Pretend the word “solution” doesn’t exist. Now, what do you actually do?

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By Francis Moran

At the peak of the dot-com and telecom bubble at the beginning of this decade, my wife, who is also a technology marketing strategist, and I often amused ourselves by imagining the response we might get if we created an entirely fictitious company and put up a website that employed all the utterly meaningless buzz words that were being bandied about at that time. I forget what we going to call the company — the name certainly had the word “solutions” in it — but I remember that we invented an incredibly persuasive mission statement that actually said nothing at all.

We didn’t think we’d get any customers, but we were pretty sure we could get some VC funding.

That little inside joke of ours came to mind this morning as a I watched a lovely little video by Made to Stick co-author Dan Heath on “Writing a mission statement that doesn’t suck.” Using a pizza parlour as example, Heath shows how an initially-quite-effective mission statement is turned into mushy pablum by the use of words that sound aspirational but that really don’t mean anything at all. Actually, it’s not that these words don’t mean anything at all; it’s that they could mean anything to anyone.

I do a lot of work helping technology companies figure out their differentiated positioning in the marketplace. This work is usually done in the same sort of group-think environment that turned “serve the tastiest damn pizza in Wade County” in Heath’s example into the mushy and meaningless “present with integrity the highest quality entertainment solutions to families.” Every time the word “solution” is suggested — and it is suggested almost every time — I implore the workshop participants to imagine the word doesn’t exist. “Now,” I ask them,” What is it that you actually do?” The answers immediately get much sharper and focused and far more meaningful.

The little joke my wife and I still wish we had managed to play on a gullible marketplace was predicated on this tendency to avoid specificity in favour of being all things to all people. In marketing, though, the joke will be on you because in trying to be all things to all people, you will succeed only in being nothing to anyone.

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One Comment »
  • Marketing vs. Public Relations | ApproStar

    August 25, 2012 11:13 pm

    [...] We have written extensively on the subject of writing, including why spelling and grammar count, the importance of being able to write a clear and persuasive mission statement, the delightful, frustrating and fulfilling struggle that is the artĀ of writing and guidance on [...]

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