Brand positioning tip: a brand mantra is not a tagline

Originally coined by Scott Bedbury during his time at Nike, a brand mantra refers to a short 3-5 word phrase created to capture the very essence of the brand’s meaning. The most famous example of a brand mantra is from Nike, where the team coined the brand mantra Authentic Athletic Performance.

Brand mantra example: Samuel Wanjiru at 2008 summer olympics wearing Nike

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

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 choose 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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