How to Spot Empty Corporate Leadership Claims

Companies are always looking for ways to distinguish themselves from competitors by highlighting their industry leadership. While this is essential to carve out a niche for your organization, it is important to avoid overused leadership claims — such as “world class,” “leading,” “innovative,” “fastest-growing” — when describing your company for several reasons.

1. They are vague, meaningless and indistinguishable from competitors.

Many company descriptions, such as “market leader” or “industry innovator,” are vague and really do not convey distinctiveness. These descriptors have become so overused that they have lost their meaning and can actually detract from a company’s credibility. Ask yourself, “How can customers differentiate to make a purchasing decision when all the companies they are considering state they are leaders?”

I recall meetings I attended at several investment banks during a corporate funding round, and each bank’s presentation cited the bank as being ranked “number one” in its industry. I remember asking myself, “How is that possible?” Well, each bank referenced a service line with high market share, awards, top brand attributes from surveys or anything else they could promote to be “number one” in their industry. I left the meetings confused and sought my own criteria to evaluate these banking teams, which had little to do with their leadership statements. My criteria focused on chemistry, relevant sector experience and client portfolio.

2. They lack context, which can be misleading.

A company might promote itself as the “fastest-growing” in its industry, but without knowing how fast their industry is growing, this statement is essentially meaningless. A more accurate positioning would be to say that the company is growing faster than its competitors by referencing percentage of market share.

My company advises clients to share verifiable data about the percentage growth of their industry market share or rate of revenue growth compared to that of their peer groups. Doing so ensures that your brand integrity never comes into question and that your competitive distinction is fact-based. Remember the rise and fall of Theranos, with its misleading claims to investor groups and customers about the effectiveness and reliability of its blood-testing technology?

3. They are difficult to verify and can backfire.

There’s increasing public scrutiny nowadays of internet-based content, so citing quality data from independent third-party sources (e.g., Morningstar, Gartner, Forrester) is a good idea to avoid perceptions that might compromise your brand’s integrity. For example, saying your company is the “most trusted” or “best respected” or uses “world-class technology” are empty statements without verifiable data.

Remember Volkswagen? It faced criticism and legal action over its false claims of “clean diesel” technology and being an environmentally responsible company. As one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers, did it really need to exaggerate its claims? The negative public relations fallout hit its brand equity hard, so this exaggeration was hardly worth it, even before you factor in the hundreds of millions in lawsuits and billions of dollars in lost market cap.

If a company makes claims about its industry leadership that are later proven to be false, its reputation will be significantly damaged and it will lose credibility with customers, employees, investors and other key stakeholders.

4. They detract from building brand equity.

Authentically defining and amplifying your company’s values, culture, services and performance builds trust within the communities in which it operates, as well as with supply chain partners, customers, regulators, investors, employees and other stakeholders who can be strong brand advocates.

My firm, Leach Advisors, was recently engaged to develop a new brand positioning profile for a life sciences management consultancy. Their current positioning used words like “leading” and “innovative.” Given their exceptional growth in the past several years, they wanted a new brand identity and corporate description that effectively communicated the value and impact of the expertise they bring to their clients.

We focused on aligning the intrinsic value and mission/purpose of the consultancy with that of its clients. By focusing on the impact of client value delivered, instead of company self-promotion, we demonstrated the consultancy’s competitive distinction in a meaningful way. Our recommended positioning was: “[Consultancy] works with the world’s most promising life sciences and healthcare companies to advance innovation in human health.”

Our rationale and modeling word choices for the consultancy’s leadership positioning recommendation were as follows:

• “World” indicates the consultancy’s global reach.

• “Most promising” implies their specialization in the early-stage and mid-cap market.

• “Life sciences and healthcare” defines their sector expertise.

• “To advance innovation in human health” concisely captures the purpose of the consultant-client relationship, highlighting their collaborative service approach and countering perceptions that consultants focus on generating high fees at their clients’ expense.

Collectively, this approach to corporate reputation succinctly tells a distinctive narrative that resonates with the consultancy’s key stakeholders (e.g., clients, investors, employees, alliance partners, news media). The consultancy has enhanced its perceived brand reputation as an expert in life sciences that works collaboratively with clients to make a meaningful difference in the world.

Because this positioning requires fact-based content to underpin its credibility (e.g., case studies, third-party data, industry thought leadership articles), such content will not be seen as self-promotional, but rather as points of validation. In sum, these provide the underpinnings for building a corporate leadership platform that is solid, credible and respectable.

Final thoughts

To establish credibility and competitive distinction for your organization, it is crucial to examine the intrinsic value of your company’s mission and services. And be certain that your company narrative conveys a meaningful connection between the company and the value it delivers to its target stakeholders.

As New York Times best-selling author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek aptly states, your focus should be on your “why” — the compelling higher purpose that inspires and guides all of your actions. This will help you avoid empty and unsupported industry leadership claims, which is crucial to achieving a definitive and trustworthy reputation for your company that will enrich its brand equity.

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