• Your 3 to 4 words are the words or phrases that you use to define your brand.
  • They are vital, because if you don’t understand your own business, and your own brand, then how can you present it effectively to your audience?
  • The words need to reflect what the audience thinks because your brand exists in the mind of your consumer.

Although summarising a business in 3 or 4 words is not a novel concept, it can be a powerful tool when helping to define a brand.

Any more than four words/phrases and nobody will remember them, any less and it’s not really defining anything.

It’s one of those exercises that appears quite straightforward on the surface but can become less clear under scrutiny.

Imagine that a business, in all good faith, has pinpointed 4 words that it believes clearly distils its essence and ethos. It’s actually quite a satisfying task.

So far so good, but there are two mistakes that businesses often make when carrying out this exercise.

Firstly, they forget that the brand exists in their customers’ minds, not in the words they’ve chosen to define themselves.  They might come up with what they consider to be 4 great words to sum up their ethos – but if customers don’t feel the same about those words, then they just won’t work.

So, they should ask themselves whether their customers would choose the same four words and if not, which words they would choose. It could be that the business’ four words encapsulate where they want to get to, but it’s vital to understand where they are now. Marketing strategy is all about where you are now, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there.

Yes, they need objectives, but they absolutely need to understand where they are. Otherwise, trying to set any strategy would be like trying to work out how to get to Manchester, with no map, no sat nav and no idea of your current location. You might get there, but it’s not going to be easy.

Secondly, they forget to consider that their 4 words could describe any – or at least many – other companies. In reality, very few businesses are truly unique – there are probably tens if not hundreds of businesess that do what they do. The 4 brand words could probably be used by all of them, and also by businesses that don’t even do what they do.

Take the example of an IT support company. They might choose: speed of response, competence, value, and trust as their 4 words/phrases. Sounds fair, sums up their business, and is reflected in their marketing material (and better still, backed up by customer surveys so they know that customers would say the same thing). But, those words could also be used by any IT support company, or a pumber, a car mechanic, a business coach, a marketing agency. The words are not wrong, but there’s nothing unique, or interesting about them.

Reality is, this might be fine. We can’t all be unique, and nor should we try to be. One thing to think about though is that there will be something that makes you diffferent, that makes you better. So ask yourself what it is. What’s the one thing you think you do better than the competition? What is it about you that makes you different?

If we take that example of the IT company, it may be that they’re uniquely brilliant at coding, or might have 40 years’ experience, might offer an amazing hosting solution, be better at installation, have something about the owner, or about the management team that’s different.

So what makes you different or better? If you can define a specific benefit to make you distinguishable from the countless other businesses operating in the same category, how can that be incorporated into your 4 words?

And finally, when you’ve settled on the 3 or 4 words, remember that you’re not Pepsi or Coke. Don’t spend hours debating semantics – the word Happy means different things to different people.

Obviously, there will never be a 100% right answer and 90% is probably good enough, but get as close as you can. Your brand words, combined with your Sustainable Competitive Advantage, your story, your territory map, and your hedgehog will give you a clear picture of where your business is, and how the brand is reflected.