top of page

Is it Time to Stop “Owning a Word”?

Is it Time to Stop Owning a Word?

Back in the day, Ries & Trout

galvanized broadcasters by preaching the power of the “word.”

Own one, they advised.  Just one.

This played well with a broadcasting audience for obvious reasons – we were and largely are in the audio business, and messaging in that business continues to be driven by words (I happen to think it should be driven more by sounds, but that’s a topic for another post).


Ries & Trout begat Ries & Ries, helmed by Al Ries’s daughter Laura.  And Laura’s new book, Visual Hammer


Her pitch:

Al and I have been preaching about the power of owning a word in the mind. But getting a word into the mind has never been so difficult. Consumers are blasted with words at an astounding rate. Between traditional media and new social media, the amount of words, tweets and status updates is overwhelming. In a world of words, a visual hammer is the best, most effective way to get inside a consumer’s mind. Yet 99 percent of all marketing programs lack one. One reason is that management is totally focused on words, when they need to think more about visuals.

In other words, forget all that word stuff, it’s all about pictures now.

Examples include “Twitter’s tweeting bird, Apple’s white apple, McDonald’s golden arches, Coca-Cola’s contour bottle, Nike’s swoosh, Target’s target.”

To be fair, I have not read the book.  But I have never been a big fan of Laura’s (not since she predicted the demise of the iPhone, anyway), and I find this particular flip-flop to be troubling since it essentially up-ends a central tenet of the Ries & Trout mantra.

Ironically, I agree that the notion of “finding a word” in this day and age is somewhere between difficult and pointless.  “One word” thinking is a marketing abstraction for a simpler age with fewer choices and vastly fewer networks between friends, brands, and consumers – an age when advertising and marketing were far more synonymous than they are today.  An age when telephones had cords and TXT was what you wrote on WordPerfect.

But to suggest that an icon is the secret to success – that trust and relationships and tribes and community and authenticity and quality are presumably irrelevant – that it’s about the picture, stupid – that strikes me as dead wrong.  Brands have always been about more than words, but brands are also about more than icons.

So maybe we have run out of “words” to own.  Maybe there are too many brands competing for too much shelf-space and too little attention.

But it seems to me we can sweep away all the cliches and fads and agree on this much:  Create great stuff worth consuming and nurture the relationships your brands have with those consumers in all the ways those consumers consider meaningful.  If you do that, all the words and “visual hammers” are secondary.

It may not make for a fresh book pitch, but it will make for a successful brand.

By the way, the “visual hammer” of Apple has never been the antiseptic white fruit.  It was the products on which that fruit was engraved.  It was the prickly guy in the black turtleneck with the infectious enthusiasm.

4 views0 comments


bottom of page