What’s Your “Keystone Attribute”?

One of the biggest struggles businesses have is determining their “one thing” brand essence—their dominant selling idea. That’s because it goes against the business brain to reduce a business with so many desirable attributes to a single differentiator. But according to branding and positioning experts, Al Reis and Jack Trout in their seminal work, 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, “The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.” Further, they posit, a company can become incredibly successful if it can find a way to own a word—or a singular concept—in the mind of the prospect. FedEx was able to put the word ‘overnight’ in the minds of their prospects. Xerox owns ‘copier’; Hershey owns ‘chocolate bar’; Coke owns ‘cola’; Heinz owns ‘ketchup’; Crest owns ‘cavities’; Volvo owns safety; Nordstrom’s owns service. These are classic keystone attributes. What is yours? In consulting with clients, I more often than not find that they’re stuck on the idea of having many attributes: integrity, a great staff, a high level of customer support, quality products, stellar services, and the list of platitudes goes on. There’s nothing wrong with any of these attributes per se; it’s just difficult to 1) differentiate your business on them, and 2) a laundry list of brand attributes is NOT the way to own a singular position inside the mind of a prospect. If you’re having a tough time zeroing in on your unique selling proposition—the one reason,why a customer should choose you over the competition—let’s unpack this term, the “Keystone Attribute.”

A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone piece at the apex of a masonry arch. It’s the final piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch to bear weight. Although a masonry arch cannot be self-supporting until the keystone is placed, the keystone experiences the least stress of any of the voussoirs (pronounced /vuˈswɑr/), due to its position at the apex. A springer is the term for the lowest voussoir on each side of an arch located where the curve of the arch springs from the vertical support of the wall. Like architecture, in a business sense it’s not about eliminating your other positive attributes. They can serve as your voussoirs to help support your business. If you own a pizza place, you can be about speedy delivery, a secret family recipe, a unique crust, all-natural ingredients, etc. But choose only ONE—the most relevant, authentic, and differentiated characteristic—as your keystone attribute. Allow this keystone idea to lead your marketing messages and dominate your conversation. Your other attributes, then, are the voussoirs and springers that make up your solid and complete business structure.

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