Kelly Lucente


I suppose you are wondering what in the world a hedgehog has to do with a brand. Well there are some interesting facts about this little guy. Not the least of which is the fact that it’s illegal to transport them across Georgia state lines and they’re lactose intolerant. Believe it or not, there’s a great brand message you might find helpful about him (or her).

Have you read the book “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins? There’s a principle within the book called The Hedgehog Concept. The author says those who built good-to-great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. Say what? What in the world could a hedgehog teach me about building a great business, or more importantly, a great brand? I just read your mind…

In his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes. He did so based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

What does this mean? Well, the fox is extremely cunning, spending his day coming up with complex strategies for sneak attacks on the hedgehog. The hedgehog, on the other hand, is a bit dowdier. He waddles along, going about his simple day searching for lunch and taking care of his home. When the hedgehog wanders down the trail and is confronted by the fox, he rolls up into a ball becoming a sphere of sharp spikes. The fox is forced to move beyond and find another form of attack. Each day, this game repeats itself with the fox coming up with new ways to pounce, however the hedgehog always wins… doing the same thing (rolling into a ball) every time.

Which are you?

The parable suggests that we can divide people (and brands) into two groups: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and view the world through a complex lens. They sometimes seem scattered while in constant motion creating new opportunities. These are the guys that keep a lot of balls in the air and the brands who always seem to have an identity crisis pushing out random ideas never tied to any particular business directive. The argument continues that all of their ideas are great, but because there is such disjointed attention and focus, nothing gets done well and the brand is perceived to be disconnected to the audience.

The hedgehog simplifies his thinking into a single idea or concept… something re-markable. It doesn’t matter how complex the world is or the situation becomes, the hedgehog reduces it all to a single unified action or direction. Everything else, to the hedgehog, is just noise and a huge distraction. His eye is on survival and he executes his plan without succumbing to any shiny objects or the next big idea that jumps out of the bushes. He’s strong in his conviction and you can count on him being consistent.

A great brand is built by the Hedgehog

So, how does this impact brand building? I’ve worked with many brands who are trying to accomplish many things… all at the same time. Often, start-up brands want to conquer the world right out of the gate, but they just continue to drink from a fire hose and never really gain any traction. Other brands, such as Walgreens®, used the Hedgehog Concept and focused on one consistent plan and became the most convenient drugstore in America.

How did they do it? They closed stores that were not easily accessible and opened new stores where there was the easiest access (sometimes multiple locations within a few blocks of each other). The objective was convenience and while everyone mocked what they were up to, they kept their eye on their goal, methodically pushing forward and within 12 years became the #1 recognized drugstore in the U.S. Being convenient was their “re-markable“… the thing that would be missed if they didn’t exist.

How to become a Hedgehog

For those of us who instinctively are more like the fox but want to try to be more “hedgehog-like”, Jim Collins suggests three things to consider:

1.  What can you be the best at?

This doesn’t speak to your core competencies. Just because you may be really good at something, doesn’t automatically translate to you being the best in the world. Do some soul searching, spend time with the people who support your brand, and really discern what it is that your company can “own”. Determine your strongest differentiator which you can monetize and claim you do better than anyone else in the marketplace… the thing that makes you re-markable.

2.  What drives your economic engine?

In other words, what can you do consistently that will make you money? And, not just money but profitability. There’s a difference between making money and having any left over after all overhead is paid out.

3.  What are you deeply passionate about?

You need to find out what ignites your passion. What gets you up every day supercharged thinking about actually doing. What you’d do for free just so it could continue to feed your soul.


Can you be a hedgehog in your business and while building your brand? Can you boil it all down into one re-markable thing? If you can “focus” like the hedgehog, you might just find that your growth will realize itself without much pain, angst, or effort. Get out of the way, cunning fox…hedgehog coming through.

Good luck, little hedgehog. Good luck!

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