By Lynn Manternach / Guest Column

In this fast-paced, saturated marketing and advertising world, you have only seconds to convince a potential customer to pause long enough to look at, listen to or consider your brand. So what’s your hook?

Trust me when I tell you it’s not quality customer service or value. Those are not hooks. Those are the basic expectations that you have to meet if you want to stay in business.

You need a compelling hook – a focused and consistent message. If you want your brand to matter to consumers, you have to focus.

So what is your brand’s one thing? What is it that makes your company, product or service unique and different? What’s that one thing that provides value and makes you relevant to your customers?

Perhaps you have three things. That way all the bases are covered. That’s good, right? You do more than one thing. You have more than one kind of product or customer. So do you really need to narrow down to just one thing?

In a word, yes. Here’s why.

Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what your customer says it is. And your customer doesn’t have a list of three or five key points when it comes to your brand. Your share of brand space in the customer’s mind gets boiled down to one thing. Seriously – just one. Your brand lives in the customer’s mind – not on your website, in your store or your corporate headquarters.

The world’s top brands are based on a single concept. For example, Nike = motivation. Disney = magical family entertainment. Coca-Cola = happiness. FedEx = fast reliable delivery.

Because brands live in the hearts and minds of consumers, companies that effectively focus their brands have more success than those that don’t. Focused brands get into the heads of consumers faster and stay there longer. They save time, money and minimize debate over decisions.

That doesn’t mean you have just one brand message that gets repeated over and over. Your one thing is translated and communicated differently across different types of customers or lines of business, but all those messages ultimately focus on and support your one thing.

So how do you know what your one thing is?

Start with your customers. They chose to do business with you for a reason. What’s that reason? What do they think your one thing is? Their perspective of you may not be what you expected, and you won’t know for sure until you ask. You can find out with formal brand research, informal customer interviews or social media monitoring. The important thing is to ask and listen.

What do they value about the product or service you offer? How do they think it’s different than what your competitors offer? How does your product or service make them feel? How do they describe the experience of interacting with your brand?

Your brand’s one thing needs to have an emotional and rational side. Connect with both the heart and the mind, because consumers are driven by both.

Next, look inside your organization. A brand has to be authentic and believable, which means you have to be able to consistently deliver your one thing. What makes your product or service unique? What do you do that creates value for your customers?

Your organization’s relevance, from a brand perspective, is that place where what you do really well overlaps with what customers deem important or valuable.

Make sure you focus on an aspect of your organization that is sustainable. A brand’s essence is something that remains consistent over time – it’s the core of who you are.

Finally, take a close look at the marketplace where you compete. How do your competitors position themselves? Look at their tag lines and look at how they describe themselves online. Your one thing has to be distinctly different from your competitor’s positioning.

Triangulate all three of these perspectives – customer, internal and marketplace – to identify the one thing your brand stands for. That one thing allows you to focus, align and link your offerings in a way that will connect with consumers, both emotionally and rationally. It’s why you matter.

Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. ( in Cedar Rapids and LeClaire. Contact Lynn at