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Kevin J Clancy - Marketing Consultant
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Hall of Fame

Most Companies Are Operating without a Vision

Not long ago, executives at a Fortune 100 corporation invited us to participate in a meeting of the firm’s international leadership team. One of the company’s brands is not only number one worldwide in terms of sales, it is clearly the premier product in its category in terms of performance. The room held key people from all over the globe—South America to Europe, South Africa to Tokyo, the Middle East to Southeast Asia, all in town to discuss their brand’s future.

The meeting started at eight in the morning and around three in the afternoon, a manager from Italy addressed the CMO: “You keep saying we're the number one brand, but we don't act like a market leader. We're not investment spending. We don't have an ad campaign that says—doesn’t even imply—we're number one. We don't have salespeople out pushing as if we dominate the industry. And we don’t behave toward our dealers as if we own the best product in the category. We act like we're number two or number three, even though you keep telling us we're number one.”

I butt in and ask the group, “Do you guys have some vision? What's the vision for the brand or for the business?”

They said, in effect, “Huh?”

A few people around the table began to describe the brand’s global positioning strategy, but it had nothing to do with what we would call a vision. It was not even much of a positioning. Eventually a manager from England asked, “What do you mean by ‘vision’?”

Our notion of a vision, I responded, is at its most basic, dictionary level an ability to see something not visible. It is a force or power of imagination, something supernaturally revealed as to a prophet. A vision provides a company with a purpose and a sense of mission. Visions define a few outstanding goals around which companies can organize their resources; they help to inspire the workforce to pursue common aims.

Most companies have an objective, but an inspiring objective, though a key component of a vision, is not the same as a vision. A vision is a hope, a goal, a dream; it incorporates the values of the company (or entrepreneur); and it implies benefit for customers. A powerful vision looks outward—or the company is in trouble. A vision statement expresses the end. It expresses what the company wants to be in the future.

The vision must be exciting, even inspirational, to all the company’s stakeholders: investors, the general financial community, employees, suppliers, prospective customers—everyone. The vision must be so big, so bold, and so ambitious that expressing it—never mind executing it—has a transformational effect. The company starts to become what it wants to be. The dream and the reality fuse.

Shakespeare captured the vision of Henry V, outnumbered six to one, before the battle of Agincourt in 1415: “Pray for not one man more. Those who are abed in London tonight will rue that they were not with us on this day.” At days end, the french army, 30,000 men strong, was totally annilited and Henry owned France.

A vision is John F. Kennedy in 1963: “This nation should dedicate itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

A vision is St. Jude Hospital's: “No child should die in the dawn of life.”

A vision is the difference between a company designing a personal computer to be 15 percent cheaper than a comparable IBM model and a company—in the form of Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak—dreaming of creating a PC “for every man, woman, and child in America.”

Motorola has the vision of a world in which everyone is assigned a single telephone number for life—and can be reached by phone from any spot on Earth. Microsoft’s dream of “owning the desktop” helped it to dominate first operating systems, then applications software.

A vision is not, “We're going to acquire until we own it all or downsize until there's nobody left.”

Many companies and most brands do not have a vision, and among those that do, it tends to be rather pedestrian. We know because we’ve studied the Fortune 500 companies. We’ve combed through 400 annual reports, borrowed from the Stanford study reported by Collins and Porras, and interviewed CEOs, CMOs, brand managers, and communication executives as part of ongoing marketing engagements.

From our content analyses of these annual reports and conversations with senior executives, we created a vision statement for more than 500 companies and brands and rated each on ten criteria. These measures include: This statement is...

... inspirational, uplifting; it moves you.
... exciting; it gets your blood pumping.
... aspirational; it is barely attainable.
... readable; it is clearly communicated.
... unique/special/different.
... very specific, not general.
... connotes superiority or domination.
... bold and brash; it oozes confidence.
... makes you want to invest in/work for this company or buy this company’s products.
... transformational, revolutionary, not evolutionary.

We rated each vision statement on a five-point scale from “describes completely,” to “does not describe at all.” We rescaled the data (by multiplying the answers by 2) and then averaged across the ten dimensions to produce school grades that ranged from 20 to 100.

A transformational vision, represented by an A+, received a score of 95 or better; a strong vision is an A or B with a score of 80 to 95; a weak vision is a pass with anything from 65 to 79, and no vision is a number less than 65. Most of these cases represent companies that literally have no vision, at least we couldn’t find one.

What we found is that approximately two thirds of the Fortune 500 companies have a vision. Only about 22 percent of these companies enjoy a strong or transformational vision.
Try as we might, we couldn’t find very many specific brands, products, or services (as opposed to companies) that have any vision at all. Even though almost every brand has an annual marketing plan, what we’ve discovered—to no one’s surprise—is that these plans do not include any vision. Thus the meeting we described at the beginning of this shocking truth is the norm. Their premier brand had no vision. Two thirds of the brands we’ve studied have no vision.

Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Although we do not believe a company and a brand must have a vision—it is not a sine qua non for success—we do believe it is vitally important and therefore highly desirable to have one. And not just any old vision, but a truly transformational one.

Shocking Truths:

> There's a Negative Relationship Between What People Say They Will Do and What They Actually Do
> Quality and Price Are Positively, Linearly Related
> As Price Goes Up, Sales Go Down
> New Product Appeal and Profitability Are Not Positively Related
> Jobs-Based Segmentation Is Not a Remedy to Marketing Malpractice
> Most Brands Are Unpositioned
> Higher Levels of Customer Satisfaction and Retention Don't Always Translate Into Higher Profitability
> Net Promoter Scores Suggest That Most Companies Employ a Failed Business Strategy
> Back To The Future: How a Discredited Research Tool Discarded in the 1960s Has Become Popular in 2012
> Spending Money to Build an Emotional Connection with Your Brand Won't Build Market Share
> Most Companies Are Operating without a Vision
> Derived Importance Measures Will Lead You to the Wrong Decision
> Focus Groups May Kill Your Brand
> The Maximum Difference Methodology: a Questionable Solution in Search of a Problem
> Heavy Buyers are the Worst Target for Most Marketing Programs
> CEOs Don't Know Much About Marketing
> Advertising ROI is Negative
> Many CEOs Never Take The Time To Do It Right
> Given lots of cues and prompts, few people remember anything about your television commercial the day after they watched it
> A Dumb Way To Buy Media Is Based On The Cost Per Thousand People Exposed—CPMs
> Implementation May Be More Important Than Strategy
> Zip Codes Tell You Little About Consumers And Their Buying Behavior
> Retailers Rarely Send Truly Personalized Mailings to Individual Customers
> Too Much Talk About Brand Juice
> Marketing Plans are more Hoax than Science