Creating a positioning statement, a mission statement and a vision statement. Not to mention the mighty elevator pitch. It can drive Founders of new, and CMO’s of not so new ventures completely insane.
How much do they really differ? Which comes first? How do I translate one into another? Does anyone really care, or will I only create statement confusion, brand angst or promise dizziness amongst my team and my audience?
Start with these 2 steps in order to not go insane while you craft what really should be a wonderful A-HA experience for yourself and your team:
You won’t use your positioning statement ever; in public that is.
Yet, this is the very sentence that will drive everything about your brand. The positioning statement is your brand in a one sentence statement. It’s not a quick read (most often it’s a mouthful) and it is not meant to be outward-facing. This one is for your eyes only. It is crafted so you can base any and all other brand statements on it. It is everything about your brand: The who, the how, the what and the all-important why. A business plan disguised in a brand coat.
Once you have the positioning statement noted, translate it into a vision/mission statement combo. Yes, in my eyes they can be one and the same; it’s all you need.
When you think about the mission you are on, it can, and should translate into the big vision, or the ‘true north‘ you foresee for your brand. Make it easy for people and create one powerfully inspiring statement that is built on the ‘why’ – anything happening after the ‘because’ from within aforementioned positioning statement.
Taking the Alzheimer’s Association as an example, albeit a bit wordy. Currently we see two separate statements on their web site:
Using my proposed approach, these could be simply morphed into one powerful brand statement:
The mission is what you are currently setting out to achieve (and often are already achieving). The vision is the big, lofty goal. One should lead to another; naturally. By doing so it does not lead to statement confusion, instead you tell the story in a chronological order; a logical order, really.
There you have it, your public brand statement, plus two helpers.
Now go spend the extra time putting the words into action. Your team will thank you.
It’s not that you don’t need to think about your elevator pitch, but I want you to think differently about it.
Like everything in your business, you should not focus on the what, when and how initially, but think about the why instead. You are seeking a specific outcome. What is that outcome? The answer is simple: You need to get people to understand what you do and you’d like them to care about it; perhaps care enough to start seeing you as a prospect to conduct business with, but at the very least enough to continue the conversation with you rather than dashing away towards a more interesting crowd – the crowd that does not pitch them, but that stimulates meaningful conversations. That is the kind of crowd you need to embody.
Why should a good conversation include a trained, and most often awkward, pitch? Don’t spend time writing your elevator pitch line, instead think about how you could trigger a question in the person that asked about what you do. Don’t make it into a question (because that really is a pitch), but into a statement that triggers a question.
Don’t craft a monologue sentence about your venture’s operations and target audience, instead think about how you would tell a new friend after a long dinner (potentially with a few alcoholic beverages involved) once they ask ‘So what do you do for a living?’ I bet the answer would not be your trained elevator pitch, instead it would be a very casual and passionate way of stating that thing you do to generate income. Simple and honest. A continuation down the dialogue road that you have already situated yourself on. It takes time, energy and sometimes gut to engage in, and continue, a meaningful conversation with a stranger, especially in business settings such as conferences and summits.
Don’t let the elevator pitch kill what you have established.
When I re-positioned my design and brand agency (Geyrhalter & Company) into FINIEN a few years ago, I initially took the same (wrong) path down the elevator pitch road. Here is how that sounded: ‘We are a specialized brand consultancy creating brand strategy, brand names and brand identities for new ventures.’
No! Boooring. Oh boy, there must be many of those consultancies. It sounded great on my plane ride to the conference. Yes, I noted it down and memorized it; it truly was my elevator pitch. Then I tested it in social settings and it was awful. No one, seriously not a single person, cared.
After lunch that day I changed it to: ‘We make sure startups get branding right from the get-go’ – Ha! Interesting. – That’s cool. Tell me more. – Boy, that truly is a real pain point you are solving.
During evening activities that day it changed to a bolder ‘We ensure startups don’t screw up branding’ and it was an instant hit (with follow-ups turning into actual clients).
