15 May 2013

Blurred vision and pointless positioning

More than a decade ago, while waiting for my visitor's pass at the gatehouse of the Australian HQ of a multinational pharmaceutical company, I noticed a new sign proclaiming their vision. It was so extraordinarily bad that it remains imprinted on my mind to this day. It read:
Achieving together to lead in healthcare.
It was a classic example of the sort of vision statement that can only be written by a committee. Ugly to read and say. So cautious as to be incomprehensible. Undifferentiating. Uninspired and uninspiring.

Achieving what? Achieving to lead? What does that even mean?

A vision statement is supposed to give employees, customers and stakeholders an unequivocal and inspiring view of what makes your organisation unique and how it aims to make the world a better place. Seeing such a hopelessly ill-directed and badly written statement made me think no-one was in charge and no-one really knew what the company was on about. Its performance in subsequent years tends to suggest perhaps that was indeed the case.

I was reminded of that pharma classic today when I saw a slogan carefully signwritten on the side of a smart-looking utility vehicle bearing the name of an air conditioning maintenance firm. It read:
Partners of first choice.
A positioning statement is supposed to define the ways in which you would like customers to perceive your offer as different and distinctive compared with those of your competitors. But this one is also meaningless and uninspired.

Being seen as a partner rather than a supplier is every service provider's aim. There's nothing new or distinctive about that - it's old news, as stale and hackneyed as saying you offer solutions. And being first choice is surely the goal of every provider of air conditioning services - they probably differ only in terms of which customer segment they decide to target.

My point is, if you are going to bother telling the world what you stand for, make it count.

If you lack the internal resources to work through it and develop something distinctive and meaningful, then seek outside assistance. And if your consultant comes up with twaddle like Achieving together to lead in healthcare, then sack him/her and get someone who knows how to develop insights, capture ideas and make words work.

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