Ditch Mission Statements and Develop Your Positioning Statement

I’m not a big fan of mission statements. Why? Because over the years, I have watched businesses waste an inordinate amount of time on this task––especially technology companies. And to what end? To hang on a plaque in the lobby? To declare that your firm focuses on “delighting customers” and “increasing shareholder value?”

These types of empty platitudes are the marketing equivalent of nails on a chalk board. I will concede that there was a time when the concept of developing a strong mission statement seemed to have a purpose––mainly to answer the question “why do we exist,” thereby providing a sense of direction for the company and its staff. Instead, many mission statements today fall flat. They are often bland, uninspiring and full of meaningless clichés and buzzwords like “paradigm” and “synergistically.” Perhaps they were created using the Dilbert automated “Mission Statement Generator.”

When Lou Gerstner joined IBM in 1993, he didn’t go down the mission statement path. When he came on board, IBM was stagnant from a lack of leadership and too much bureaucracy. Despite the prevailing view that a new mission statement was in order, Gerstner rejected this course of action. Why? Because he knew instinctively that the same bureaucrats that had the company tied up in knots would be the same people debating a new mission statement for months, even years. Instead, he initiated a bold, sales driven culture that focused on filling a market void.

He focused outwardly and then set a course to implement programs that would achieve the goals set forth in the strategy. In its simplest form, he established a positioning statement, built a marketing strategy around it, then implemented it. The positioning statement, therefore, can be a far more useful management exercise than the creation of a mission statement. In addition to addressing the “why do we exist” question of a mission statement, a positioning statement adds more depth by raising important external, market focused questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What business are we in?
  • For whom? (whom do you serve)
  • What are the needs of that audience?
  • Again whom? (who are your competitors?)
  • What’s different/why should someone care?

It’s time to shelve your company’s marathon mission statement development sessions. Instead, devote valuable strategy time toward establishing a strong positioning statement to give your company the direction, clarity and purpose it needs to grow in today