This is the final post in a series designed to help startups and people in the technology industry learn to position their brands more effectively. In this post, we’ll cover the brand mantra—where positioning all comes together. For a quick refresher, check out the previous posts about how to uncover your brand’s competitive frame of reference, points of difference, and points of parity.
Ah, the brand mantra. The Yeti of brand positioning, and our final positioning element to delve into for this series. The brand mantra is an elusive beast, but when a great one shows itself, everything about your brand can change forever.
What is a brand mantra?
A brand mantra can go by several names. Some people refer to it as the brand essence and others call it a brand promise. But a brand mantra is to brand positioning what triple distillation is to liquor—it removes the impurities, refining and simplifying the positioning to its most essential form.
A brand mantra is a short phrase (five words maximum) that encapsulates the entire positioning platform (the competitive frame of reference, the points of difference, the points of parity, and everything else about your brand) into one thought.
Creating a great brand manta is, as you may imagine, quite difficult. If you have 3-4 points of difference, 2 points of parity, and a competitive frame of reference, how do you cram all of that into 2-5 words and have it sound amazing and inspiring to boot?
The reality is that you won’t be able to distinctly capture every single individual positioning point in the brand mantra. Instead the goal is to capture the overall spirit of the positioning platform, to give people the best possible sense for the essence of the brand in a memorable, emotionally resonant way.
One crucial point: a brand mantra is not developed to be an advertising slogan or tagline, and, in most cases, it won’t be something you use publicly at all (although we’ll share a few notable exceptions below). 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 brand mantra becomes a touchstone that is returned to over and over again—especially when decisions start getting tough.
A few examples
To truly understand the power of a brand mantra it helps to look at some classic examples. For my book The Ad-Free Brand, I asked branding expert Kevin Keller if he would share his five favorite brand mantras of all time. These were his choices, along with a few words to describe what he found most powerful about each:
1. Nike: authentic athletic performance
One of the best brand mantras ever, 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: the 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.
A brand mantra for Supplyzus
In the earlier posts in this series, we introduced a fake company called Supplyzus—the Uber of office supplies—that delivers office supplies to companies using a cool online ordering system.
We also built a positioning platform for Supplyzus. The primary competitive frame of reference for Supplyzus is office supply merchants. Its key points of difference in that frame of reference are delivery speed, a simple and modern ordering process, and a fun experience. And its points of parity are selection and quality.
Now this presents quite the challenge. How will we take the concepts of delivery speed, a modern ordering process, a fun experience, selection, and quality—all within the office supply merchants frame of reference—and distill them down to a 2-5 word brand mantra?
(For this next part of the post, imagine one of those cooking shows where they show you all of the ingredients being prepped. A few basic shots of stirring things with a wooden spoon…boiling things on the stove…sticking something in the oven along with some clever wordplay. And then, amazingly enough, after hours (or in this case days or weeks) of hard work, we jump to the finished dish…)
After much deliberation internally, good ideas, bad ideas, pain and suffering, the Supplyzus team finally decides on a brand mantra of…wait for it…
Office Supplies, Now & How!
Breaking down the Supplyzus brand mantra
So how did Supplyzus get to this brand mantra? It’s a solid example of how to capture multiple points of difference in one phrase, or in this case, one phrase plus a punctuation mark.
The key is the “& How!” part of the brand mantra. This phrase is communicating all of the points of difference and points of parity at once. These two words illustrate that the experience of Supplyzus will be different and exciting (fun experience, modern ordering process). But they also communicate the points of parity—that Supplyzus can create a fun experience through a modern ordering process, without giving up selection or quality.
Since delivery speed is probably the most crucial point of difference for Supplyzus, this is called out entirely on its own by the word “Now.”
And we’ve even been able to pull in the competitive frame of reference of office supply merchants through the first two words of the mantra. Put it all together, and we get Office Supplies, Now & How!
Bringing it all together
So how would Supplyzus put this brand mantra (and the whole positioning platform) to use? The company would begin to internalize the brand mantra as shorthand for the overall positioning platform. I could also see meetings where the CEO gave rallying speeches about what it will take to bring “& How!” to life every day for customers.
The team would probably create a diagram like the one below to include as part of a brand story book, perhaps with some short descriptions of what each of the concepts mean.
This positioning platform would be used each time the company created marketing materials or designed a new campaign. People internally would check their work against the positioning platform to ensure they are communicating the key points of difference to customers and prospects and doing a good job taking selection and quality off the table as potential reasons to consider an alternative.
Even the product development, engineering, and operations teams would use the positioning platform to help them prioritize what product features and experiential elements they work on first. They would choose to develop features that further enhance the Supplyzus advantage around delivery speed, a modern ordering process, or a fun experience. They would prioritize things that helped ensure selection is as broad as possible and quality is as high as possible. But they wouldn’t spend so much time on these things that they neglect investing deeply in the differentiators first.
Heck, even the non-customer-facing parts of the business could begin to live the brand mantra, taking the “& How!” spirit to the way the company negotiates contracts with suppliers or handles accounts receivable and accounts payable. Employees could take it upon themselves to find new ways to bring “& How!” to life in every aspect of their jobs, no matter where they work in the company.
How to develop your brand mantra
Ready to try this for your technology company? Our blog has an exercise that will help you develop your brand mantra.
We hope this series has been helpful to you as your organization begins its positioning journey. Over the years, we’ve worked with many startups and other organizations on their positioning platforms, and continue to be amazed by the profound impact a well- executed positioning platform can have in helping clarify, simplify, and amplify the story the company shares with the world.
Good luck on your positioning journey, and feel free to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have questions about technology positioning.