3. Focus & Differentiation

The Big Idea or “What is the essence of your brand?”

A brand is a collection of thoughts and feelings based on your experiences. Thoughts and feelings are “intangibles” while your products and services are “tangible”. Tangibles you can touch, see, smell, hear, and taste, but intagibles you just feel.
  • Riding a Harley-Davidson Motorcyle feels liberating.
  • Sending and important package via FedEx feels safe.
  • Experiencing Disney World with your children feels magical.
What does it feel like to interact with your business? It’s easy to underestimate feelings and focus only on the tangibles, but people are emotional beings. We make decisions based on feelings, so you need to be able to express what your all about as concept or idea that is emotionally engaging. This is The Big Idea. It needs to be focused and it needs to be different. It needs to be so essential that you could offer different products or services and they would still fit. Eventually The Big Idea should be short, simply worded statements, but you can start just by getting all your thoughts and feelings down without worrying to much about length. You might want to look at your vision and think about why you started your business. Beyond being successfull or making money there was a reason, probably an emotionally charged one, you decided to build a business from scratch. This can be a great starting point, even if it’s very personal. Could other people relate? How? Alternatively you could try and put yourself in your customers shoes. Why did they choose you? What do they really care about other than the quality or features of what you offer? Is there something that you both believe, thats bigger than either the person or the company? Lastly, if you’ve done work on your busiess model and have a set of value propositions, you could try and look at them as a group and see if there’s an overarching theme or idea that they all fall under.


  • Think Different (Apple)
  • Expect more. Pay less. (Target)
  • The world’s online marketplace. (eBay)
  • Adding vitality to life. (Unilever)
  • Safety. (Volvo)
  • The world on time. (FedEx)
  • Rider Passion. (Harley Davidson)
  • Make People Happy. (Disney)
  • Live without a plan. (Virgin Mobile)
  • Imagination at work. (GE)
  • People against dirty. (Method)
  • Happiness in a bottle. (Coca-Cola)

Brand Attributes or “What does your brand look and feel like?”

Really, brand attributes are just adjectives used to describe your brand. For example, IBM is seen as “older,” while Apple is perceived as “younger.” Apple is almost known entirely for its brand personality: innovative, stylish, intuitive, cool, casual, easy-going and friendly. Defining your brand attributes is important to help you differentiate yourself from competitors, as you would want to focus on those attributes that help you stick out. They also help make sure that your activities are inline with your brand. Together this group of adjectives gives you something to evaluate things like messaging and the look and feel of touchpoints. Lastly, they help someone like a designer develop solutions for you that will fit with the personality of your brand. There a few ways to help you arrive at your brand attributes:

Here are some common opposites that you can pick from:

Conservative or Progressive
Urban or Outdoorsy
Casual or Professional
Playful or Serious
Big or Small
Leader or Underdog
Fashionable or Practical
Thrifty or Affluent
Outspoken or Reserved
Dynamic or Stable
Predictable or Surprising
Steadfast or Fluid

Here are three analogies that make it easier to visualize attributes:

The Car Analogy

If your company was a car what kind of car would it be? Get specific, define the year, make, model, color, etc. Is it a coupe or sedan? Import or domestic? Convertible? What kinds of bells and whistles does it have?

The Celebrity Analogy

If your company was a famous celebrity, who would it be and why? An Actor? or Sports Icon? What traits do they have that are shared with your company?

The Animal Analogy

If your company was an animal what kind of animal would it be? What habitat would they live in? What kind of advantages do they have over other animals What kinds of characteristics are typically assocatied with them?

Here’a how imagining your brand as a person can be helpful:

Ideal Spokesperson

If your company could choose anyone as its spokesperson who would it be? why? Someone from your local community? An historical figure? A fictional character from a book?


Imaginary Person

Close your eyes and imagine your brand as a real person. Are they a man or a woman? Young or old? How are they dressed? Did they go to college and get a masters degree? Or are they street smart?


Try to avoid the generic (e.g. warm, friendly), and go for what is most unique about your company. Pay special attention to any gaps in your brand around these personality traits. When people come across a brand with an inconsistent personality, it undermines their sense of trust because they can’t exactly tell what the brand stands for. The personality your brand has today might be wrong for your target audience or vice-versa. Once you get an accurate picture of who you are now you can determine how to shift into where you want to be.

Brand Promise or “What are you going to do for me.”

A brand promise is what the company promises to the people who interact with it. But it isn’t a literal description of what a company does. It’s a description of the company’s character. It’s the feeling the company conveys to its stakeholders. Two restaurants may have substantially similar menus, but they provide different atmospheres, different associations, and different customer experiences based on their brand promises. A brand promise can be explicitly articulated to the public, or it can be come to life more subtly in the delivery of the brand experience. A few years ago, FedEx declared that it was the only choice “when it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight”—an overt promise that still resonates today. The ultimate goal of branding is loyalty. A loyal audience seeks repeat brand experiences and recommends the brand to others. Brand Loyalty drives most purchasing decisions and loyal customers are willing to pay a premium for their choice. Branding is defining, promising and delivering. When you promise and then consistently deliver you generate loyalty.


  • Your package will get there overnight. Guaranteed. (FedEx)
  • You can own the coolest, easiest-to-use cutting-edge computers and electronics. (Apple)
  • You can hire the best minds in management consulting. (McKinsey & Company)
  • Empowering you to save the wilderness. (The Nature Conservancy)
  • To be the premier sports and entertainment brand that brings people together, connecting them socially and emotionally like no other. (NFL)
  • To be genuine, fun, contemporary, and different in everything we do at a reasonable price. (Virgin)