Simple, personal, interesting. Created to continue a conversation, while moving it towards how I can be of assistance to the person I was not pitching, but simply chatting with. I did not stutter through a memorized statement (that’ll be an elevator pitch), instead I created a very simple conversation starter.
Just like with all things branding, you have to be interesting in order to have someone be interested in you. So skip that pitch and think of the easiest, shortest, most casual and distinct way you can say what you do that only begs for one single outcome: the amicable continuation of your conversation in context of your brand.
Brand Positioning is an art form. It is essential to the success of your venture and it is a topic we have given you plenty of guidance on. Even when it comes to something as important as positioning, just like with most things branding, there are definite fads happening. Recently these dangerous turns in brand positioning have hit actual brand names, which we all know can not change easily over time. That kind of positioning, in a nutshell, sounds something like this:
“We are the best. Seriously, we are.” Oh crap! No, you are not.
Everyone thinks their product is the best, but the market will tell you if in fact you are the best. You don’t tell the market that, the market tells you that. It seems like a no-brainer, something no branding expert needs to call out, especially given the joined consensus of the next generation of buyers (to avoid the M-word) that believe in inclusivity, honesty and modesty. Yet we have seen a flood of new brands positioning themselves as being the best through their actual brand names over the past years. In doing so, there is no turning back for them and their ‘strategic’ cockiness.
Especially in the snack food arena, ‘greatness’ in name positioning has overwhelmed the market place. Here’s a sampling of four such brands that I ran into at the market the other day:
Despite their often superior ingredients, and sometimes great taste (sometimes the opposite), naming a new product ‘way better,’ ‘perfect,’ ‘epic,’ or ‘the best in the world,’ falls nothing short of uninspired.
That is one thing.
More important though is the fact that consumers find it hard to believe a new brand can make such claim. Naming your product in an overpromising manner will attract highly critical customers from the get-go. Guaranteed. And many who will mock you. Your strategy is asking for it. And very likely you won’t be able to satisfy their appetite for tasting ‘the best’ to them as that is solely depending on individual tastes. Such statement coming from a brand itself as part of their brand name does not gain trust and nearly assures that a let-down is imminent – especially for startups that lack shelf-space and marketing dollars to hope for intrigued one-time buyers potentially turning into converts.
If consumers are looking for the perfect snack bar, the best cookie or way better snacks (and who isn’t?), fulfill their quest instead by providing specific guidance on facts, ingredients and testimonials through your brand language and marketing campaigns. It is a safe guard to ensure that your product in fact will live up to their unique expectations. Instead of describing what you think differentiates your product (or makes it float high above the rest) in your brand name, position your brand name as one that consumers like to talk about without feeling funny or being ridiculed. It will spare you of the same fate.
(Pretty epic advice, right? Without a doubt the best post in the world.)
This article was originally published as part of my column in Inc. on July 7, 2015.
On July 7, The Way Station bar in Brooklyn offered its female patrons any drink for just 77 cents on the dollar. Here’s how it ended up hitting the jackpot.
Giving away free stuff, matching a sale to a donation, giving major discounts, celebrating certain tribes (psychographic or demographic)–all of these are age-old marketing and sales techniques that are often applied to certain days, products, or audiences. I’m sure this became crystal clear to all of us once again during the 4th of July holiday–any holiday is a good time to come up with that sales shtick or marketing idea to generate immediate sales and future leads.
Most sales tactics are usually lukewarm, overused, and, well, “sales-y.” They start to turn interesting when they feel not only generous but also authentic and empathetic. A tough mix to brew up, but one bar in Brooklyn, New York, has done just that this week. On July 7, The Way Station bar offered its female patrons any drink for just 77 cents on the dollar.
Bizarre, don’t you think? Here’s where the empathy and authenticity hits the jackpot: DNA Info New York notes that the business is “recognizing the difference between the average pay of women and men–77 cents on the dollar, according to the labor department–charging ladies only 77 percent of their bar tabs.”
Even though the idea itself stems from the Lean In D.C. chapter of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement, I thought it was a great promotional stint. Then it hit me: Is this a one-time marketing idea, or should it turn into a business model?
