Why Aspirations Should Never Be Used To Define Your Competitive Advantage

BE DiFFERENT or be dead has one simple message: if you’re not different in a way your customers CARE about, you’re dead (or soon will be).

You will neither be relevant nor special compared to your competitors and therefore your target customers will have no reason to buy from you… and they won’t… and your business will ‘die’.

It’s just a matter of time.

It’s interesting to me that despite the intensity of competition and the power of consumers these days, organizations have progressed very little in terms of being able to define what makes them unique—their competitive advantage.

CLAPTRAP dominates

Businesses continue to use CLAPTRAP works like ‘better’, ‘best’, ‘number 1’, ‘premium’, ‘great tasting’, ‘most’ and ‘leader’ in trying to define what makes them different from their competitors, but they offer no real clarity or value to a person wanting to select a supplier.

Here’s a couple of examples:

  • ”(Coffee retailer) offers the best coffee and espresso drinks for consumers who want premium ingredients and perfection every time.”
  • “We work hard every day to make (credit card supplier) the world’s most respected service brand.”

ASPIRATIONS contaminate

As well, they constantly defer to using ASPIRATIONS to ineffectively try to carve out and communicate their unmatchable traits.

And so, we are exposed to declarations like:

  • “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
  • “To inspire humanity - both in the air and on the ground.”
  • “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
  • “To build the web’s most convenient, secure, cost-effective payment solution.”

These are intent-based statements; they don’t depict who you are at this moment.

I don’t care what you INTEND to do. Tell me how you’re different from all the other members in the herd.

These aspiration-based statements may work with employees to give them a sense of purpose in terms of the values the organization intends to live by, but they are utterly useless ‘on the outside’ speaking to potential customers and trying to convince them how you are different from your competition and hence why you are the logical supplier of choice.

How does “We’re in business to save our home planet.” help a mother searching for the right bedroom furniture for her newborn child choose the company making this statement?

Even if sustainability is something the mother believes in, I suspect there are other more relevant and compelling requirements to consider in making her purchase decision.

‘Saving the planet’ may be a nice (undefinable) vision—wish—to aspire to, but it really doesn’t define who you are in the competitive landscape (I suspect there are many organizations out there that all believe that saving the planet is something they believe in as well).

An effective (and honest) competitive advantage claim needs to address the customer group you’ve chosen to serve and it needs to respond to what they CARE ABOUT in a compelling manner. And, of course, it needs to be measurable (and ideas on how you would measure ‘save the planet’?

The ONLY Statement

The competitive advantage tool I created as president of an early stage internet organization that we took to A BILLION IN SALES, was The ONLY Statement: “We are the ONLY ones that…” is ONLY’s form.

Here’s a good example:
“We are the ONLY team that provides integrated safety solutions that go beyond the needs of our customers ANYTIME, ANYWHERE. We are committed to growing our customer’s business. We ONLY serve safety.”

Where are aspirations useful?

If you’re wanting to be inspirational, the place for aspirations is ‘on the inside’ of the organization where you can use these ‘helium-filled’ statements as tools to explain the broader values—vision and mission—the organization has (very often the views of the executive and owners).

I look at these types of statements as feel-good ‘sensitivity triggers’; the issues of the day that the organization leans towards. And there is no shortage of challenges for organizations to identify with, ranging from the environment to inclusion and rights and freedoms.

These are internal perspectives, however, that address the question “What narrative-of-the-day do we want to be identified with?”, and not “How do we intend to compete and win” in the market?

Altruism has no place in declaring your competitive advantage.

Aspirations are useful guides in making certain types of decisions like:

  • Organizations to target annual ongoing donations to.
  • Events to sponsor.
  • Communities to offer your employees for volunteer services.

But keep them away from your pitch to people about why they should choose YOU over the 10 other companies competing in the same space with you.