Mission statements are nonsense. Competitive positioning wins!

Someone cooked up the idea of “mission statements” back in the 1970s as an angle to sell books about how to run a business. The concept flooded into MBA programs ostensibly as a way to get a competitive edge. It’s a useless exercise because mission statements are wordy gobbledygook.

Mission statements are inward-looking, feel good words intended to get everyone in an organization on the same page. Sort of like, we are nice people who will treat our customers with respect and provide high quality products. In other words, it’s a company or organization talking about itself. Not only boring and bland but who cares?! Absolutely no one.


Rarely does a mission statement ever get close to connecting with external audiences or detailing what’s special about products and services. Here are a few typical mission statements:

“To nourish and delight everyone we serve.” (No, it’s not a sex ranch house in Nevada but Darden Restaurants in Orlando, FL.)

“The Company’s primary objective is to maximize long-term stockholder value, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards.” (Sounds like legal language designed to cover a company’s butt.)

To combine aggressive strategic marketing with quality products and services at competitive prices to provide the best insurance value for consumers. (That’s the insurance company Aflac but so bland it could be applied to any insurance company.)

“Profitable growth through superior customer service, innovation, quality and commitment.” (Snore. That’s the mission statement of Agco Corporation. Small wonder we’ve never heard of them.)

“To unlock the potential of nature to improve the quality of life.” (That meaningless mission statement of ADM, a company that’s making certain all food is made from corn.)

“Provide the world’s best communications solutions that enable businesses to excel” (No wonder Avaya is obscure.)

And, the winner of the best gobbledygook mission statement goes to Barnes & Noble:

“Our mission is to operate the best specialty retail business in America, regardless of the product we sell. Because the product we sell is books, our aspirations must be consistent with the promise and the ideals of the volumes which line our shelves. To say that our mission exists independent of the product we sell is to demean the importance and the distinction of being booksellers. As booksellers we are determined to be the very best in our business, regardless of the size, pedigree or inclinations of our competitors. We will continue to bring our industry nuances of style and approaches to bookselling which are consistent with our evolving aspirations. Above all, we expect to be a credit to the communities we serve, a valuable resource to our customers, and a place where our dedicated booksellers can grow and prosper. Toward this end we will not only listen to our customers and booksellers but embrace the idea that the Company is at their service.”

Here’s a challenge – find any Barnes & Noble executive or employee anywhere who can recite that mission statement. Can’t be done. But, if you find that person, I’ll buy you a latte.

If you scan the website MissionStatements.com, notice how many mission statements begin with the word, “To …” Rather than using an active tense word, they have resorted to an outdated high school style.

My point is this: No one cares to hear any company talk about itself. No one cares. It’s a harsh reality for some C-suite types to comprehend but it’s true. No one, including shareholders, cares “about” your outfit.

What matters is how incisively a company or organization positions itself in today’s fiercely competitive world and how they can explain – in 12 words or less – what’s special and distinctive about products and services that anyone should scramble to buy or invest. Positioning is trust, interest, influence, and, yes, excitement in the value of a company’s unique products and services.

The best example of great positioning is Apple. Go to their website. It’s not about the company.