Once you and your positioning team have determined what the positioning for your brand should be and identified the points of difference, points of parity, and maybe even a brand mantra, consider checking your work with the following approach I learned from branding expert Kevin Keller.
Write up your key points of difference and points of parity (and your brand mantra if you have it) where you can see them together, representing the sum of your positioning. When you look at these pieces as a whole, does your chosen positioning pass the following three-question test?
1. Is this positioning desirable to your brand community?
Does the positioning reflect characteristics your brand community would want? It isn’t enough just to be different—the positioning should show that you are different in a way that people would value.
2. Is this positioning deliverable by the brand?
Does your brand experience already deliver on this positioning? If not, and if you’ve identified aspirational points of parity or points of difference, can you make changes to the organizational strategy that will ensure this positioning will reflect the actual brand experience at some point in the near future? If your brand can’t deliver on the positioning, it won’t feel authentic to your brand community and may actually do some damage if people perceive it as false or misleading.
3. Is this positioning differentiated from your competitors?
Does this positioning distinguish your brand from everyone else in the competitive frame of reference? Even if the positioning is desirable and deliverable, if it is indistinguishable from the positioning of your competitors it won’t be effective.
Desirable, deliverable, and differentiated: great positioning will be all three at once.
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.
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).
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I don’t know the answer, but I can tell you that brand positioning not effectively communicated and embedded both inside and outside your organization will definitely not make a sound.
So how do you ensure your brand positioning exercise isn’t in vain? How do you communicate your positioning both inside and outside the walls of the organization? In these next two brand positioning tips, I’ll try to answer that question. Today, we’ll tackle how to embed the brand positioning within your organization.
So here we are. Your positioning exercise is complete. You’ve identified one or more competitive frames of reference. You have clear points of difference distinguishing you from competitors. You’ve articulated the points of parity you need to achieve. And perhaps you’ve even decided on a brand mantra. Now what?
For most organizations, the next step is to build a plan to embed the positioning internally. Unless you work in a small firm, I’d recommend you don’t build this plan alone. Instead, convene a strategically-chosen team of folks to help you build the right plan for your organization.
Who should be on this team? I’d pick a group of 10 or less people from the following two sources:
When I was at Red Hat, I sometimes got questions from folks who wanted to know the secret to Red Hat’s brand success. First off, I’d always say you don’t grow a $1 billion technology company on brand alone. We sold great products. We treated our customers and developers well. We had a revolutionary business model. Those kinds of things are the bedrock of a successful brand.
But if I was to point to one “secret” thing I think had a big impact on the brand it would be a very simple one:
We said the same thing. Over and over. For years.
For me personally, sometimes I said things so many times I was just as sick of hearing myself as others were.
When people would come to me and ask if they could make a tan hat to give away at tradeshows rather than a red one, I would always repeat: “But we are Red Hat.” We brand folks would always be the ones to bring up the company mission, values, and culture. We’d steer conversations back toward the open source way when they went astray. When my colleagues and I would speak about the culture and brand in orientation, we’d tell the same stories, show the same videos of Bob Young and Matthew Szulik to new employees year after year after year.
When it comes to brand positioning, the biggest mistake you can make is to invest your time, money, and energy in discovering your optimal brand position… and then give up on it before it has a chance to do its magic. Building a great brand has to be done over time and, to paraphrase Jeff Bezos of Amazon, there are no shortcuts.
I’ve worked with a lot of creative types over the years, and most of them love to come up with new ideas. Heck we all do. But sometimes the thing that makes you stand out when everyone else is saying something new is to say something… well… old.
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.
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.
In previous posts about brand positioning, we’ve talked about points of parity & points of difference, the competitive frame of reference, brand mantras, and the concept of “brand permission” as tools you can use when developing your brand positioning. Today I want to cover one of the biggest positioning mistakes that I see companies make.
I call it island hopping. Let me explain with an example.
Say your company makes dish detergent. You’ve been making dish detergent for 50 years. All you know how to make is dish detergent. Your kids grew up as the famous heirs to a dish detergent fortune. When you show up at parties, people go “hey, look, it’s that dish detergent dude/dudette!” (When your kids show up at parties, people start whispering about videos they saw on the internet, but that’s another story).
Now you hire a new CEO. He has a Harvard MBA. He shows you lots of PowerPoint slides that explain how crappy the market for dish detergent is going to get over the next 50 years. He says you need to diversify into another business, and he suggests the boutique hand soap business is starting to really heat up (after all, who doesn’t want to smell like juniper peppermint citrus after they wash their hands?).
And he’s right. Your kids are spending all your money, and the dish detergent business is going pretty sour.
Imagine this: You walk into a pet store, looking for a canary, because, i don’t know, maybe your coal mine is having dirty air issues or something. The salesman, eager to please, walks you over to a cage with a duck sitting in it.
He says, “Do I have just the thing for you, check out this canary. He is a new, better breed of canary. He has webbed feet, can swim, quacks rather than sings, he’s bigger. We call this the web-footed hydro ultracanary. You’ll love him.”
So you buy the “canary” and take him into your coal mine, where he quacks incessantly. In fact, he is still waddling around quacking about ten minutes after you and all of the other miners are lying dead from breathing poisonous air.
In this case, the brand promise (a canary) and the brand experience (a duck with strong lungs) did not match. If you had been looking for a duck, this little guy would have probably been perfect. But as a canary… not so much.
One of my favorite brand rules is to call your ducks ducks. What do I mean? Make things simple for your customers. Don’t make them learn your language or analyze your intent in order to understand your message. Be straight with them.
In brand positioning tips 1-3, we discussed the 4 elements of good brand positioning: points of difference, points of parity, the competitive frame of reference, and the brand mantra. In this post, we are going to switch gears and talk about a subject called brand permission.
When attempting to position your brand in a new competitive frame of reference (or, in non-marketing-ese, when you want to start selling stuff in a new market), consider whether your brand has earned permission to enter that market.
How do you know if you have permission? And who do you need permission from? Well, let’s look at a few examples.
Back in the early 1990s, Clorox underwent a failed experiment in extending the Clorox brand into detergent. There is a nice short writeup of it here. Why did the detergent product fail?
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.
In Brand Positioning Tip #1, we covered 2 of the 4 key elements of successful brand positioning done the way Dr. Kevin Keller taught me: points of parity and points of difference. Today, I’d like to highlight the third key element of good brand positioning– understanding your competitive frame of reference.
Competitive frame of reference is a fancy way of saying “the market you compete in.”
This sounds pretty simple, huh? It can be… If you run a furniture store, your competitive frame of reference would probably be the furniture market. If you run a tattoo parlor, your competitive frame of reference would probably be the tattoo market.
Those are pretty cut and dry cases. But have you ever stopped and wondered to yourself, “exactly what market am I competing in?” and realized that you are really competing in a market that is not initially obvious? Or that you are actually competing in multiple markets? If either of these situations are true, you may discover you need to create points of parity and points of difference for each market where you compete.
Here is an common example of a less-than-obvious competitive frame of reference.
What market do you think Starbucks is in? The coffee market? Maybe. In the coffee market, Starbucks competes with grocery stores, fast food restaurants, other coffee shops, and home brewers. Tough market… they aren’t competitive in the coffee market on price, there are probably options that (arguably) taste better, maybe have shorter lines. It’s hard to believe that Starbucks would have grown as big as they are by simply competing in the existing coffee market.