Company and brand positioning statements: Some laudable … some lousy … many just lame.

Positioning: The Battle for your Mind Al RiesAbout 15 years ago a book was published titled Positioning:  The Battle for Your Mind, authored by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

Although the examples cited by the writers are a little outdated by now, the book remains an important contribution to the literature on the subject of brand positioning and what it takes for a company to build, strengthen and protect it.

Unfortunately, too few companies are paying heed to some of the basic tenets of proper positioning.

Indeed, based on the way many businesses approach their positioning — and the typical positioning statements one encounters — it seems less like a battle for someone’s mind and an exercise in mind-numbing irrelevance, instead.

Here’s a positioning statement I came across recently, from a firm my own industry (MarComm).  I’m shielding the name of the company to be charitable.  But tell me if this isn’t just dreadful:

“[Company X] is a creative marketing communications firm that delivers fresh ideas and authentic solutions that drive measurable business results. 

Our strategic, problem-solving approach generates marketing and communications programs that increase brand awareness, improve sales productivity, increase marketing response, drive revenues and support business goals. 

We plan and implement creative solutions that leverage our clear insight, strategic business skills, team building, proven process, distinctive design and measurement methodology.

… and so on.  (It continues for another two paragraphs.)

The big problem is that there’s little being said that’s either informative or differentiating.

Worse yet, enveloping a wholly indistinctive positioning statement with a bunch of forgettable adjectives, mealy-mouthed platitudes and other “weasel words” just makes things worse.

To my view, when it comes to company positioning, directness and simplicity is always the better route.

For starters, go for facts.  If a company offers what many others also do, that’s no indictment of the business.  It’s fruitless to try to communicate “uniqueness” where there is none, because people won’t be fooled for long anyway.

brand positioningCut the “marketing buzz-speak,” too.  People hear those overused terms as mere noise.  And noise is irritating.

If there is demonstrated singular competence in one or more areas, it’s OK to tout that, of course.  But throttle back on the hype and leave it to the audience to draw its own conclusions.

Speaking personally, when I read a company’s positioning statement, I’m looking for the quintessential “elevator speech” that covers the “Five Ws” as succinctly as possible.

And spare the marketing fluff, please.

More than anything, going beyond “just the facts” is insulting to the readers’ intelligence.  If they want to learn more, they’ll do it on their own terms, thank you very much.

Do you know of any company positioning statements that are particularly effective?  If so, please share them here.  (On the other hand, if the ones you know are dreadful, perhaps keep those ones to yourself!)

Taking the Buzz-Saw to Corporate Buzzwords

No buzzwordsBuzzwords – those stock words or phrases that have effectively become nonsense through their endless repetition – tend to find their penultimate manifestation in forgettable corporate vision and mission statements.

If you look online, you’ll find that the “about us” pages on corporate web sites are littered with the detritus of high-mannered phrases. We all know them — terms like:

 Best-in-class
 Best practices
 Commitment
 Customer-focused
 Cutting-edge
 Delighting customers
 Exceeding expectations
 Expertise
 Green
 Innovation
 Integrity
 Out-of-the-box thinking
 Proactive
 Quality
 Solutions
 Sustainability
 Synergy
 Trust
 Worldclass

Considering how frequently these terms show up in company positioning statements, is it any wonder they’ve become nothing but meaningless pablum?

Here’s an interesting exercise: Try to find a published corporate vision, mission or positioning statement that doesn’t contain any of the terms above. I spent the better part of an hour looking, only to come up empty handed.

This is not to denigrate the aims of businesses. We all want our companies to embody the laudable qualities these terms describe. And why not? They’re good principles that are worthy goals in how to interact with customers, with communities, and with the larger world.

But companies also want differentiation, not sameness.

Unfortunately, you’ll find none of that with these terms here. Just mealy-mouthed nothings and “yesterday’s vision for tomorrow” … conveyed with all the pizzazz of a cold mashed potato sandwich.

So it’s back to the drawing board, or it should be. But considering the birth pangs most of these mission / vision statements must have endured in the first place — committee assignments and all — that’s probably not going to happen.