I often ask potential clients (and current clients) what their mission statement is. Why do I ask? Essentially, it defines their purpose for existing, and if it’s well articulated becomes an easy jumping off point for the next conversation about brand promise, company values and company vision.
Quite frequently I find that the folks I meet with respond with one of the following answers:
- I can’t remember our exact mission, but it’s something like _________
- Our mission statement is just a bunch of corporate jargon we dreamed up in a company retreat, nobody knows what it is.
- Mission Statement? We’re working on that.
First off, a mission statement shouldn’t be something only known by a tight circle of company executives, or dreamed up by the marketing department to engender employee loyalty. It shouldn’t be endless jargon, or a 200-word essay on integrity and quality. The truth is, these kinds of missions aren’t human, and they likely aren’t livable.
What’s the point of the mission statement?
A mission statement should state the following: Why the company exists. Simply put, the company was founded to fill a niche, deliver a product or service, meet a market demand or create a new market with new demand.
So let’s start there! Why does your company exist? Let’s say you’re in the shoe manufacturing business. It’s apparent that your mission is to make shoes. Simple right?
Our Mission: To Make shoes.
Ok, not all that inspiring, but at least it’s truthful, and a starting point. Let’s start to think about whom we deliver our products and services to. In this case, our shoe company focuses on athletic shoes for walking, running, training, hiking and sport. Since we’ve narrowed the focus, we can be more specific with our mission.
Our Mission: To make athletic shoes.
Well, we know exactly why the company exists now, to make (manufacture) athletic shoes. The next question that should immediately spring to mind is why our shoes are unique in the market place (Unique Value Proposition). The company clearly has a broad demographic (everyone wears shoes!), but this company has a unique design attribute that makes their shoes comfortable and extremely lightweight, and they have priced them in the mid range amongst all athletic shoes in the category. Because of the price point, they are not targeting high performance athletes, but rather everyday people who value exercise and a healthy lifestyle. So we clearly know whom we are in business to serve and what we’re delivering. Let’s modify our mission.
Our Mission: To make comfortable athletic footwear for everyday athletes.
We’re getting warmer! Now let’s consider a few things that all companies go through in the course of their growth. Are we only ever going to sell shoes? Building brands is about building an idea around which consumer’s rally, a feeling that you share with your audience. Once we’ve found success in the athletic shoe market, the next logical move would be to expand our focus and stretch our brand to complimentary products that people who enjoy athletic shoes would likely buy. It’s only natural to catapult off of our successes and open new opportunities, and for that it’s certain that we will likely expand beyond footwear to other items such as apparel and possibly even sporting goods. Maybe our mission is right for today, but does it give us the platform we need to think beyond today?
If your mission statement is about what you do today only, then you are missing an opportunity to make growth and change a part of your mission. After all, growth oriented companies are constantly testing the waters of new markets, and growing their offer to meet changing demographics and evolving markets. When we add this together it’s apparent that our mission “to make comfortable athletic footwear for everyday athletes” is somewhat singular and lacks an inspirational quality and room for growth. Let’s think about how our current products and future products make our consumer feel: Inspired, athletic, strong, fit, confident, capable. These are powerful words that touch people at an emotional level, and we should focus on moving our brand to a space that engenders emotion in people. It’s how authentic brands differentiate from commodities and offer something special and difficult to replicate.
Let’s have one more go at the mission statement to make it more emotionally connected, and give us a broader platform for delivery now and in the future.
Our Mission: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
Now that say’s something important doesn’t it? It doesn’t even mention shoes, but rather focuses on the audience we connect with. When our employees, engineers, designers, product reps, executives and customers think about our company, they think about something different. The possibilities our products offer, the kind of people that use them, the kind of people we want to be. This gives us a broad platform, and a strong focus, the 2 critical elements of a mission statement.
Oh, and our fictitious shoe company? Not so fictitious after all, Nike Inc. took their first shoe order in 1964, and the rest is an inspirational story of growth, change and success in the athletic marketplace.
Here are 5 things to remember when crafting your mission statement:
- Start with the promise – What do you want every customer and non customer to feel like they’re going to get?
- Keep it short – Keep peeling back the layers until you arrive at the very heart of your organization
- Get feedback! Nothing great happens in a vacuum. Solicit feedback and gauge the audience reaction.
- Make it memorable – Avoid jargon terms, and test yourself the day after you create, and a week later. If you can still remember it without reading it from somewhere, it passes the test.
- Spread the word – Make sure everyone in the organization knows what your mission is. Evangelize your brand’s mission and gain a loyal following!