Positioning Statement? Tagline? Mantra?

Let’s look at three terms that get tossed around a lot in marketing circles. What do they mean, and how does one differ from the other? Think of them as tools on your marketing toolbox — when would you use one versus the other?

Though many may consider these three terms somewhat interchangeable, they really aren’t. There are definite nuances. Each is a different marketing exercise, and it’s important for anyone launching a new company or product to understand the purpose of each — how you can use one or more of these tools to their advantage. All three have their place, and when you’re ready to launch your company or start marketing, you’ll be a step ahead if you can nail all three.

What’s a Positioning Statement?

You know what the term “positioning” means — or you would if you’ve been reading our blog (What Is Positioning?). A positioning statement is simply putting that into words, succinctly. It really is a mandatory exercise, to be sure you can properly communicate your company’s reason for being, not only to all members of the team, but to other company stakeholders as well, such as investors.

So, yes, note that a positioning statement is for internal use. You would not normally use a complete positioning statement in your external marketing.

How do you develop one, you ask? Some great advice, and a framework, is given in this article, which extensively quotes Arielle Jackson, a former Google and Square product marketing manager. The end result is no more than a sentence or two that clearly defines the problem you’re setting out to solve and why that solution is compelling. As Arielle says, “You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be something great for someone.” Also important: avoid buzzwords! “Your positioning statement should be human.”

One other great point Arielle makes in the article, which every new startup should note: “…a well-expressed position can be an incredible asset in fundraising conversations… if you actually include your positioning statement in your pitch deck, people would be impressed with the clarity of thought.”

What’s a Tagline?

Now we move to the externally facing phrase that is a manifestation of your positioning statement — most commonly called a tagline. It must be even shorter, almost always less than eight or ten words. (Many of the best are two, three, four words — but that can be very hard to pull off.) The article referred to above gives an excellent example of one company’s positioning statement, and a tagline resulting from it — that company being Harley-Davidson.

Positioning statement: “The only motorcycle manufacturer that makes big, loud motorcycles for macho guys (and “macho wannabes”), mostly in the United States, who want to join a gang of cowboys in an era of decreasing personal freedom.”

Tagline: “American by birth. Rebel by choice.”

How’s that for nailing it?

MarketingProfs defines a tagline as “simply a short set of words that companies use to associate with their company or brand.” While they’re often clever, they must “also be highly relevant to your customers.” They also make the point that the positioning statement should be the basis for your tagline. “For example, BMW positions itself on performance and drivability. Therefore, it’s not surprising that its tagline is ‘The ultimate driving machine’.”

In a Forbes article, Charles Gaudet says, “Creating a tagline is a powerful exercise, as it forces you to think about exactly what it is you do for your customers that is unique.” He notes that some of the best taglines capture the personality of the business, as Apple did with its famous tagline of some years ago, “Think Different.” But, he says, “a tagline doesn’t need to be overly clever or cute to be effective. A good tagline is primarily functional. It should explain the unique value your business offers as clearly as possible.” A classic example he provides: Domino’s Pizza’s original tagline,“Fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.”

What’s a Mantra?

The word means “sacred utterance” in Sanskrit. A Fast Company article, Repeat After Me: Your Company Needs A Mantra, explains: “A good mantra both guides your strategy and says everything about your culture.” It comes from the tradition of a concentration aid provided by Hindu gurus to devotees. A mantra is made up words that are repeated to “facilitate transformation”… “In business, a mantra is akin to a motto, albeit more fundamental to a company’s internal purpose.” But, unlike the two other tools above, mantras are used both internally and externally: “They inform a company’s everyday decisions, both behind the curtain and in front of the crowd.” But they’re not just that, they’re actionable: “They can be printed on a flag in a 200-point font.”

The person who brought the concept of a mantra to the world of startups was Guy Kawasaki, the well known author and speaker, and formerly chief evangelist at Apple. His advice is to keep it simple. “Create a mantra of two or three words. Make it short, sweet, and swallowable.” He’s made a career out of trashing mission statements, the rambling corporate speak we all hate. Instead, as he preaches in virtually every talk he gives, work to come up with an effective mantra.

One great point from the Fast Company article: “Unlike mission statements, mantras are pivot-proof. They transcend current target markets and quarterly quotas.” Bingo!

What are some examples of good mantras? “The muscle-for-hire company College Hunks Hauling Junk fosters teamwork and a unified front with its vision, ‘Moving the World’.” The author of the Fast Company article, Shane Snow, provides another one: his own. He’s a cofounder of Contently. “About the time we could no longer count our employees on our fingers…we established a mantra: ‘Be Awesome’.” Pretty simple, alright! “It puts a smile on our faces and reminds us why we work at a startup and not some corporation with a 50-word slogan.”

It has lived on. “Everyone remembers it. And in a startup where the soil of culture is fertile, a meaningful mantra can be one of the greatest seeds you plant,” Shane says. That’s some great advice for startups!

So, there you have it — three marketing tools, three ways to help you make your startup awesome. Words matter. Learn how to use them to your advantage.

Leave a Comment