“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless!

–Ecclesiastes 1:2

Responsibility, Integrity, Communications, Excellence

–Core values adopted by the now defunct Enron

I’ve written a lot about brand purpose lately on this blog and for the most part I believe its good business practice for companies & brands to have a distinctive purpose.  Lately, a lot of companies seem to be getting quite good at succinctly articulating their reason(s) for being. I’ve pulled a couple of examples of brands that I like from a book by Roy Spense called It’s not what you sell, it’s what you stand for.

  • BMW:  Enabling people to experience the joy of driving
  • Southwest:  Giving people the freedom to fly
  • Charles Schwab:  A relentless ally for the individual investor

Visionary companies interested in staying around for more than a couple of seasons of profitability are often able to clearly articulate a core purpose that fuels everything the organization does.  As the Purpose gurus Jim Collins & Jerry Porras write in their book Built to Last:

Core purpose is the organization’s fundamental reason for being.  An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work–it taps their idealistic motivations–and gets at the deeper reasons for an organization’s existance beyond just making money

Sometimes, however, companies/brands don’t do such a great job of “tapping the idealistic motivations” Collins & Porras speak about above.  They string together page long statements that use a lot of “business school jargon” filled buzzwords that make you fall asleep when you read them.  Who hasn’t started to doze off after reading through a 900 page boring mission statement that rambles on forever?

MPO brands recently posted a list of least favorite words to appear in what they call “the brand essence process”.  I thought the list captured a few of the buzzwords responsible for so many listless purpose statements, so I reposted it below along with some of the funny MPO commentary.  Enjoy.

1. Professional(ism) – one of series of ‘values’ put at the heart of an organisation’s ethos that raises more questions than it answers. What kind of company or firm wouldn’t say it was ‘professional’? What are you trying to hide? Step away, I’m going to look at what’s in that cupboard…

2. Quality – Good? Bad? Impressive? Laughable? You might as well have the word ‘Thing’ at your core

3. Innovation. Without it, we all die (apparently). And very few services, products or companies are any good at it. It’s a bit like over-promising on ‘air’

4. Service – see Quality. If ‘What popular idioms include the word ‘Service’ featured as a question in Family Fortunes, the top answers would be (via MPO’s in depth research) ‘Senior…’, ‘…Station’, ‘Customer…’, ‘…Till’, ‘Room…’, ‘Church…’, ‘…Charge’, ‘Secret…’, ‘Self-…’, ‘…Industry’. What a versatile little word it is. And how very un-distinctive and un-compelling…

5. Super. No kidding here, we’ve run up against a competitive brand (i.e. not one of our clients) who put ‘Super’ at their very core. Maybe this is fine if you’re a knowing, post-modern and kitch entity, not so if you’re a yogurt!

6. Integrity. See Professionalism. When both these words appear together at the heart of a brand you know you’re in real trouble. Probably most often found in pairs at Football Clubs, the sort who are about to give a vote of confidence to their manager…

7. Indulgence. The darling value of the confectionery sector, it negates itself because any bar of chocolate is bought as a means of indulging ourselves. But then, you wonder that all brands, by lifting a product or service above and beyond a commodity status, stand for added value and therefore…maybe…’indulgence’.

8. Passion. Perhaps this is the word which is most likely to guarantee brand under-performance in the eyes of the customer (particularly in the UK). ‘We have a real passion for pizza / trains / insurance / finance’ never, ever translates into stunning services or products. That’s because brands rarely think through what that word is actually going to mean in the real world. Unless you’re going to create signature pizzas for every customer, or hug every passenger, then leave well alone!

So, there you have it…some great buzzwords that are sure NOT to help any brand or company tap into the idealistic motivations of their folks.

Remember the ENRON mantra:

* Responsibility
* Integrity
* Communications
* Excellence

As MPO notes, the Enron “values” were drilled into the employees and supposedly reflected in every deed and word attributable to it.


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