single-minded proposition

At the heart of a great marketing story is usually a “single-minded proposition”, or SMP. The SMP sums up the most important thing you can say about the brand or product. It ignites creative briefs and serves as a rally cry for marketing communication.

Most single-minded propositions resemble a peace treaty more than a rally cry however. Marketers cram in every benefit that fits, leading to 80-word run-on sentences. Often the SMP is political, with different members of the brand team lobbying for different features. The easiest solution is just to tack them together with commas, semicolons, and “ands”.

The best single-minded proposition I’ve ever seen came with the original launch of the iPod. The SMP is not the same as a tagline, but in this case it’s both. When every other MP3 player at the time was talking about memory, price point, compatibility, interoperability, and a million other benefits at once, the iPod simply boasted, “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

The longer the SMP, the weaker the ideas that will result. The more we have to say in marketing, the less that people will listen. Deciding what not to communicate is more important than what to communicate. Great marketing starts with great editing.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)

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  1. Rose says:

    As a developer who often has to create products to fit the exact scenario above, this could not resonate more. Often the R&D team will bring a great product forward that could use a great SMP to bring it to life in the marketing world, but the marketing team tries to make the product fit so many niches that the product evolves into a shadow of its former self, and loses traction. “What if it were also a great source of fiber?” “Let’s make it more kid-friendly.” “How about fair-trade?” A product can be all of these things, but if you try to speak to all of them people will lose interest.
    From the reverse point of view, trying to create a product to fit an SMP is much easier with a consolidated message, too!

  2. Jeremy Walden says:

    It is not only in ‘marketting’ that less is sometimes better. As a Town Councillor, I recently had to make a 5 minute presentation to next tier (district) council about planning for the next 15 years. We had already submitted a full written submission backed up by a town plan. I therefor decided to highlight just four, interconnected schemes, which were necessary for the future development of our Market Town into a Hub Town. I chose to time it to 4mins 45 secs, and to exclude much of the detailed information which they already had before them. We have got most of what we wanted into the plan. In contrast a developer who owns large areas of land in and around the biggest town in the area filled his 5 minutes with a virtual repeat of his whole plan, delivered at breakneck speed, in an almopst impentrable Scottish accent (we are in Devon). After the first 30 seconds you could see the committee members ayes glazing over as they could not keep up, and he still over ran. They did not get what they wanted!

  3. Jago says:

    this is a great reminder – we have been doing the cartoon for years, Apple are a super succesful brand so it can’t be bad to take a leaf from their book (or an apple from their tree!)

  4. Anne Egros says:

    Good tip, I like the iPod example

  5. Bill Carlson says:

    “Message-creep” (hmm… “message nerves”?) is particularly evident when designing CPG packaging. Whether it’s one claim or limiting to just a few, the point of minimizing message length (or number) in favor of maximizing message impact always sounds good — until the nervousness sets in… Worries that a portion of the audience will be missed unless the package also says “XXX”… and later, “YYY”, and soon the clarity of both design AND message are compromised.

    One takeaway from the iPod example is the point that the “SMP” resonates because it stood out from the competition. A previous Tom-post spoke to issues of “one size fits none” and yet another addressed risks of “brand laddering”, so some careful navigating needed, but once an approach is found, it becomes important to act confidently — apply it, stick with it, give it time to work…

    Can’t disregard all the other product features/benefits, but I think we would all agree that sometimes less is more!

  6. Jennifer Nelson says:

    Thanks for another “right on” Tom. I wish I had something brilliant or insightful to add, but really you’ve said it all. For the skeptics, I have dozens of conventional multi-cell monadic market research tests where the simpler, clear SMP based stimuli beat the kitchen sink stimuli, hands down.

    More is definitely not worth more.

  7. David Moynan says:

    A great reminder that every product should have a SINGLE goal (purpose) which if accomplished, not matter the other successes or losses, will guarantee success.

    In the Ideation stage of products, I am always reminded of Jack Palance in the movie City Slickers, holding up one finger, imploring Billy Crystal to find out what’s most important. A great lesson as we look to develop products that customers will love.

  8. Jill says:

    So true. Sometimes we reach so far to appeal to all interests, we miss the mobilizing message. We become paralyzed by a format instead of energized by an idea. Great message today.

  9. JL says:

    Great topic this week. It seems the idea of ‘Just tell me why I would want it’ is a lesson I keep relearning. I have also seen organizations confuse product with company where every ad needs to sell/inform about the company and/or the whole range of products (similar to your article on Brand Laddering from June 17th) – another bad form of message creep.

    Thanks for a spot-on identification of an ongoing challenge.

  10. Kevin McFarthing says:

    Hi Tom – here’s a recent blog which resonates with your cartoon and article – – and where the choice of the single-minded message should be consistent with how to differentiate your innovation.


  11. Concetta says:

    I think as marketers we are tempted to have every possible positive feature of a product played up. After all, we worked on it so much we want everyone to love it!

    However, most products do better with the SMP. iPods are a great example. Another good example is Volkswagen – they used to focus on the reliability of the cars (those old Bugs are still out there ticking!) and now its a single message on the safety of the cars. They could talk about the fun design, about the different features, but the message is always the same – great cars that are safe.

  12. tomfishburne says:

    Hi all,

    It’s great to see how this one struck a chord, many thanks!

    This week’s cartoon goes to Jeremy. I loved hearing how this dilemma applies to work on the Town Council just as much with marketing. Great example!



  13. Sue says:

    What do you do when your product does not have that one single feature, benefit or characteristic that would be a good basis for a rally cry? Is the goal then to have an SMP that summarises what emotional experience or success the cumulative product qualities should bring?

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