How to Develop One-Word Brand Equity

November 13, 2014

For years Maurice Saatchi has been touting what he calls ‘one-word equity’.

He argues that a world populated with ‘digital natives’, i.e. those people under 30 who can hardly remember life without the internet, have intensified the battle for attention in ways that we have still not fully understood. He argues that attention span is virtually a thing of the past, which pushes brevity to the extreme. So when you hear the word ‘search’, what company do you think of? Google?

A brand should strive to own a word in the mind of the customer. If you want to build a brand you need to focus your efforts on owning a word in the customers mind. When you think of Mercedes you think of prestige but when you think of Volvo you think of safety. Once a brand owns a word, it’s almost impossible for a competitor to take that word away from the brand. Could you build a safer car than Volvo? Yet none of these examples are a perfect example of one word equity because they have both expanded into other areas, other markets. This is a serious mistake, which clearly undermines the brand equity.

What other one-word brands are there? Kleenex owns tissues, Coca Cola owns cola, Band Aid owns the adhesive bandage, Hoover owns vacuum cleaners, Rollerblade owns skates and Scotch Tape is adhesive tape.

In the same way gunnercooke is developing a brand of ‘authority’ secured through a commitment to only having lawyers with at least 10,000 hours of experience, unlike other law firms.

It isn’t a secret how these brands managed to own the word. They were there first. But you don’t always have to be first. You can create and own a new category by narrowing your focus. Fred Smith’s response to competition for Federal Express in the air-freight market was to narrow the company’s focus. Federal Express began to solely provide overnight delivery and so FedEx become synonymous with an ‘overnight delivery’ service.

Reducing your emphasis to one word demands discipline, focus and clarity. Choose the right word and it will drive the focus in your business. President Obama built his entire campaign strategy around one word ‘Forward’.

To get into the consumer’s mind you may have to sacrifice a laundry list of characteristics that you think are relevant to your product. You have to reduce your product to a single thought that no one else owns. It can become a conflict. Many marketers know this and yet still mistakenly expand and overcomplicate the meaning of their brands. Why? Because they mistakenly feel it is the only way to grow. Don’t. Stick to your knitting. And focus on expanding the market and not the brand.