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.
A few words on taglines: apply only in moderation, please.
A beautifully articulated tagline is a piece of poetry, often timeless and enduring. Something like Just Do It may be as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. But more often than not, companies 1) create thoughtless taglines that don’t capture the brand positioning of the company 2) jump from tagline to tagline, leaving their customers no time to internalize the meaning of the phrase or build brand associations from it.
Sometimes I see companies doing both, jumping from meaningless tagline to meaningless tagline, choosing them because they are funny, clever, or because they chase the meme of the day. My advice to you? Just don’t do it.
I often recommend against taglines altogether. Many companies don’t have the stamina to maintain a consistent tagline over a period of years. If the tagline is not something you love and think will endure for 5 years or more, consider whether you’d be better off avoiding it and instead spending your time and energy writing better copy, better headlines, or otherwise articulating your message clearly and simply.
Whatever you do, make sure that your brand mantra is in your head at all times. You’ll be amazed at how much more consistent your company message will become when you start all of your communications projects by remembering that one simple, beautiful piece of poetry that is your brand mantra.
If so, you can find more tips about how to position your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).