Marketers and brand managers are responsible for building brands. Their success is often measured by an ability to develop forward motion, or “momentum.” for the brand.

Momentum can help deliver high brand-awareness scores among target customers. It can also bring about positive publicity that supports paid marketing efforts.

Yet, few brand managers are trained to understand the behavior or physics of momentum. There is a widespread belief that momentum is always a positive and desirable state. There is also a belief that once the brand is in motion, it will stay in motion. Neither notion is true.

Momentum is a force. And as a force, it will produce competitive advantage if it is managed. If it is not managed, it will inevitably lead to brand dilution.

What Wal-Mart and Howard Dean Have in Common

Wal-Mart is the darling of Middle America. Its low prices and one-stop-shopping approach have made it the world's largest company. But lately, as it has tried to maintain its growth rates, Wal-Mart has increasingly been forced to expand into urban settings.

In urban America, Wal-Mart faces organized labor, which is opposed to its non-union workforce. It also faces community advocates who complain about its low wage scale.

Customers ultimately determine when a brand's momentum is positive and when it is negative. In Middle America, Wal-Mart's brand and operating model are closely aligned with local customs. In urban America, Wal-Mart has faced a misalignment with some segments of the community.

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Joseph Benson and Bret Kinsella Joseph ( is a brand strategist with over 25 years of experience designing and implementing brand and marketing strategies for financial services, healthcare, high technology, entertainment and retail clients. Bret ( is a director and general manager of Sapient’s Supply Chain Service Line.