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What's your big idea in one word?

I’ll never forget one New Years Eve dinner party hosted by a 3-hat restaurant chef friend. As part of an 8-course degustation menu we were presented with a shot glass of tomato soup.

Now most anyone can make tomato soup. Right? But this! This was a sublime explosion of an incredibly rich, singular flavour created over hours and hours of careful preparation and simmering reduction.

The lesson here for leaders is that brevity is hard. Reducing your story to a singular, unified idea takes hours of hard work and preparation. But it's such a viscerally memorable experience when you get it right.

The TED organisation is famous for reducing big thoughts to singular ideas. It’s global platform has launched careers, made people famous and inspires millions every day.

Sure, it's a global media and content publishing company now, but at its essence is a brand that’s all about one word: ideas.

Each TED talk is relentlessly focused on one person talking about one idea. Its tagline says it all: ideas worth spreading. Simple, engaging, powerful. TED presenters will tell you it’s darn hard to filter what's often your life's work down to one idea and 20 minutes.

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, How great leaders inspire action has clocked more than 13 million views so far. His pitch, like all the 10 most popular TEDx talks, I’ve summarised below with just one word:

  1. Simon Sinek: Why

  2. Brene Brown: Vulnerability

  3. Cameron Russell: Looks

  4. Robert Waldinger: Life

  5. Shawn Achor: Happiness

  6. Tom Thum: Beatboxing

  7. Celeste Headlee: Conversations

  8. Maz Jobrani: Kisses

  9. Andrew Solomon: Depression

  10. Thomas Suarez: Developers

Image source:

Does one idea matter?

Maybe you’ve heard Mark Twain’s quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

As I said, brevity is hard.

Looking ahead to 2021, we’re starting to dream of better post-COVID days and I’m hearing clients and business leaders talk about many activities they're ready to fire back up when it’s safe.

In the rush for normality, we want more. More events, content, media clips, social posts, advertising, thought leadership articles, sales kickoffs, customer meetings and so on.

Don’t get me wrong, all these things are good and with my agency CEO hat on, I kinda need clients who want more!

But let’s not waste a good crisis. We’re heading back into a world where business will remain unusual. That means we can’t rely on the old tricks. To continue the metaphor, what if your customers don’t want more soup, but less with more intense, focused flavour?

Who are we?

We need to think more strategically about the brands we represent and care about. In Beliefonomics workshops and consulting engagements I push leaders to answer the big why question: “who are we?”

Corporates, just like people, discover their identity by examining the belief systems, values and purpose that binds them together.

Yet surprisingly few organisations take time to find out who they truly are. And when they do, do they go the extra step and refine it down to just one word?

It’s an important question because strong, market-leading brands inevitably understand this idea, also known as brand essence.

Global consultancy Interbrand echoed this point recently with its annual “Best Global Brands” report. This year’s Top Ten brands are pictured below, a list that is essentially unchanged from 2019.

Image source: Interbrand

The ranking is determined with a diagnostic tool that calculates brand strength, combined with a review of strategic imperatives and a brand plan, plus other metrics. From Interbrand’s perspective, the meta message is that brand strength matters. It’s a predictor of future success.

The key word, the one big idea, is of course brand. That word is part of Interbrand’s name, and the report brings that idea to life on a consistent basis.

As a quick sidebar, turning one idea into a big annual report is a clever PR and marketing strategy used by other organisations including Edelman with its annual Edelman Trust Barometer, Content Marketing Institute with its Content Marketing Research Report and Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends.

One brand, one word

So in the spirit of TED, let’s take a look at the one word I believe defines each of these Top Ten brands in Interbrand’s list:

  1. Apple: Different

  2. Amazon: Disruption

  3. Microsoft: Software

  4. Google: Search

  5. Samsung: Korea

  6. Coca-Cola: Happiness

  7. Toyota: Feeling

  8. Mercedes: Best

  9. McDonalds: Fast

  10. Disney: Magic

What do you think of my list? Beg to differ? What about your own brand? Give me your word. In fact, I’d love to know your word. What idea lies at the heart of your organisation?

At the agency I co-founded, Filtered Media, we embrace storytelling as our heartbeat. I believe it’s the single most powerful thing you can do to affect change. Meanwhile, with my speaker and author hat on, I’m now exploring how we understand the world and make decisions through the lens of belief.

Over at Accenture, I see they just embraced the word 'change' as part of a new brand identity. It’s clever, curious, and speaks to the brand’s core focus as a global consultancy.

Notably, change, like all the other words above are not in and of themselves particularly amazing from an English language perspective. But these words instantly become infused with meaning when aligned to a brand, its stories and the emotions they invoke.

Sounds like an idea worth spreading.

Keep believing,

P.S. Share this blog on LinkedIn and I'll send you a gift-wrapped and signed copy of my book AND a special T2 surprise gift as a thank you. Tag me, and a friend or colleague, and I'll gladly send a book and gift to the person you tag as well! Find me on LinkedIn.


MARK JONES is a brand strategist, author and keynote speaker. His purpose is to inspire leaders to use the power of storytelling to change their world. Find out more at and subscribe to receive his weekly blog direct to your inbox.

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