Smash Your Vision Statement!

Any respected company has a vision statement, but is it worth the paper it’s written on?

I’ve seen lots of them. Inspiring ones, colorless ones, nonsensical ones… Not many achieve much more than the fee for the ad agencies that create them. So why bother? What’s the value of a vision? If your brand has a vision statement, read on and determine if it’s really an asset. If you don’t yet have one, take five minutes and try to create one first. Make it bold, expansive, a permanent expression of your brand’s values.

A vision statement must be true to your brand, not your products. Imagine if Apple’s Steve Jobs had created his company vision in the ’80s based on his product portfolio. There’d have been no room for expansion into home entertainment. Today, the iPod wouldn’t be around. Instead, the vision Jobs created over 20 years ago is as fresh and relevant today as it was then: “Man is the creator of change in this world. As such he should be above systems and structures, and not subordinate to them.” That’s what Apple’s philosophy is all about. It’s the primacy of people in every aspect of the business: communications, products, and services.

Three tips to help you make a vision statement that means something.

Make It Smashable

First, make it smashable. A while back, I wrote about the 1915 brief for designing the Coca-Cola bottle. The design had to be so coherent that, should a bottle be smashed into any number of pieces, any of the shards would be recognizably from a Coca-Cola bottle. The “smash your brand” test works for any brand and any device that reflects the brand.

The principle is simple. Remove the logo. You should be able to recognize the brand by color, shape, graphics, sound, and so on. Consider the blue of a Tiffany box, the Absolut vodka bottle, the United Colors of Benetton picture style, or the rumble of a Harley-Davidson. These are all identifiable, smashable devices that reflect their brands.

A vision statement must be smashable, too. It needs to be so distinct you can remove any references to the brand name and instantly recognize who’s behind it.

Stamp It With Your Values

Stamp the statement with the indelible ink of your values. What values would you say Richard Branson stands for? Provocative, edgy, questioning, exploratory? Branson’s vision statement for any of the Virgin companies leaves you no doubt as to whose it is, even minus the brand name.

It’s not only a matter of semantics. The Virgin tone, as well as the words, in every communication channel — offline, online, wireless — communicates the brand’s personality and values.

Make It Solid

The most essential ingredient in a powerful vision statement is solidity. It should be so solid it provides a mandate for capitalizing on all creative opportunities by going to the very edge of brand communication, while maintaining the brand’s core values.

This edge is up for grabs. It reveals different opportunities for different brands. “No lawsuit — no blockbuster” is one Hollywood studio’s take on pushing its brand to the limit. The statement expresses what the company lives by: any publicity is good publicity.

Virgin used its potent, confident vision to another airline’s disadvantage and its own distinct promotion. The major sponsor of the world’s largest Ferris wheel, the London Eye, is British Airways. When construction encountered complications during the Eye’s erection, Virgin seized the opportunity. It decked an airship out in its distinctive red paintwork and flew it over the London Eye with the message: “BA can’t get it up!” No lawsuit followed. Why? There was no logo declaring Virgin as the perpetrator of this witticism. Yet every spectator perceived the brand in tone, attitude, and invention. Virgin’s brand is demonstrably smashable.

If your vision statement fails to be smashable, distinctive, and enabling, it’s not worth bothering with. The purpose of the vision statement isn’t to fill space on your reception room wall or on a Web page. It’s to arm your research and development, service, marketing, and sales teams with the mandate to push brand communications to the edge of every opportunity.

A vision statement should be a coherent message communicated across every channel — through online presence, wireless strategy, TV presence, and brick-and-mortar store. It should be integrated into your company’s operations and ethos so every staffer lives and works by it in every aspect of her job.

Is your brand’s vision statement bold? Is it smashable and distinctive? Does it invite creativity to go to its limits? The more you can say “yes,” the better the chance you’re on to something powerful. If can’t answer “yes” to any of the questions(and most companies fall into this category), go back to the drawing board.

The words of one iconic personality stand as an exemplar of the powerful, meaningful vision statement: “I have a dream.” The speaker’s identity is synonymous with the utterance, a declaration that speaks across time, to all generations, and that heralded amazing consequences for humankind.

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