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4 Oct

The big ideaL

Stoa Daily Challenge #3

Today, you get to wear the shoes of Karishma, the brand lead for — a women's only professional network for the top 1%. Karishma leads all brand marketing projects at and reports to Ragini Das, the co-founder of the company.

Check out the challenge here.

As to know how to solve it, today's Stoa Daily issue has some important clues. Keep reading.


Imagine yourself as the founder of a budding startup that is slowly starting to make itself known to the market and the larger world.

People are excited to know what you're up to, and in their excitement, they're hitting up your teammates to understand your company and brand better.

Let's say someone in your team meets a friend in a pub or a cafe one evening after work. They get talking. The friend asks your teammate what they're currently doing. Excited, your teammate says they work for you, on your brand. The friend then asks them,

"What's that like then? What do you get out of that?"

For a founder, imagining this conversation can be a little scary. You don't know how people in their own team see and describe the company to their friends. And it is quite likely that most of your teammates are not going to recite the company's mission statement or brand values at this point. They might not even know what they are.

Usually, they'll say something positive and anecdotal, like they're putting a smile on elderly people's faces, or helping people find their ideal careers, or simplifying a payment experience with good design. But ideally, you would want each of your employees to be on the same page when it comes to communicating your brand ethos with the larger world.

Here's where Ogilvy and Mather's The Big IdeaL framework helps.

People think idealism and commercialism are polar opposites. But if history serves as a testament, a lot of businesses were started with a healthy dose of idealism — the founders had an ideal vision of the world and they wanted to turn that vision into a reality.

The big ideaL is a statement that helps you communicate this vision succinctly to the world:

"(Brand/company) believes the world would be a better place if (a cultural tension) can be resolved by the (brands' best self)."

To quote Ogilvy and Mather's own document on the framework:

"The big ideaL is best expressed in a short phrase that captures the company's or brand's point of view on the world, or on life, or on the country in which it operates. Despite being short and memorable, The big ideaL is not a tagline. It is a highly structured form that conveys the ethos of the brand or company to people from different cultures and to employees and consumers alike. It can be said in just seconds, but doing the necessary thinking to get it absolutely right takes months. It is simple, but not simplistic."

A well-written big ideaL can help, simply by giving employees an easy-to-remember purpose that is as suitable for the pub as it is for the boardroom or the shareholder meeting.

The big ideaL statement lies at the intersection of two things.

1. Cultural tension

Think about cultural tension as an underlying truth everyone in your target market feels but rarely sees spoken out loud. It is a pressing need that people care about but isn't being met currently.

For example, Airbnb's cultural tension could be stated as,

The cultural tension we are trying to resolve is travelers' unmet desire to experience places as locals.

Also, here's an anecdote from a Harley Davidson rider:

"I hate the rigamarole. Everyday things. You brush your teeth. You put on your underwear, you go outside. You empty the mailbox. You look through the bills. You go to work, get off at a certain time. You come home; she’s got dinner on the table. It’s a beautiful night. Maybe I’ll watch Married . . . with Children, I don’t know. That’s rigamarole. It’s all definitely not me.”

From this anecdote, it is clear what the Harley Davidson brand's cultural tension is:

The cultural tension we are trying to resolve is helping people find a sense of freedom and identity outside of the rigamarole of their mundane daily lives.

Similarly, at its heart, Louis Vuitton has a belief in travel, not just from A to B, but for its own sake. Yet anyone who has, for example, spent much time travelling on domestic flights within the United States would agree that travel has lost much of its magic. This is the cultural tension — the unspoken and unmet need — that Louis Vuitton is trying to resolve.

2. Brand's best self

The second ingredient in the big ideaL framework is stating what you are good at and your solution for resolving that cultural tension.

For example, Airbnb's best self is:

An end-to-end travel platform that helps travelers feel at home, wherever they go.

Harley Davidson's best self is:

Bikes that help riders unleash their inner explorer and rebel.

Louis Vuitton's best self is:

Well-crafted luxury travel goods that help people rediscover the magic of travel.

When cultural tension is combined with the brand's best self, you get your big ideaL statement. Airbnb's big ideaL would look like:

"Airbnb believes the world would be a better place if travelers' unmet desire to experience places as locals can be resolved by an end-to-end travel platform that helps travelers feel at home, wherever they go."

And here's Scrabble's (the board game company):

As an exercise, try completing the sentence for Harley Davidson and Louis Vuitton and some other brands you're familiar with. Today's Stoa Daily Challenge is also a good exercise.

When you actually get down to defining the big ideaL, you will realise that it is easier to do for brands that have a strong identity and difficult to do for a poorly focused, directionless brands. When carried out as an exercise for your own business, the big ideaL statement forces you to express your higher purpose — your reason d'etre.

"If markets are conversations, then leading brands need to be interesting conversationalists."

Your brand is only worth listening to when it has a valid point of view on a cultural tension that resonates within its target culture and when you have a product that is uniquely equipped to resolve that cultural tension.

Finally, all the best for the challenge! Ragini is eager to hear your suggestions.

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