One of the biggest challenges businesses face when crafting identity statements such as brand promises and corporate descriptions is specificity. How do you boil down everything you offer into a handful of sentences that will apply to all of your customers in all situations? Too often, these core identifying statements suffer from the verbal equivalent of mission creep. Trying to serve all users, they end up serving no one.
Take this statement, culled from a corporate description on the Web:
Company X provides services to “companies that manage capital equipment, mission critical assets and human capital.”
Can you think of an organization this statement wouldn’t apply to? It’s meaningless.
It Starts Small
To see how this happens, let’s consider an insurance company, Ace Financial Services, which specializes in insuring customers with credit problems. The company offers credit counseling and other services to help financially strapped clients stay insured. Once the clients reestablish good credit, Ace continues to insure them in the mainstream market. It’s a highly successful business model because Ace attracts clients other companies turn away and converts them into loyal customers for life.
A good starting description might be: Ace Financial Services offers business, home and auto insurance with a specialty in helping customers recover from bad credit in the Tri-State Area.
The Teamwork Begins
It’s a reasonable start. But someone from the marketing team notes that you insure more than homes and businesses—you also insure boats, motorcycles and RVs, which a lot of your competitors don’t cover. In addition, you insure schools and nonprofits, which aren’t really “businesses.” The next draft looks like this:
Ace Financial Services offers a range of property and casualty insurance products for organizations and individuals with a specialty in helping customers recover from bad credit in the Tri-State Area.
This encompasses all of your insurance products, but someone else on the team notes that it doesn’t include the other financial services you offer. Another team member points out that some of your clients have good credit. Yet another thinks “assisting” sounds more professional than “helping.”
The next draft looks like this:
Ace Financial Services offers a range of financial products for organizations and individuals with a specialty in assisting customers facing financial challenges in the Tri-State Area.
It’s close, but someone points out that “products” doesn’t encompass “services.” Another worries that the phrase “financial challenges” might turn off your mainstream customers with good financial standing. Another points out that you have a few customers outside the Tri-State region. Your final draft looks like this:
Ace Financial Services offers a range of financial solutions for organizations and individuals with a specialty in assisting customers requiring special financial services in the Tri-State Area and beyond.
Everyone in the room is happy now because your statement encompasses all of the possible clients and scenarios. Unfortunately, your statement now applies equally well to just about any financial service company in the country. It’s so vague and abstract that it says nothing at all.
Losing the Creep
When drafting an identity statement, every word you choose lies on a continuum between specific and comprehensive. The more comprehensive it gets, the less specific, and vice versa. You can’t have it both ways. And the more comprehensive it gets, the less it means.
To get around verbal mission creep, you need to:
1. Look at your business from your customers’ perspective.
2. Insist on the particular over the general.
3. Focus on the particulars that set you apart from the crowd.
This will by definition leave out a lot of other specifics. But that’s what the one-paragraph and one-page descriptions that accompany your one-liners are there to cover.
In Ace’s case, helping customers bridge the gap from uninsurable to insured is the key to Ace’s success. It applies to the bulk of their clients, and it is what sets them apart from other insurers. They need a statement that goes right to the heart of it:
Ace Financial Services helps customers recover from financial disaster and stay insured, no matter what challenges they’re facing.
In fact, this statement is nice because it resonates with what insurers do anyway—help people recover from disasters, big and small. It would be very easy to build an identity on that platform and adapt it to apply to all of Ace’s customers, services and situations.
When writing any business statement, forget about being comprehensive. Choose the particulars that count the most and use those to stand in for the big picture. Your copy will have the advantage of saying something and saying it in a way people can comprehend.
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