I spend a lot of time with entrepreneurs defining their brand positioning at the onset of their company foundation, and the lines between sales opportunity, marketing shtick, and authentic brand promise tend to blur quickly. And that is a mighty good thing.
Toms gets rightfully credited for creating the “one-for-one movement,” which acted as the foundation to a tremendously successful business model that has been adopted by countless others, from Warby Parker to Yoobi. It’s a new twist on an old sales tactic: buy one, get one free.
Entire companies are now based on what used to be “special promotions,” and they’ve made it their meaningful brand promise. The huge success of celebrity chef Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack can be attributed to his “enlightened hospitality” mantra, which is taken into action through the burger chain’s staff being overly generous to customers. Yes, you might get a free dessert because a waiter decided you deserved it.
Startups that successfully weave sales tactics into their brand’s positioning are becoming more and more prevalent by making truly meaningful experiences for customers. Looking at the one-day promotion by the Brooklyn bar made me wonder why the 77 percent discount should not turn into the next one-for-one model for other businesses.
Hopefully, one day the wage gap will close for good. If your startup is seriously concerned about gender pay inequality in 2015 and beyond, the markup lost in that missing 23 percent can be made up in many other ways. Attracting a passionate audience that will fully embrace and share your brand–that might be more difficult to accomplish.
Just my 23 cents on a topic that I hope will be taking branding, and the startup scene, by storm–and rightfully so.
Deriving your venture’s core values early on is essential to formulating a strong brand from within.
Imagine your core values being displayed beautifully in your company’s lobby: Your team will see them every day and it should engage and inspire them. At the same time, clients and shareholders should be able to read, and be in agreement with, your core values actually representing, and serving, your brand well. They need to resonate across the board. We advise to keep those value-statements to three very short and actionable sentences (some of the more universally applicable examples we derived with our clients in the past months are shown below):
It is easy to notice that core values often sound similar, perhaps even a bit generic if taken out of context, regardless of how hard we worked with our clients on crafting them. They often do not feel naturally implementable either. No surprise then that they often stay put on a desktop in a PDF document, rather than being embodied by the team.
I gave this issue a lot of thought as I urge my team and myself to create work that is intrinsically being embodied by our clients to push their ventures into great brands.
I recommend embodying your core values the same way I would recommend you preparing for a very important presentation: Once you have the presentation deck done, the speaker notes inserted, and you start practicing, you will realize that the more you practice, the more you embody the content and overall spirit. The day of the presentation you will notice that you fully embody the content, to the extent that you could hold a successful speech even if a major electricity outage hit – in candle light, without slides, without speaker notes – because you are living the content.
Treat your core values the same way: Try assigning one of your new brand’s three core values to each day of the work week, then make it your goal to do something each day that turns the words of one core value into action. It might be a project scope document and you decide to question the status quo and try to turn it into a better product. It might be actively doing good and being the example by staying late to help a co-worker meet her deadline.
Examples are endless, core values there are only a few, so if you start checking one value off the list day after day over the course of two weeks, and you ask your team to be doing the same, you will quickly realize that you do not have to be reminded about the values anymore – you will just be doing it. This will be the magic moment where you will be embodying your brand’s core values, and that brand document that resides on your desktop can now be accidentally erased, because it does not matter anymore. Action, as we all know, speaks louder than words.
Most entrepreneurs start off being empowered by one of two very good reasons; sometimes both: A passion for what they (are about to) do, and the urge for the profits they foresee being generated by the new venture. That being said, we mostly see brands talk about the passion that drives the founders and employees. It’s hard not to catch any brand doing it; from most massive food brands such as Chipotle to the few true passion brands like TOMS.
At times you come across a very honest, true-to-yourself, reason that goes beyond your passion or drive for financial success. It is so simple, it’s scary. And when done right, it is so radical that most steer away from it out of fear to upset and turn away potential customers. Herein lies the genius of a founder personality. Not brand personality, but a founder’s personality being infused so heavily into the venture that the brand becomes the person and (s)he calls shots in the public that most CMO’s would get fired for.
