Do You Really Think You’re Any Different?

[Cache – #114]

Each and every one of us believes that in some meaningful way, we are different from other people.  And it is our belief that sharing our unique qualities can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those other people.  And when as individuals we join forces with others to achieve common objectives – as in a for-profit, not-for-profit or government organization – one would hope that the end result is an organization unlike any other.

So why do so many organizations have vision, mission and values statements – which are the codified bedrock of the brand – that are essentially the same as every one of their competitors?  This reality was made more plain than ever through recent work done in the retirement residence and long term care home (nursing home) industry.

Have a look at the vision/mission/values-type statements of these four organizations, all significant players and competitors with each other in the retirement/LTC industry.  Notice anything?

I did not choose these statements based on their similarity to one another.  These are simply the first four statements I came across in my research.  Yet they have a striking degree of commonality.  For example, each of the following words is used by 50% of the companies in our admittedly small sample:

Doing the right thing

Seventy-five percent of the companies make reference to “performance,” “achieving profitable growth,” and “effectiveness,” somewhat different ways to talk about financial performance.  Given that these companies must turn a profit to survive, we shouldn’t begrudge them this commonality.  But we do have to ask:  “Why should we believe that the experience received by residents, their families, front-line employees and executives at these crucial institutions is any different from one company to the next?”

Fact is, the experience from one brand to the next can be quite different – even if their values, all quite admirable in these cases, are very similar.  And it should be noted that it’s entirely possible each of these organizations is actually true to its values – that they are an accurate description of who they are.

When brands don’t do the difficult work of articulating – through vision/mission/values and other brand foundational elements – the unique value they bring to their business and the world, they do all stakeholders a disservice:

  • the organization’s executive leadership, because they themselves have not successfully articulated their competitive advantage(s)
  • customers and investors, who are not given the true reason they should invest in this organization vs a competitor
  • employees, whose unique blend of capabilities will go uncelebrated in words

Face it.  You’re different.

If you really think you’re different [and I know you are 🙂 ], how do you go about expressing it in vision, mission and values statements and the like?  Here’s how you can start:

  • recognize that a vision, mission and values are not enough to completely express the brand.  You much also have a core purpose (why we exist), a positioning statement (how we say we are different – sometimes known as a tagline) and a character (our voice; how we act)
  • know what your competitive advantages are, and codify the most crucial of them in a brand position (how we are different)
  • in service of the above, know what kind of language the competition is using
  • speak from the heart about what your brand truly means.  Don’t be afraid to use emotional language and non-buzzwords.
  • get away from using single words to describe your values, as in “respect” or “commitment.”  Instead, give a detailed explanation as to why respect or commitment is important to your organization, and how you therefore act.

And remember this truism of positioning:  telling us what you are doesn’t necessarily tell us how you are different.

Brand: It Ain’t the Logo is Number One on the Globe and Mail’s list of business bestsellers for the month of March.

In case you missed it:  my short interview on CBC Radio One about IKEA’s horse meat problem.

Also in case you missed it:  My BNN interview re. Lance Armstrong’s brand (starts at the 3:30 mark, after the ad).

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