    6. Brand Positioning
    7. Brand Communication
    8. Brand Management

    Posted by The FonZ | March 30, 2010, 9:36 pm
  2. This is what i know about BRANDING

    Branding refers to a marketing function that involves in creating a unique name and image for a product (good or service) in the consumers’ mind, through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers. Branding can be applied to the entire corporate identity as well as to individual product and service names.

    Posted by HARISH | July 8, 2010, 11:20 am
  3. brand is a sign symbol or name which referred to a specific company or a product bran is a emotion or a feeling. that explained the features of product or company

    Posted by muhammad rizwan | November 13, 2010, 1:45 pm


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