Nike

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Kevin Keller’s five favorite classic brand mantras


If you’ve read any of the previous brand positioning tips here on my blog, you’ve heard me mention Dr. Kevin Keller, author of Strategic Brand Management (the classic textbook on building brands) and professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Kevin Lane Keller, E. B. Osborn Professor of Marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and author of Strategic Brand Management

For The Ad-Free Brand, I asked Kevin if he’d share his five favorite examples of real brand mantras. He not only provided the mantras, but also included a few sentences describing why each works so well. Here are his choices:

1. Nike: Authentic Athletic Performance

One of the best brand mantras of all time, developed by Nike’s marketing guru Scott Bedbury in the late 1980s (he would later become Starbucks’ marketing guru). Bedbury actually coined the phrase brand mantra. It did everything you would want a brand mantra to do—it kept the Nike brand on track, it differentiated the brand from its main competitor at the time (Reebok), and it genuinely inspired Nike employees.

2. Disney: Fun Family Entertainment

Adding the word magical would have probably made it even better, but this brand mantra—also created in the late 1980s—was crucial in ensuring the powerful Disney marketing machine didn’t overextend the brand. Establishing an office of brand management at that same time with a mission to “inform and enforce” the brand mantra gave it real teeth.

3. Ritz-Carlton: Ladies & Gentlemen Serving Ladies & Gentlemen

The Ritz-Carlton brand mantra has a clear internal and external message, an especially important consideration for services brands. It is simple but universally applicable in all that Ritz-Carlton does and highly aspirational.

4. BMW: Ultimate Driving Machine

BMW’s brand mantra is noteworthy in two ways. One, it reveals the power of a straddle branding strategy by combining two seemingly incompatible sets of attributes or benefits. When launched in North America, there were cars that offered either luxury or performance, but not both. Two, it is also a good example of how a brand mantra can be used as a slogan if its descriptive nature is compelling enough as is.

5. Betty Crocker: Homemade Made Easy

Another example of a brand mantra that was effective as a descriptive ad tag line, Betty Crocker’s brand mantra remarkably staked out three points of difference (“quality,” “family,” and a “rewarding baking experience”) as well as a crucial point of parity (“convenience”) at the same time.

Thanks to Kevin for providing these awesome brand mantras for The Ad-Free Brand. If you want to learn more about brand mantras, please see this post (or check out Kevin’s book Strategic Brand Management).

Why does brand positioning matter and what must change?


I believe almost all great brands are built on a foundation of great positioning.

I feel so strongly about positioning that one of the core elements of this blog is a series of brand positioning tips I learned over the years as an eager student of classic brand positioning.

Sometimes great positioning is led by a branding genius such as Scott Bedbury (who helped grow the Nike and Starbucks brands); sometimes a great leader and communicator with a very clear vision (like Steve Jobs at Apple) drives it into the organization; sometimes people stumble on great positioning by pure luck; and more and more often, organizations are developing positioning by collaborating with the communities of people in and around the organization who care most passionately about the brand.

This last way is the ad-free brand way of developing brand positioning.

Why does great positioning matter? In my view, there are four key reasons brands should care about positioning.

1. Great positioning helps people understand the brand

The best brand positioning is always simple and clear. The greatest product or organization in the world won’t be successful if people can’t or don’t bother to comprehend why they should care about it. Your story must be able to break through the clutter.

2. Great positioning helps people value the brand

Getting people to understand the brand is the first step, but no less important is ensuring they value the brand. The best brands stand for things people care about or desire.

3. Great positioning helps people identify with the brand

Once people understand and value the brand, they must also understand how they fit in and how they can engage with the brand. They need to see some of themselves in it.

4. Great brand positioning helps people take ownership over the brand

It may sound like a brand’s worst nightmare to lose control and have the brand community take over. But the most self-actualized brands of the twenty-first century allow the communities of people surrounding them to take some ownership of and responsibility for the brand. Essentially, the brand owners become in command and out of control of the brand.

In 1981, when Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (the book that really defined the discipline of brand positioning) traditional advertising was still a dominant force. In fact, as you glance through their book, you’ll notice that most of the examples they use to illustrate positioning concepts are classic advertisements or advertising campaigns like the Avis “We’re #2, so we try harder” or the 7-Up “Uncola” campaign.

In the book, Trout and Ries define positioning as follows:

“…positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”

The Trout and Ries definition is a perfect way to achieve the first three of the four benefits above; it helps people understand, value, and identify with the brand.

Where the Trout and Ries model of positioning is all about what you do to the mind of the prospect, ad-free brands are less interested in creating meaning for a brand in people’s minds and more interested in creating meaning for a brand with the help of people’s minds.

By giving the communities of people who care about a brand some ownership over its future direction, we begin to build relationships based on trust, respect, and a mutual exchange of value.

Where 21st century brands will really shine is by mimicking the open, collaborative, meritocratic model of the open source software movement (and the Internet itself) in their positioning work. In my view, without beginning to engage the communities of people who care about a brand as co-owners, classic brand positioning by itself will continue to be less and less effective as traditional advertising and PR continue to be less and less effective.

