There has never been a better speech about branding than the one given by Curly to Mitch in City Slickers.

C. ”You know what the secret of life is”? This.

M. “Your finger”?

C. “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean sh____________________________t”.

F. “That’s great, but what’s the one thing”.

C. “ That’s what you’ve got to figure out”.

There you have it. Introduction to the Essentials of Branding. Find the brand promise that excites you, your staff and your audience. Stay focused on it. Don’t give up on it. Make it happen relentlessly. And anything that is not your promise doesn’t mean, uh, much.

Curly’s speech was preceded by a less well-known, but equally important rule of branding. He talked about the cowboy brand. Passing up on something great to stay true to being a cowboy.

Staying true to your idea means you will overcome anything and everything to bring it to life. There are tons of examples of sticking with your promise in the face of overwhelming odds. One of my favorite brands, Southwest Airlines, faced the impossible odds of arcane airline regulations, imposing capital requirements and deeply rooted legacy carriers. But they had an inspired brand promise and stuck to it like white on rice. I love how they overcame it all, built a great company and made flying fun. Anyone who flew SWA in the early days knows what I mean about the fun part.

I think Jack Palance and Herb Kelleher have two things in common. They both stuck to their idea and they both used a similar word to describe the worth of things that aren’t on brand.

By the way, there is another branding lesson in the movie. Check out what Ed says while crossing the river about being a salesman.