Mission statements and vision statements are often seen as cheesy and dull, and the sad fact is that most of them are, particularly in the case of startups and small businesses that don't have the time or resources to invest in a thorough brand identity development process. In my view, the primary reason for uninspiring mission statements is that many entrepreneurs don't fully understand what they're for. In many cases they're produced in a very perfunctory manner, simply to generate copy for the 'about us' section of the company website.
The true value of mission and vision statements lies not in filling space, or even in telling your customers what you're about, but as a compass for brand management and business decision making.
Mission Statement - The Core Objective
Let's start with a basic definition; a mission statement is a short paragraph that sets out an organisation's core objective. For a mission statement to have value, the core objective needs to be more than simply 'make money' or 'be the market leader'. It needs to be unique and customer-centric. By this I mean that your core objective needs to be differentiated from the objectives of your competitors (just like every other aspect of your brand), and needs to clearly describe a specific customer need that your organisation will fulfill. Here's an example of a mission statement that fulfills both of those conditions:
"Molly's Muffins is committed to sourcing little-known recipes from across the globe, giving them our own muffin-based spin to delight customers with an international yet familiar taste experience they won't find anywhere else."
Molly's Muffins has a differentiated objective that in this case is closely tide to their unique selling proposition. They've also identified a customer need that they believe they can serve. In just a single sentence, Molly's Muffins has generated a blueprint for creating and maintaining a great brand.
The word 'maintaining' is crucial; this mission statement only has value if it's actively used as a guide for making business decisions and for managing the brand. Say for example that there's a sudden surge in demand for traditional muffins like blueberry and chocolate chip, and that Molly's competitors are marketing those varieties hard - should Molly's Muffins jump on the bandwagon? Using the mission statement as a guide, probably not. Molly's mission is to serve up unique muffin recipes with an international flavour, and pushing traditional recipes could risk diluting the brand. Molly's might miss out on a short term sales boost by not cashing in on the chocolate chip craze, but in the long term the brand and the business will be stronger and healthier for it.
Vision Statement - The Aspirational Goal
A vision statement is a short paragraph that sets out an organisation's long-term aspirational goal. To avoid making this a retread of the mission statement, you need to think big. Many startups and small businesses feel self-conscious about describing something too lofty for fear of coming across as self-important or delusional, but by definition a vision for the future is not something that's currently within reach, so you may as well be ambitious. In the words of the poet Robert Browning, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?".
As with a mission statement, a vision statement should be differentiated from your competitors. Unlike the mission statement, it isn't so much customer-centric as community-centric. You're no longer thinking about fulfilling the needs of individuals, but about having a positive, lasting impact on the wider community. The definition of 'community' will depend on the size and scope of your organisation, as well as on your plans for the future; it could be anything from your local community to the whole world. Let's imagine that the founder of Molly's Muffins hopes to eventually have a franchise in every continent on Earth. The vision statement might look something like this:
"Molly's Muffins dreams of a world in which different cultures come together to experience each other's tastes and traditions, putting the best of everyone into the mix in a spirit of cooperation, tolerance and understanding."
This might sound far-fetched for a sole proprietor with a single muffin shop, but as the business develops numerous decisions will arise that can be effectively guided by this vision statement. Perhaps when the business has expanded, Molly's might want to increase brand awareness by sponsoring a charity - does she sponsor a children's hospital, or a centre for cultural understanding? Either option will raise the profile of the business, but the second option will reinforce Molly's brand image and bring the business a step closer to actually achieving that aspirational vision that once seemed so unlikely.
You Get Out What You Put In
To sum up, you get out of mission and vision statements what you put into them. If you take the time to get them right, with due consideration to what they really mean for your business and your brand, then they can be a powerful tool for brand management and business decision making. If they're generic, uninspiring guff filled with buzzwords that get pinned up in a dark corner of the office and forgotten about, then they're no use to anybody. Even if you get them right, ignoring them when the time comes to make big decisions could risk undermining your brand and weakening your position in the market.
If you need help developing your brand, differentiating your business or defining your goals, I'd like to invite you to consider working with Brandsworth - contact us for a free consultation.