From the garden shed artisan to global corporate giant, every brand can - and should - create a mission statement to live and breathe by. A central lynchpin of the company’s values and ethics, it is perhaps the most essential component of a long-term strategy and, despite its simplicity, has the capacity to incorporate a wide area of any business - if not all of it.
It’s worth noting that a mission statement is not a strap line, slogan or campaign motto. It sits deeper within an organisation, less exposed to industry trends or temporary projects. For example, Audi’s well known Vorsprung Durch Technik strapline acts as a form of meta-logo, instantly recognisable and intrinsically associated with its status as a high-tech car manufacturer. Its mission statement, however, sets out much more comprehensive stance under the term ‘revolutionizing mobility’:
These all sound well and good, but how will they actually help? What implications does a well-crafted mission statement have and what benefits will it bring? Here’s a deeper explanation of the nuances:
If anything, your mission statement allows you to truly carve out your niche offering in a world where competition is fierce and uniqueness in short supply, giving potential customers more of a basis to associate with you should your outlook align with theirs. In an increasingly crowded online space where customer time and attention is at a premium, it's imperative to offer more compelling, emotive reasons to associate with your brand than just a quality product or service.
For example, American outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia uses its mission statement of using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis to advocate long term, single use of its garments; a novelty in the buy-and-bin, high turnover culture of much of the consumer world. Its aim of producing clothes that are ‘beautiful and long lasting, but not in thrall to fashion’ asks the opposite of its customers to the typical dynamic - to purchase in a responsible, restrained manner.
The brand’s initiatives around supporting the people and communities that actually create its products and helping end customers to repair, pass on or recycle items and prolong their lifespan as far as possible could almost be interpreted as an invitation to shun the classic relationship of brand-to-customer in pursuit of a higher cause.
By contrast, Nike’s mission statement is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world, with ‘athlete’ in this case being a synonym for ‘all of us’. This customer-centric mission aims to create inclusivity and accessibility to generic sporting endeavours, but omits to mention any form of wider cause outside of the brand bubble.
In fact, for Nike to attempt to sieze any of the same mission territory as Patagonia might make for awkward reading, considering its somewhat chequered history involving factory conditions and workers' rights in its overseas supply chain. To focus on encouraging the sporting potential of the end user functions as a convenient distraction, not to mention a reinforcement of its track and field heritage.
Ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s employs its mission of using our company in innovative ways to make the world a better place to support, fund and raise awareness of racial equality and LGBT issues, as well as launching their own campaigns related to climate change, democracy and refugees around the world. Whether it be helping site visitors petition congress on the Voting Rights Act through an online form or openly partnering with initiatives looking to make the prison system more rehabilitative than punitative, Ben & Jerry's embraces a socially positive stance as part of the DNA of its brand.
eBay, which operates under the very simple premise of letting people sell things to others, crafts its mission statement as: 'to empower people and create opportunity for all'. This helps to elevate them from online trading platform to a more universal facilitator of economic growth for just about anybody with an item to sell and an internet connection. In the UK, this has also led to wider initiatives (and PR boosts) such as partnering with The Prince's Trust which has provided support, guidance and funding on business and entrepreneurial matters to 18 to 30 year-olds for more than 40 years.
At the other end of the spectrum, Unilever-owned Wall's offers a less morally-oriented mission statement: to bring more smiles to more people. In fact, to bring 100 million smiles across the world every day. The implications of this are two fold: 1) to champion the simple pleasure that an ice cream brings to all people and all ages and 2) a not-so-tacit admission of sales ambitions one would expect from a brand owned by one of the world's largest multinational conglomerates.
However, the real crunch comes when you introduce the fact that in both Ben & Jerry's and Wall's have the same parent company: Unilever. Does this constitute a contradiction in values? Can seemingly incompatible mission statements sit side by side within the same umbrella company? From one perspective it could be said that this devalues the entire premise of the mission statement, but from a branding point of view it creates an even stronger argument in favour of the market differentiation it affords each one.
Ultimately, there is a brand mission to be found, sculpted and implemented for every business. At least, for every business that has ambitions of creating consistency of purpose, actions and overall message for itself and, crucially, its customers.
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