An amazing example I came across recently, while spending quality time with my folks in Austria, is that of shoe-maker GEA. The company produces in-house (on-site), hand-made, long lasting and easy-to-repair traditional Austrian footwear. GEA’s social and environmental record is beyond outstanding. So far so great, but now add the underlying layer of true founder personality: The shoe company publishes a political newspaper called Brennstoff (translated: ‘fuel’), in which the owner, Heini Staudinger (a great wiki read for those of you who can read german) boldly voices his opinion and pushes the envelope on a very clear and steady social course; one that many don’t appreciate, one that upsets corporations, investors, banks and the government, and one that the ones who do appreciate, truly love.
And that’s what makes a true founder personality: unafraid to exclude the many, extremely powerful to the few.
The for-profit company, which is named after the goddess of earth, condemns consumerism and capitalism (even releasing their own currency called ‘Waldviertler,’ which is accepted by 200 regional businesses) and yet attracts so much investment money (through crowdfunding) that they are looking past their 41 stores to unconventional ways of expanding their operations, such as founding an academy. Heini Staudinger’s GEA is living proof that going against the grain and staying true to your personal beliefs, even if they are based on extreme political opinions (or religious beliefs), can be a powerful branding tool that deserves consideration when crafting your new brand’s personality. It may turn out to be your own, undiluted and uncensored, personality that will turn into your brand personality. How about that for ‘radical’ brand thinking? Don’t think at all, just ‘follow your longing and go!’
Oh yes, the good old Positioning Statement; used for decades, it still is the single most powerful tool to define a new venture’s audience, category, benefits…and reason for believing. Powerful, because this is all part of one single sentence; a sentence that many Founders struggle with, as a recent poll of ours showed.
When I work with clients on defining, and refining their positioning statement as part of our Resonaid™ workshops, it takes between one and four hours to get this sentence right. Yes, power comes with responsibility, and questioning the reason for being, and for believing in any new venture is worth a few hours of pondering.
Search for the term Positioning Statement and you will be surprised by just how varied the approaches to a classic branding tool are. It is most astonishing that a majority of statements leave out the most essential part of it; the reason to believe.
Most statements focus on the differentiators, ours (pictured above) focuses on the ‘because’ – the part that takes time to ponder and to perfect. It is also the part that will truly differentiate your venture from others. It puts your venture to the test: Is it truly a big idea? Is it important? Can it be bigger? Should it become more important? Is this why I will work late nights and put a lot at stake?
The big question ‘Why’ has been making its rounds past the branding community for a while now, most noteworthy through Simon Sinek’s TED talk. Despite its popularity, just like is the case with the mundane idea of writing a positioning statement altogether, the ‘because’, the key part that will indeed generate you sales, is often neglected. If you found an excuse not to tackle this sentence for your venture, take these words as a gentle kick in your behind and make today the day for accomplishing it. It will change your venture for the better, guaranteed.
Working with startups on developing new brands on a daily basis, we had a pretty good idea about our clients’ key struggles, but we reached out to entrepreneurs purchasing our book and asked them what they perceived their biggest hurdles to be. Here are their top 3 pain points:
Are you surprised?
Not about the fact that positioning is the most important component of a brand launch. After all, it is the one that takes the most out of entrepreneurs as it requires a refined mixture of many diverse skills – creativity, industry insight, foresight, process and honesty (among others), and it is something that is very hard to create in a silo. What did surprise me was that entrepreneurs see the importance of positioning so clearly and that they are humble enough to acknowledge the DIY approach might not suffice when it comes to this aspect of their brand launch.
Positioning is at the core of brand development, it forces you to answer the question Why, long after the questions What and How have been settled in your mind and you have decided that there was a need and you had the means to start that new business, or create that new product. The direction of the business has been set, but the direction for the brand has yet to be created (and synced). I believe most entrepreneurs start diving into positioning (and the overall creation of the Brand Platform), too far down the line, which adds to the fact that 46% of our respondents see it as their core branding issue.
What is, or was, your biggest pain point with your startup? Do you agree with our readers’ responses?
If you are struggling with positioning, we created a white paper on the subject (free download).