Brand Not Campaign: Secrets to Casting Vision, Part 3

This is the third in a five part series on secrets effective communicators use to cast vision, communicate big ideas, and affect change. Here’s part one. Here’s part two.


Contrary to popular opinion, “Just Do It” isn’t Nike’s brand. It’s merely a (very successful) campaign.

You’ve probably never heard of Nike’s actual brand statement, or “mantra”. That’s because it’s not public. It’s the private measuring stick the organization uses to stay on track over time. Here it is:

Authentic Athletic Performance.

Huh? What do you do with that?

A Brand Comes From the Gut

Brands can be confusing; I talk about brand statements here. But for now focus on this: a brand statement is emotional, not technical. It’s the reaction you want people to have when they think of you.

If you’re having confusion about what among many ideas is most important, you need a brand statement.  The brand statement is the means by which you define yourself to the people whom you’re trying to reach.

Brands come from the mission statement. Here’s Nike’s mission statement:

To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

Notice how Nike’s brand statement above is a user’s emotional description of the mission statement. The user wants gear to maximize their performance as an athlete.

Once you have this, you have to make it actionable. This is often difficult to make happen, even for experienced marketers. You do it with a positioning statement.

Every Brand Needs a Positioning Statement

Here’s how it works:

BRAND —> POSITION —> CAMPAIGN

From the brand comes the position, which is simply the actionable version of the brand.

The trick is in the context. Every organization has a general goal in mind. Make money. Educate people. Win championships. In church, some say the brand comes from The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, where Jesus says “Go and make disciples” (Sound like something Steve Jobs would’ve stolen) – and that we don’t need to modify it. But we’re doing our thing in a specific time and place. So context is crucial. You have to get specific.

A positioning statement is a) a concise description of your target audience and b) a compelling picture of how you want that market to perceive your brand. It is the application of the Why, from part two. As Jim Joseph states, “Positioning is a summation of all the attributes you’ve selected for your brand. A positioning statement acts as a guidepost when it comes to making decisions in your life.”

Remember: Though it may read like something from your promotional materials, your positioning statement is an internal tool.

How to write a positioning statement

Here’s how to do it:

For [Audience], I am/we are the [Exclusive] among all [Category] because [Inspiration].
  • The Audience is the specific group of people you hope to reach and affect.
  • The Exclusive is how you plan to uniquely benefit your audience.
  • The Category is your industry.
  • The Inspiration is the reason people should believe what you claim.

This is what Amazon wrote in 2001:

For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection.

From the positioning statement comes the more concise brand mantra.

From the positioning statement comes the ad campaign

We get it backwards when we start with the ad campaign. It comes last.

There is only one why. Not many whys. Don’t just jump from project to project and campaign to campaign. You’ll never gain traction.

Campaigns change; positioning occasionally changes; the brand never changes. 

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).