I run into this situation every once in awhile. I’ll meet someone in a business setting who asks me what I do. I tell them that I help brands make a difference in the thousands of lives that they touch. I do it by helping organizations discover their brand purpose (Big Audacious Meaning) and then share it across the organization and across the world. I’m pretty passionate about this. Which makes my head want to explode when I hear, “Oh, we just redid our mission statement.”
Now I could get all high and mighty and lecture on about how a mission is not a brand purpose. But usually, I simply ask, “Oh, what is it?” To which I get the response, “I don’t remember.”
Most mission statements are forgettable
Why is it that most mission statements are forgettable? They shouldn’t be. A mission is aspirational. It describes how you will achieve your vision. Those are big, important things. They should be full of hope and crackling with energy.
Unfortunately, most mission statements don’t get anywhere near that. They end up being vague dissertations. Which is sad when you think about all the time and effort organizations spend on crafting their mission statements. I’ve been privy to my fair share of these exercises. 9 times out of 10 it’s not a pretty thing to witness — a bunch of senior leaders debating the merit of one self-serving ambiguous phrase over another. Then emerging from the arduous and expensive process with something that will be hard for anybody to recall.
Hi, let me talk about me
Imagine meeting someone and then having to listen to nothing but them talking about themselves. That’s what too many mission statements do. It’s inward facing. It’s you talking about you. Add vague, corporate-speak to the mix and it’s no wonder nobody can remember the mission statement.
If this is your aim, skip the senior leader retreats and just go to the Mission Statement Generator. It’s scary-easy to create a mission statement that says absolutely nothing but sounds like it could be real. Here’s one it generated for me:
We have committed to seamlessly provide access to best practice sources so that we may endeavor to enthusiastically recontextualise virtual catalysts for change.
Let’s do something meaningful
We all want our time and efforts to mean something. Otherwise we just zombie walk through the days. Punching in and punching out. Unengaged and unmotivated. I can’t think of too many people who want to spend their waking hours that way.
We want to be inspired. We want to know that what we do has an impact. We especially like it when we can feel like we can make a difference for a fellow human being. The brand purpose recognizes this fundamental need that we all have. It then declares it, describing how everybody in the organization will make a difference in a life, a community, or even the world.
It’s no wonder that companies with highly-engaged people have a clear understanding of their brand purpose.
It injects clarity and motivation. It becomes the touchstone for all team members and all their decisions. From the CEO on down. It helps inform everything from program development to customer experience decisions.
The brand purpose is powerful. That’s why it usually gets translated into a rallying cry that any team member can repeat (because they believe it and own it). They’ll even give you examples of how it comes to life in what they do.
Superheroes and sidekicks
I know. I’ve been kind of bashing mission statements. Not that they don’t deserve it (see, there I go again). Let me say this. Mission statements are an important part of how the organization articulates what it’s all about.
But understand its role in relation to the brand purpose. A mission statement is what we hope to do. It’s us focusing on us. The brand purpose is the profound difference we will make in this world. It is us focusing on those we serve.
That’s why the mission statement should not be the all-powerful Oz of the organizational strategic framework. It’s more like the Robin to the Batman that is brand purpose. Brand purpose should call the shots. It doesn’t mean we don’t need the mission statement. We just need to remember that it’s the sidekick.
If you treat it this way, you’ll energize everyone from your team members to your prospects. You’ll turn the mildly interested into the rabidly passionate. But you have to understand the dynamic. It’s as simple as this:
A mission statement is how you aspire. A brand purpose is how you inspire.
Dan is an expert brand strategist and creator of the Big Audacious Meaning. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life. He regularly shares his insight here on Linkedin and at dansalva.com.