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The “One Word”

When you look at many of the world’s strongest brands, they can distill their promise into one word or phrase. When we hear Volvo, we think safety. Apple makes us think innovation. Disney is magic. Martha Stewart delivers perfection. Warren Buffet is the frugal billionaire. Oprah built an empire on empathy. Richard Branson is the risk-taking showman. Gordon Ramsay is the short-tempered chef. Why is the One Word exercise important? It’s not about being one-dimensional. It’s about being exceptional in a memorable way.

People aren’t going to remember ten things about you – they are going to remember the one most unusual or compelling thing.  The clearer you can be about this one thing, the easier it is for others to understand your unique promise of value and build your brand on your behalf. What’s your one word or phrase? Some people are so self-aware, they shout out the word immediately. For most of us, it’s not that easy. If you aren’t clear about what your one word is, this three-step process will help:

  1. Create an exhaustive list.

When I help my clients unearth their brands in workshops, we look at a lot of facets of branding – including values and passions, strengths and skills, dreams and goals. At the beginning of the process, we just get it all out there – the mega-list of elements that make us who we are. You can do the same. Create your all-inclusive list featuring:

  • Your superpowers – the things you do better than anyone else
  • The words people use to describe you – perhaps when they are introducing you to others
  • Your passions and values
  • Your quirks – the things that make you unique
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Use a thesaurus to find other similar words so you can find the most precise terms or phrases to describe you.

  1. Distill, refine and prioritize.

Now it’s time to start refining and prioritizing your list. Filter out the items that are less pertinent and execute a recursive process of distilling what you know about yourself into a smaller and smaller set of words. Think of the words or phrases that will be most helpful to reaching your goals – those that will resonate with the people who are making decisions about you. Circle the words or phrases that are most important, creating a shortlist.

  1. Test them out.

It’s time to get feedback. Identify a few people you trust and respect, and tell them what you want to accomplish. Track their reactions to your subset of words or phrases. Use their responses to further refine your list. After this step, if you are still deciding among a few different words, “try on” each of them for a day or two. Post the word/phrase where you will see it every day and make an effort to integrate more of that into everything you do. At the end of the day, see how it felt. How are you feeling about being defined by that word?

Once you decide on your one word or phrase, practice living it. Give yourself the mandate to exude that phrase in all you do and make sure all your communications – including your social media profiles – reinforce what makes you exceptional. Of course, we are all more complex than any one word or phrase can capture. And yes, it feels like we are simplifying all the rich experiences that make us great. But don’t feel this is limiting your options. On the contrary, the One Word exercise actually expands the opportunities available to you. That special word or phrase will become like a beacon, making it easy for others to share your story while building your brand in the process.

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