Positioning, elevator, mission and vision statements

They’ve been around a long time, are still in demand but the differences are often confusing. (I’m not talking about toothpaste.) Here’s what you need to know to make your own statement. 

Positioning statements
 
A positioning statement explains what a company is, does, and most important, how it’s different from competitors. It’s externally focused.

My favorite positioning statement template is from Geoffrey Moore. It goes like this:
For (target customers)
Who (have the following problem)
Our product is a (describe the product or solution)
That provides (cite the breakthrough capability)
Unlike (reference competition),
Our product/solution (describe the key point of competitive differentiation)

The template may look simple, but crafting a positioning statement is challenging: (1) the statement must place a company within context of the external marketplace framework it already occupies; (2) competition must be the reference point; (3) the statement has to be brief; and (4) every part must be realistic and defensible. 
 
If a company has a well-crafted positioning statement, it’s a good sign because it means it was able to reach consensus about how to talk about itself in a non-myopic way.
 
The toughest part of the template is the last sentence because you have to identify how the company is competitively differentiated. Here’s an example from Moore when SGI was at its peak:

For movie producers and others
Who depend heavily on post-production special effects,
Silicon Graphics provides computer workstations
That integrate digital fantasies with actual film footage.
Unlike any other vendor of computer workstations,
SGI has made a no-compromise commitment to meeting film makers' post-production needs.
  

Mission statements
 
Mission statements are aspirational, intending to unify employees around a common set of goals and objectives. It’s a corporation’s mantra, its raison d’etre, describing the overall purpose of an organization. While it’s primarily internally focused, it frequently appears externally.
 
Mission statements don’t address the issue of competitive differentiation which is the heart and soul of a positioning statement. A mission statement includes a company’s value system.

Mission statement examples:
Timberland: Our mission is to equip people to make a difference in their world. We do this by creating outstanding products and by trying to make a difference in the communities where we live and work.

Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

Elevator statements
 
An elevator statement is externally-focused and the shortest possible explanation of “what a company does.” The term refers to a person’s ability to tell a stranger - in an elevator between a few floors - what their company does with brevity and catchiness. A classic elevator statement would take one minute to say. Positioning statements can be used to develop brief elevator statements.

Elevator statement example: Our company sells software that designs better products. For example, Toyota uses our software to design cars that are more energy efficient. Boeing uses our software to design airplanes including things like more comfortable passenger seating areas. Trek designs awesome bicycles with our software.

Vision statements
 
Unlike a positioning statement, a vision statement is externally focused and defines where the organization is headed. It defines the desired future.

Toyota:
Continuing in the 21st century, we aim for stable long-term growth, while striving for harmony with people, society and the environment.

Cisco: To change the way the world works, lives, plays and learns.

Here's a forward-looking vision statement from WalMart circa (1990): Become a $125 billion company by the year 2000. 

Comments
I agree that Geof Moore's template for a positioning statement is an excellent one to follow. It is important to point out that one of the most useful features of this template is that it forces you to start by identifying the target buyer and their need, instead of your company or the product you offer.
# Posted By Gabe | 7/8/09 3:28 PM
Nice to see these terms all explained in one place, really useful.
# Posted By Andreea Stamate | 8/3/10 9:48 AM
The funny part about reading this was, I was reinventing the wheel, being that I was in the middle of writing out a plan/template for new small business start-ups. I was very close to Moores positioning statement template, except I was adding a call to action at the end.
Every business owner needs a plan, and I find that most do not. They have some money, an Idea in their head and that new owner excitement. If their lucky they learn how to run a business fast enough, before they run out of money and go out of business.
# Posted By Mike Storzieri | 8/9/10 12:15 PM
I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand. Unlike additional blogs I have read which are really not tht good. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he enjoyed it as well!
# Posted By tannbleking | 3/27/11 9:31 AM
love this article very well written. keep sharing the good information.
# Posted By Elizabeth | 4/28/11 4:23 AM
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