The secret? Marrying those classic brand positioning principles to a 21st century way of collaborating with the communities of people who care about a brand. By doing both together, we’ll be able to build stronger, more resilient brands than ever before.

This is the second in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand, which is available now.

Brand positioning tip #9: A brand mantra is not a tagline


In Brand Positioning Tip #3, I introduced the concept of the brand mantra. The term was originally coined by Scott Bedbury during his time at Nike, and it refers to a short 3-5 word phrase created to capture the very essence of the brand’s meaning.

Was I supposed to Just Do It or embody Authentic Athletic Performance? I'm not sure. I'll just cross the finish line instead.

Usually a brand mantra includes or hints at some of the points of difference discovered during the brand positioning exercise (learn more about points of difference here). The most famous example of a brand mantra is from Bedbury’s Nike project, where the team coined the brand mantra Authentic Athletic Performance.

The most important thing to understand about brand mantras is that they are not designed to be externally facing slogans or taglines. Case in point— unless you’ve heard the Nike brand mantra story before, you’ve probably never seen the phrase Authentic Athletic Performance associated with Nike in advertising. Usually you will see an external manifestation of it, Just Do It being the prime example.

This is where most well-meaning brand mantra projects go bad. When brainstorming possible brand mantras, it is important for your team to be very clear that they are not writing advertising copy or taglines for external use. There is no quicker path to an inauthentic brand mantra than heading too quickly toward the language of advertising or marketing.

A brand mantra should resonate internally first. The mantra you chose should reflect the core values, mission, and culture of the company while also staying true to the brand positioning (if this is difficult, you’ve got bigger problems, because it may mean your culture and your brand are out of alignment).

The most powerful brand mantras become part of the DNA of the organization, and are used to guide everyday decisions about strategy, user experience, voice, and a host of other things. The mantra becomes a touchstone that is returned to over and over again— especially when decisions start getting tough.

Once you’ve settled on your brand mantra and tested it internally to ensure it resonates, you can finally start working on taglines. Again, think of a tagline as an external manifestation of the brand mantra— written in a language that will resonate with your target customer instead of your co-workers.

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Brands are like sponges, people


On Twitter yesterday, my friend Chris Blizzard mentioned to someone that I often say “brands are like sponges.” When I saw this, I realized that a) I haven’t said this in a while and b) I should say it more often because it is a freakin’ awesome way to think about brands. So I’m saying it again right now. Right here.

A brand is like a sponge. Except it is probably dirtier than this one.

A brand is like a sponge. Except it is probably dirtier than this one.

It’s actually not my line. I got it from the Scott Bedbury book A New Brand World (one of the top ten books behind Dark Matter Matters). Near the beginning of the book, Scott, who is one of the masterminds behind the good ol’ days of the Nike brand in the 80s and the Starbucks brand in the 90s, provides one of my favorite definitions of what a brand is:

A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off strategy. It is defined by your best product as well as your worst product. It is defined by award-winning advertising as well as by the god-awful ads that somehow slipped through the cracks, got approved, and, not surprisingly, sank into oblivion. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee– the shining star in the company who can do no wrong– as well as by the mishaps of the worst hire that you ever made. It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your customers are subjected to when they are placed on hold. For every grand and finely worded public statement by the CEO, the brand is also defined by derisory consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the Internet. Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings. They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever. As such, you can’t entirely control a brand. At best you can only guide and influence it.

Those last two lines have stuck in my mind since I first read them. First, the idea that a brand is a sponge, soaking up everything, both good and bad. And second, that you cannot control a brand, you can only guide and influence it.

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Sharing your brand story (and here’s ours)


The most compelling brands in the world tell compelling stories. Whether the brand is Nike (the Greek winged goddess of victory was named Nike, and it all rolls from there) or IBM (Thomas Watson and THINK) or [your favorite brand here], the most interesting brands have great mythologies built up over time. The brand story is deeply ingrained in their actions, voice, look, and culture.Red Hat Story book

It’s been almost eight years since we created the first Red Hat Brand Book. The original book was an attempt to capture the essence of our Red Hat story, to explain what Red Hat believes, where we came from, and why we do what we do.

It had a secondary mission as an early brand usage guide, explaining what Red Hat should look and sound like at a time when the company was expanding rapidly around the world and brand consistency was becoming harder to achieve.

When most companies create this sort of document, they call it a “Brand Standards Manual”, or something like that. But we were young, foolish, and drunk on the meritocracy of open source, so in the first version of the Brand Book, we emblazoned the words “This is not a manual” on the front cover.

Why? We wanted to be very clear this book was the starting point for an ongoing conversation about what the Red Hat brand stood for, looked like, and sounded like, rather than a prescriptive “Thou shalt not…” kind of standards guide.

I hate brand standards that sound like legal documents. I’ve always felt like the role of our group was to educate and inspire, not to police, and we tried to create a document that embodied that spirit.

This year we launched the biggest update yet to the Brand Book. In doing so, we actually split it into two projects:

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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.

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