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When I am giving speeches on Marketing, I always use  the Volvo brand as a great case study. I tell the audience that I am going to do a magic trick where I predict what word they will shout back at me. I write “Safety” down on a piece of paper. I then say “what is the one word that describes the Volvo brand” and the audience yells back “SAFETY” without hesitation. 

I went to see Al Ries speak a few years ago and he challenged all marketers to get your brand down to one word. It sounded great, until I went back to my desk and started trying it out on my brands. At best I was able to get it down to a few words or a quick catch phrase. As I sat there frustrated, I realized that the effort to try to get it down to one word is a great catalyst that gets you down to a few words.  That’s a hell of a lot better than the excessively long-winded 5-page briefs or the long list of RTB’s (Reason to Believe) people want to jam in a TV ad.

“If you want to build a brand, you must focus your efforts on owning a word in the prospects’ mind. A word nobody else owns” – Al Ries

With today’s consumers being bombarded with 5,000 brand messages a day, the first 7 seconds that a consumer is exposed to a brand is a make-or-break moment. The brand must captivate the consumer’s mind quickly or the consumer will move on. The brand must be able to entice consumers to find out more and then motivate consumers to see, think, feel or act in positive ways that benefit the brand. I will show you how to develop a big idea that serves as the brand’s 7-second sales pitch. The Big Idea must be interesting, simple, unique, inspiring, motivating and own-able. The backbone of the Big Idea is the brand positioning that speaks to whom your brand will serve and what consumer benefits the brand will provide. To stand out within the clutter, smart brand positioning must establish your brand as better, different or cheaper. Otherwise, your brand will not be around for long.

How to find your brand's big idea

As much as people have a hard time matching up their inner motivations with their outward projection of their own personal reputation, a brand faces a similar challenge in matching up the inner thoughts inside the brain of the organization behind the brand with the outward brand reputation owned within the minds of their consumers. In psychology, there are three constructs to the brand personality, the ego, the id and the super ego. In our brand apparatus, the brand soul is used to express the inner thoughts of the brand that defines ‘what you want your brand to be’. The brand reputation is ‘what consumers think of you’ which is the outward view of the brand that resides within the minds of consumers. As the ego of the human mind works to regulate the id and super ego, the brand’s big idea serves as the stabilizer between the inner motivations of those behind the brand and the outward projection. In a stabilizer role, the big idea must adjust to the actual reputation, yet send signals to steer the consumer’s mind towards a desired reputation that exists within the brand soul. A brand finds its equilibrium when the brand soul, brand reputation and big idea are the same.

I have created a tool that helps define your brand down to the seven second brand pitch.

Seven Second Brand Pitch

From there, you should be able to narrow down to a 1-second brand pitch.

One Second Brand Pitch

For a long time, we’ve thought that brands just exist to convey a degree of consistency in the consumers mind. Yes, that helps to own a position in the marketplace. But more and more, we are also starting to realize that consistency of message acts as an internal beacon for everyone in the organization to follow.

Big Idea

I am always pushing everyone to focus:  focus on a tight target,  own one main benefit area that no one else can own and then shout it from the mountain top. The challenge here of getting what your brand stands down to one word would be the ultimate. I’d encourage you to take this on a test run and see where you get.  But the bigger point is to, learn from how obsessed Volvo is around safety.

I am yet to see any other brand that is so focused against one word like Volvo is with safety. For Volvo safety is not just a claim or demo in their TV ads, but is everything they do. But the real beauty for Volvo is their obsession with safety.

  • Volvo was long ahead of the marketplace. Volvo first started the safety angle in the 1940s and became completely obsessed in through the 1960s long before consumers cared about safety when no one was even wearing seat belts. But the market place has since caught up. This year, Car and Driver reports safety as the #1 benefit that consumers are looking for in a new car.
  • Volvo’s purpose in making safety a priority. In 1958, Volvo came up with the 3-point seat belt. Even with a patent they could have enforced and made millions, Volvo decided to share the technology with all the other car manufacturers because they believed so strongly in it. That really speaks to Volvo’s conviction and authenticity.
  • Volvo has always been way ahead of car safety regulations.  In fact, as safety became a priority with consumers, regulators looked at what Volvo was doing as the standard and then made Volvo’s advancements mandatory across other companies. In the 1990s, Volvo was ahead of the curve on the introduction of air bags and side-air bags.
    In TV ads, we got so used to seeing the crash test dummy ads re-enforcing Volvo’s ownership over safety.
  • Volvo continues to set the standard for safety today. The 2012 IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety) had 3 Volvo models in the 10 Top Safety Picks, the most of any car brand. The Euro NCAP collision test has recognize 2012 Volvo V40 as the best car they’ve ever tested, giving it the top rating of five stars in the Euro NCAP collision test.

