Describing the Volvo brand in one word is easy: Safety

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. Then, I write “Safety” down on a piece of paper. And, I say “what is the one word that describes the Volvo brand” and the audience yells back “SAFETY” without hesitation. 

Can you describe your brand with one word?

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 catchphrase. 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.

The role of the Big Idea

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 the 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 superego. 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’.

Brand Reputation

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 superego, 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 the 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

Finding your big idea

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

Volvo seems obsessed with Safety

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 mountaintop. The challenge here of getting what your brand stands down to one word would be the ultimate. I’d encourage you to take this for 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 on 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 marketplace 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. And, then in the 1990s, Volvo was ahead of the curve on the introduction of airbags and side airbags. With 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 for Highway Safety) had 3 Volvo models in the 10 Top Safety Picks, the most of any car brand. The Euro NCAP collision test has recognized 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 center rear seat
  • 1990 Integrated child safety cushion in the center 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, Rear seat belt reminders, Intelligent Driver Information System,  Inauguration of Volvo’s Traffic Accident Research Team in Bangkok
  • 2004 Blind Spot Information System
  • 2005 Door Mounted Inflatable Curtain
  • 2006 Personal Car Communicator and Collision Warning with Brake Support
  • 2007 Power Park Brake and Driver Alert Control
  • 2009 City Safety – Automatically stops the car at speeds below 19 mph (31 km/h) if the obstruction is detected in front of the car
  • 2010 Pedestrian Detection with auto brake
  • 2012 Pedestrian airbag

Volvo builds it into their vision

True leaders 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 are squarely directed internally within Volvo.  Sure Volvo had some wiggling going on when they were bought by GM a few years ago. But since regaining 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 on the future of Volvo!

My new book, Beloved Brands, coming this spring.

How this Beloved Brands playbook can work for you. The purpose of this book is to make you a smarter brand leader so your brand can win in the market. You will learn how to think strategically, define your brand with a positioning statement and a brand idea, write a brand plan everyone can follow, inspire smart and creative marketing execution, and be able to analyze the performance of your brand through a deep-dive business review.


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

The best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique engagement tools are the backbone of our strategy workshops. These tools will force you to think differently so you can freely generate many new ideas. At Beloved Brands, we bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We help brands find growth

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a big idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand. Finally, the big idea must influence employees to personally deliver an outstanding consumer experience, to help move consumers along the journey to loving your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources. We work with your team to build out project plans, creative briefs and provide advice on marketing execution.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

We make Brand Leaders smarter

We believe that investing in your marketing people will pay off. With smarter people behind your brands will drive higher revenue growth and profits. With our brand management training program, you will see smarter strategic thinking, more focused brand plans, brand positioning, better creative briefs that steer your agencies, improved decision-making on marketing execution, smarter analytical skills to assess your brand’s performance and a better management of the profitability of the brand.

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911


 Graham Robertson bio