I’m a stickler for strategy.

Without a sound strategy, the most brilliant creative execution can be wasted.

Throughout my career, I’ve always emphasized the “blocking and tackling” of strategic development. Get the basics right and you’ll end up with a sound Positioning Statement which will ultimately lead to compelling creative.


But there’s a problem here.

Positioning statements, if done right, are terrific blueprints for developing a brand, but most are like the first sentence of the Constitution: a long, run-on sentence, encompassing multiple ideas. Typically, a creative director will take this  long sentence and chop it up into pieces, giving each creative team its own individual one to work from, a practice which I refer to as “phrase-chopping.”

Unfortunately, the “phrase” that yields the most provocative creative work may or may not be the most critical driving element in the positioning.

Hence, the Brand Buzzword.

The process yields a sharp, focused crystallized brand

The process yields a sharp, focused crystallized brand

Here’s how it works.

We start with the positioning statement and then go through a structured brainstorming process (along with the client) which ultimately boils the long positioning down to one single word. Think of the whole process as a “brand distillery.”

How do we get there?

We brainstorm on three types of stimuli:

Mirror Brands – any brands in the brandscape outside of our category that act or feel like our brand is today.

Aspirational Brands – any brands in the brandscape outside of our category that we aspire our brand be like (this is really important in that it allows for the marketers’ brand vision to be part of the equation)

Cultural Icons – anything in the popular culture – people, places or things – that we would like our  brand to emulate (again, this is important, because just like the cultural icons, we want our brand to be famous as well!)

After we get a list of these stimuli  on the board, we brainstorm once again — about what all these ideas have in common. We compile a list and  come to a consensus on three or four phases.


These phrases now form  the “definition” of our Brand Buzzword. From here, we  work backwards to discover that very single word these phrases define. It’s sort of the part of the process where science becomes art. Thanks to Messrs. Webster and Roget, I’ve never been in a session where we haven’t been able to find that magical single word.

Here are some examples:

This ad for iUniverse "propelled" it to a national creative award.

This ad for iUniverse “propelled” itself to a national creative award.

“Propel” – for  iUniverse, a large self-publishing company. The advertising that resulted won the Stevie (national business) Award for best national print ad of the year.

“Tryst” – for a low fat yogurt targeted to 35-44 year old women. The advertising lead to a record-breaking introduction for the parent company.

“Cultivate/Inspire” – (okay so we cheated, two words; that’s allowable, after all we made the rules!) for a medical textbook company — and an outstanding trade program for the brand’s repositioning was the result.

“Craftsman” – for a countywide community bank that had recently merged with another. It allowed us to develop a successful logo and tagline after the two merged entities had been trying for several years to no avail.

This process has worked great for several reasons:

Number One: it has proven to be a fabulous consensus builder among key players on both the client and agency side (actually,an unintended, but highly appreciated,  consequence). And sometimes this lack of consensus can become an obstructive force during  the creative process.

Number Two: focusing on that one single word as a “filter” to the positioning statement gives the creative folks a “liberating discipline” which usually leads to better output — and, of course, results.

You should try it sometimes. It works.