Safety in Action

Most impressive to me that highlights Volvo’s obsession with safety is to look internally at the long list of R&D advancements over the past 70 years.

  • 1944 Safety cage
  • 1944 Laminated windscreen
  • 1957 Anchor points for 2–point safety belts front
  • 1958 Anchor points for 2–point safety belts rear
  • 1959 3–point front safety belts standard
  • 1964 First rearward–facing child safety seat prototype tested
  • 1966 Crumple zones front and rear
  • 1966 Safety door–locks
  • 1969 Inertia reel safety belts
  • 1971 Reminder safety belt
  • 1972 3–point safety belts – rear
  • 1972 Rearward–facing child safety seat
  • 1974 Multi-stage impact absorbing steering column
  • 1974 Bulb integrity sensor
  • 1975 Braking system with stepped bore master cylinder
  • 1978 Child safety booster cushion
  • 1982 “Anti–submarining” protection
  • 1986 Three–point safety belt centre rear seat
  • 1990 Integrated child safety cushion in centre rear seat
  • 1991 Side Impact Protection System
  • 1991 Automatic height adjusting safety belt
  • 1992 Reinforced rear seats in estate models
  • 1995 Integrated child safety cushion outer rear seats
  • 1997 Roll Over Protection System
  • 1998 Whiplash Protection System
  • 1998 Inflatable Curtain
  • 2001 Volvo Safety Concept Car
  • 2002 Roll Stability Control
  • 2003 New Front Structure called Volvo Intelligent Vehicle Architecture
  • 2003 Rear seat belt reminders
  • 2003 Intelligent Driver Information System
  • 2003 Inauguration of Volvo’s Traffic Accident Research Team in Bangkok
  • 2004 Blind Spot Information System
  • 2005 Door Mounted Inflatable Curtain
  • 2006 Personal Car Communicator
  • 2006 Collision Warning with Brake Support
  • 2007 Power Park Brake
  • 2007 Driver Alert Control
  • 2009 City Safety – Automatically stop car at speeds below 19 mph (31 km/h) if obstruction is detected in front of car
  • 2010 Pedestrian Detection with auto brake
  • 2012 Pedestrian airbag

True leader push themselves by attacking the brand even before competitors have a chance. Volvo is continuing to push themselves with a very visionary challenge for the year 2020 that’s squarely directed internally within Volvo.  Sure Volvo had some wiggling going on when they were bought by GM a few years ago. But since re-gaining control of the brand, they are back standing behind the word: SAFETY.

The Volvo vision statement: “Nobody should die or be seriously injured in a Volvo.”  

That speaks volumes to the obsession they’ve had for the past 70 years and to the obsessive focus for the future of Volvo!

Here’s a powerpoint presentation on how to define your brand, including the Big Idea tool.


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. 

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands

 Graham Robertson Bio Brand Training Coach Consultant

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Graham Robertson

Graham spent 20 years in Brand Management leading some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, General Mills and Coke, rising up to VP Marketing. In his career, he has won numerous Advertising, Innovation and Leadership awards. Graham played a major role in helping J&J win Marketing Magazine’s prestigious “Marketer of the Year” award. Graham brings a reputation for challenging brand leaders to think differently and to be more strategically focused. Graham founded Beloved Brands in 2010, to help brands find growth and make brand leaders smarter. He leads workshops to help define your Brand Positioning, build your brand’s Big Idea, and write strategic Brand Plans that motivate and focus everyone that works on the brand. Our Beloved Brands training programs will help your team, produce exceptionally smart work work that drives stronger brand growth and profits. We cover everything a brand leader needs to know including strategic thinking, planning, positioning, execution and analytics. Our robust client roster has included the NFL Players Association, Reebok, the NBA, Acura, Shell, Miller Lite, 3M, Jack Link’s and Pfizer. His weekly brand stories have generated over 5 million views.

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