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Monday, August 19, 2013




One of our good friends (and a former client) has taught us a simple but highly useful communication technique that he and his wife regularly use.  It’s called “Give me just one word,” and it can be helpful in so many situations.  A particularly insightful use is right after one or both of them has experienced something; for example, if one of them was participating in an off-site conference, at the beginning of an evening phone call home, the other might ask, “Give me just one word—how was your presentation at the conference today?”  Or another more personal common use might be, after say, an emotion-generating event, “Give me just one word—how are you feeling right now?”


Whatever the situation, the idea is to get to the “heart” of the matter…to try to elicit the most immediate (and presumably most genuine, heartfelt) response.  Said another way, the idea is to dispense with all those other words that, well, start frothing forth while one is collecting his or her thoughts, discerning how to “position” something in the most favorable light, or in some cases, aiming to avoid saying something unintended or in the “wrong way.”  Of course, we don’t always have the “right one word” on the tip of our tongue.  Sometimes we do need a few seconds to accurately capture that one word that really does communicate what we think or feel.  But, even allowing the span of a few seconds for a response, we think the technique has application beyond our interpersonal communications.  Specifically, we think it has valid and potentially very productive application in the expression of a brand positioning strategy.


To get right to the point, if your brand’s positioning strategy could be captured in a single word, what would that one word be?  Even more important, in the minds and hearts of your positioning target, would that one word apply more immediately, more precisely to your brand than to others in your class or category?  There is perhaps no more telling example of this than the Volvo Brand.  Time and again—from Brazil to China to Dubai and back to Western countries—whenever we ask the question in our workshops, “What’s the Volvo brand positioning?” virtually everyone in the audience shouts out, “Safety” (often even before we can finish the question).  It doesn’t matter that the audience’s first language is not English; the response is always that simple English word.  And, sometimes when we go on to ask, “Is Volvo safer than other cars?” we typically hear a good percentage of marketers say they think it is…even if, compared to many other sedan and wagon brands, there is no provable, functional advantage to Volvo’s safety.


It’s fair to say that many of the marketers we’ve worked with around the globe admit to a certain envy of a brand like Volvo.  They tell us that it would be wonderful to have such a simple and universally agreed-to brand positioning—a positioning that, for all practical purposes, that brand and that brand alone owns.  Remember that old positioning adage, “Your brand positioning should be truly unique:  if any other brand’s name replaced your brand’s name, the positioning statement would be false”?  While everyone aspires to such a truism, in fact most marketers find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.  What makes it so difficult to achieve?  Well, besides the obvious fact that in most product categories there are several brands with equally good performance, what makes a positioning statement so difficult to apply to one and only one brand is the sheer number of words it contains.  Think about it:  more words so often lead to more generality, more breadth of meaning—or, as we’ve seen time and again, “too much stuff.” 


We have always advocated (and continue to teach) the building of a complete, cohesive brand positioning strategy.  Such a strategy comprises a target definition with seven elements, a competitive framework with two dimensions, both functional and emotional benefits, and a brand character written as a narrative.  In short, we advocate a brand positioning that has a good many, well-chosen words.  But, still, once such a positioning strategy is articulated—as competitively as possible in each and every component—we also love the idea of being to “Give me that one word” that nails the essence of what the brand stands for and that only or best fits our brand.


Turns out that neither we, nor our friend, is the only advocate of “Give me one word.”  In the 2003 book Creative Leaps by Michael Newman (a former Saatchi & Saatchi creative), the author speaks about the value of what he terms, “OW”:


“It doesn’t come more precise than finding just one word to represent your brand.  One word, OW!  A one word brief concentrates thinking.  It focuses on the essential.  A one word brief gives the gift of discipline.  A one word brief hands tight control to the marketing people and offers clarity to the consumer.  Best of all, perhaps counter-intuitively, it actually gives the creative greater freedom.” (page 83)


Mr. Newman is talking here specifically about one word creative briefs, but clearly what he suggests applies equally well to brand positioning strategies.  We mentioned the most telling, classic example for the Volvo Brand already.  But, by way of wrapping up and also demonstrating that Volvo is not the only brand out there that most consumers could sum up in one word, here are a few more.  We’ll bet you can link the brand and its one word with your eyes closed!


       1.  Snickers        a.  Worth
       2.  Disney        b.  Perfection
       3.  L'Oreal        c.  Connecting
       4.  Lexus        d.  Satisfied
       5.  Nokia        e.  Magic


So, for your brand, “Give us one word.”


Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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