I want to ask you to take a little test.

Go out and grab five or six of your best customers and pose this question to them: What’s one word you would use to describe how you think about our organization?

The ability to capture and hold one word in the mind of your intended market is perhaps the most telling measure of marketing success.

Organizations that pass this test do so because they have a single-minded purpose that permeates everything they stand for and everything they do. The word most people associate with them represents that purpose and it’s often their most potent brand asset.

So, what did your customers say, what would they say, if you really did this?

Do you have any idea? Do you know what you would hope they would respond?

Let’s look at this idea another way. Think of a business you truly love doing business with and consider one word you would use to describe how you think about that organization.
Did you come up with your one word one single-minded sense of purpose that evoked that organization’s story for you?

A single-minded strategy

In the movie City Slickers Jack Palance’s character tells Billy Crystal that the secret to life is one thing. Crystal, of course, is left to discover what that one thing is, but I believe the same is true for business. I believe the most effective marketing strategies hold together by focusing relentlessly on one simple thing.

That one simple thing can be an idea, like providing shoes to kids in need around the world as shoe retailer Tom’s One for One Movement does. Focusing on simple, yet stunning design, as many people feel Apple does, or building a business by intentionally keeping things simple, in both products and processes, as I believe software developer 37Signals does.

In all cases though, these companies accomplish many, many things, but do so first and foremost through the realization of one single-minded purpose as strategy. This single minded purpose is the filter for every business decision, hiring decision, product decision, and marketing campaign – and it often starts by simply realizing and capturing who the company is being at some point in time – the here’s what we really stand for moment.

Of course, finding and committing to a real-life marketing strategy – the one thing – isn’t enough. You’ve also got to find a way to make it part of the DNA of the organization. You’ve got find symbols and stories and metaphors that invite and allow every part of your business ecosystem to embrace the strategy.

Find your word

This process starts with understanding why you do what you do and how that sense of purpose impacts those that you do it for. It doesn’t really have to be as deep as it sounds, it just has to be something that’s simple and meaningful to those that come into contact with your organization and you must own the word.

For my organization that word is “practical.” I’ve worked very hard at owning that word and in large part my market gets it. Owning that word has taken consistency, patience and discipline.

But, it’s become our trust mark, our filter and our very useful decision making tool. I’ve made many a decision about a tool, a service, a point of view, by simply asking if they way I was viewing it or characterizing it was practical.

Capture your metric

Once you land on the word you need to own, you must also find your solitary metric – the way in which you’ll determine your progress. This can be a simple a monitoring mentions, it can be through informal surveys it can be through the increase of some act such as testimonials and referrals.

We monitor mentions of our brand online using a tool called Trackur and one of the things we obsess over is the word practical in relation to our brand. This is a scorecard idea for us and one that keep front and center.

So, let me ask you this – what’s your word – what does it need to be – how are you going to make it so?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • When we own our one word, is it also what we evangelize or is it only an internal concept that drives our actions? 

    I’ve never labeled Duct Tape or John Jantsch as “practical” but now that you’ve said it, I completely agree, but that’s not exactly your positioning statement.

    How much alignment should we have there?


    – purpose –

  • Done! Loved the idea and immediately sent a surveymonkey to find out the ONE WORD response. Thank you for the tip, John!

  • Now you have me thinking! BTW, thanks for the Trackur shoutout, glad to have you onboard!

  • This is a great exercise to share with others as you point out.  The one word concept has a true value of your innerself and how it reflects outwardly.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts and advice on this.  

  • Cool tip John;) For me, it all boils down to this:focus.  We should continue to be focused.  We should give a consistent and clear vision of the future, or that “single-minded strategy”, we are leading people towards.  Thanks.  

  • Hi John,
    A few single-word non-phrases come to mind, but the one that has remained consistently in the forefront is “strategic.” (Thanks to Kenneth Manesse Sr. for highlighting this exercise over in the LinkedIn Group, Marketing Skills for Micro-Entrepreneurs.)