Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

by Mike Bawden, President & CEO

Back in the 20th Century, it seemed there entire branding and marketing consultancies built on their reputation for being able to help their clients craft compelling and, at times, clever mission statements and identities that would make them stand out and get noticed. But for those of us who suffered through the process time and again, it was clear that the process of putting together a company mission statement was muddled and unfocussed and usually resulted in some kind of Rube Goldberg-ian paragraph about values, returns, excellence and whatnot.

Occasionally, we’d see someone come up with something unique like “Don’t be evil,” and think that was interesting if rather vague. A decade or two later, we find it might not have only been a bit vague, it might not have been entirely achievable (or, at least a lot harder to achieve than originally thought).

So, are mission statements worth the effort?

You can determine the value of a company’s mission statement by looking at its effectiveness on two levels: the rhetorical and the practical.

Are the words of the mission statement clear and concise? Is every word essential? A mission statement is not a good place for flowery words with vague meaning. The statement is the company’s “marching orders” and should be as straightforward and direct as possible.

This fact is why clever, slogan-y mission statements – while memorable – are usually problematic.

So, just what are you going to say?

Brand Central Station President & CEO, Mike Bawden

It’s hard to define the mission if you don’t have a vision.

A lot of business owners bemoan the fact that even though their employees know what they do, they don’t “get” what their business is about. The company may have a mission statement, but it seems too vague to be very motivational.

Employees wait around to be told what to do. They don’t show any initiative. And to the owner, they look like they just don’t care about anything other than picking up a paycheck.

And that’s because the owner may not “get” what a mission statement is supposed to do. The statement defines the mission. It puts people to work. It helps them understand how they are to accomplish their tasks as part of a larger effort to achieve an ultimate goal.

But that goal isn’t spelled out in the mission statement in anything but the vaguest of terms.

When I work with clients, we spend a great deal of time digging into the world as we know it today (the present), exploring the history of the brand or the company (the past) and then dreaming about how things could be if everything worked out right (the future).

Defining “success” in terms that are achievable in this way helps us create an attainable “vision” that has to be shared and understood by employees, strategic partners, vendors and others critical to the ultimate success of the business.

The vision should be a little lofty. A bit of a stretch.

That helps make it exciting and interesting.

And most of all, desirable.

Turning rhetoric into meaning.

The mission, then, defines exactly how everyone is to work together to achieve that shared vision. Properly done, a corporate vision and mission statement work together to serve as a road map and concise instructions leading to our ultimate destination.  The performance standards mentioned in the mission statement should serve as touchstones for every important decision made by management, every relationship formed with a customer and every innovation created in the R&D lab.

And the connection between the words of the mission statement and the action of the business needs to be called out publicly time and again to make sure the two are tied together.

Leadership messaging needs to be grounded.

What makes a mission statement work on a cultural level inside a business, isn’t just what’s written on the sign or put on the website. (In fact, there may be times when putting a company’s mission statement on the website might not be advisable.)

The secret to making a mission statement work lies in the hands of management and their ability to continually tie the activities of their teams in the present to the company’s vision of the future. And they use the mission statement (either directly or in a paraphrased form) to do so.

Every opportunity for a message from a corporate leader (whether they’re in the C-Suite, a department or a team leader), should provide an opportunity to tie the business’s shared vision of the future to the processes identified and defined in the mission statement. By consistently making this connection, people begin to really understand the role they play inside the company when it comes to achieving the big dream.

The benefits of having a clear mission statement.

Of course, there are some very practical benefits of having a clear mission statement that is both honest and concise.

From a marketer’s point of view having a well-written mission statement usually means business leadership has a clear understanding of who they are and who they want to become. In most cases, it also means business leadership has research to back up their assumptions and ambitions.

This is all very important information when it comes to developing key messages for the brand, unique selling propositions for products, etc. This material also serves as a helpful yardstick for measuring creative ideas, campaigns and media strategies to determine whether or not they are “on mission” with the brand.

And when we turn to the world of online marketing, a well-written mission statement is an essential element of a successful search engine optimization strategy that can amplify your company’s e-commerce efforts.

In fact, it’s possible to break a corporate mission statement into search terms to identify how content (copy, video and graphics) should be optimized to be easily found by search engines and, more importantly, customers. The scores of these various terms may also help a business in identifying what kind of content it should be producing on its website in order to optimize flow to the site.

All of that, from one little mission statement.

In summary …

So, is it time to re-write your business’s mission statement? Does it have to be a hard thing to do and cost lots of money?

Of course not.

But you might want to start off with doing the background research required to create (and define) a vision of your future, first.

I provide a service called Brand Anthropology that study’s the history behind your business and your brand and then provides insights into the kinds of moral and ethical values that serve as your brand’s foundation. We usually follow that up with a more in-depth look at the situation you’re in today (Touchpoint Analysis and Brand Mapping) and then lead management through a process of Strategic Visioning.

The end result is a clear picture of where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go. Then it’s just a matter of management determining the most practical means for getting there.

Let me know if I can help. I’d be happy to help you arrive at your destination.