Owning a Word in the Mind

Mar 16, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Articles, Blog  //  Comments Off on Owning a Word in the Mind

By Michael Tanenbaum

How do brands become famous? They own a word or phrase in the minds of their consumers.

Business owners can learn a lot about branding from Hollywood. Especially at awards shows. Watching the Best Actress presentation from the 2010 Oscars, I was reminded of how well brand-positioned the best actors are in Hollywood. In fact, many of the A-list actors are instantly recognizable by a word or a phrase.

Take a look at this clip:

Specifically, at 6:25 and 2:17, respectively, when Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are introduced for Best Actress, Stanley Tucci and Forrest Whitaker are summarizing what these actresses are known for in a couple of key words and phrases that could be taken straight from the personal branding playbook.

For example, Stanley Tucci says that Meryl Streep is, to most people, “brilliant, the most acclaimed film actress of our time” and shows “grace and humility” off-screen. That is what she is publicly known for. But he also points out that she displays “kindness”, a “collaborative nature”, “great good humor”, is “a dream to work with” and a “wonderful friend”, and possesses a professional “selfishness that is unseemly”. She’s not being typecast; she’s “quite simply the best”. This is what she is known for within Hollywood circles.

What Stanley Tucci is doing, consciously or subconsciously as scripted by the writers of the Oscars, is expressing Meryl’s brand personality in a way that is distinct and that only she can credibly claim in Hollywood. The elements that make her the “most acclaimed film actress of our time” are a combination authentically linked to her — and her only — and therefore inform the shorthand for how she is known.

Walter Matthau once said: “I used to think of myself as being an actor. But people don’t want to see actors. They want to see personalities.”

Owning a business is no different. Customers don’t want to see products. They want to experience personalities and relate to stories. Brand positioning expert Laura Ries explains that, just as famous Hollywood personalities own words or phrases in the public’s mind, you as a business owner need to own a word or phrase in the minds of your consumers:

In Hollywood, Meryl Streep is the “most acclaimed film actress of our time while Helen Mirren is “the Queen.” Jim Carrey is a “goofball” while George Clooney is “the man’s man.”

In business, Coca-Cola owns “classic”, while Pepsi is the “choice of the new generation.” Apple owns “innovation and design” while Dell owns “direct sales and business.”

What word or phrase do YOU own in the minds of your customers?

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