Vision/Mission Statements: The Most Misused Branding Element of Them All?

Quick: Tell me your organization’s vision and mission.

If you can’t, it’s because your organization’s vision and mission statements are too vague, too long and/or complex or nonexistent. You may take comfort in knowing that you are far from alone.

Most organizations treat vision and mission statements as an afterthought … a corporate “check-the-box” task, without realizing the value that strong vision and mission statements can provide to the organization.

Weak vision and mission statements abound. Here’s a collection from the hall of shame (brand names have been removed).

“Pragmatic disruption of the status quo.” (OK, so you’re trying not to be an “also-ran,” but then who/what are you? How/where are you disrupting?)

“Be the global leader in customer value.” (In every business sector in every market?! How are you defining “customer value”?)

“To create a shopping experience that pleases our customers; a workplace that creates opportunities and a great working environment for our associates; and a business that achieves financial success.” (Wait, isn’t this every organization’s basic objective?)

“To be recognized as the leader in our business segments while nurturing a modern and caring workplace and producing consistent financial returns for our shareholders.”

Strong vision and mission statements work together to guide strategic thinking and planning of the organization. They inspire employees as well as attract high-caliber recruits. They help guide the organization’s behavior, explain who you are and engender strong external support. By developing focused and compelling vision and mission statements, you are actually setting your organization up for long-term success. So, let’s discuss strong vision and mission statement development and share some examples.

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Define Who You Are Going to Be and Where You Are Going

Vision Statement

The vision statement reflects what an organization is striving to be. It’s a challenge; a big, audacious goal for the organization. Think of it as dreaming: It’s an aspirational statement that gives the organization direction and keeps it focused and motivated. The vision statement is a philosophy or guiding principle rather than a specific goal. As such, the organization’s vision should never actually be achieved; rather, the organization only ever moves closer. Good examples of this are:

“Everyone who has a body is an athlete.” (Nike)

“The PERFECT search engine.” (Google)

Mission Statement

The mission statement supports the vision statement but gives clear purpose and direction for the company. Think of it as doing: what you do, who benefits and how you do it. The mission statement explains what the organization does to work toward achieving the vision. To continue with our examples from above:

“To develop products that help athletes of every level of ability reach their potential.” (Nike)

“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (Google)

Both Nike and Google have great aspirational vision. Each vision statement is simple, concise and clear. Are they lofty goals? Sure. But that’s OK. That is what a vision statement should be. Their mission statements support their lofty goals by explaining how they are going to get there. By organizing the world’s information and developing products to help athletes reach their potential, they are describing what they will do and how it will benefit consumers.

Here at Six Degrees, we have helped many companies develop their vision and mission statements as part of their larger brand strategy. We understand how important connected vision and mission statements are. So, now that we know vision/mission statements are important, how do you create good ones? Start by asking some questions:

  • Where do you want to be in the mid to long term?
  • What are your aspirations?
  • What will make a real impact in your space?
  • What will actually inspire (not just attract/appeal to) your current/future staff and customers?
  • How can you be noticeably different from the competition?
  • What can you do to actually deliver?

Then consider that vision and mission statements are only one part heritage/company DNA but two parts aspiration and passion. They are more about the future than the past. Also, it’s critical to internalize vision and mission statements: Management needs to take them seriously and walk the walk. Only then will staff take them to heart and own them across the company’s touch points with customers and other stakeholders.

Finally, we also urge clients to avoid potential traps when developing their vision and mission statements and avoid statements that are:

  • Too grandiose (“We will change the world.”)
  • Uninspiring (“To maximize returns … be a great place to work … etc.”)
  • Too long and/or complicated (“Blah, blah, blah …”)

The most important element that goes into a vision/mission statement is to be authentic. Have a clear purpose for your company and a pathway to get there. And, of course, you must deliver on it. Having these statements integrated into your company culture is imperative. Your employees should be familiar with the vision/mission statements, so they can deliver on that promise and reinforce your brand. For example, can you guess which company this is?

Vision: “To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”

Mission: “Dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.”

If you guessed Southwest Airlines, you would be right! Southwest lives and breathes its vision statement. Southwest ranks highest among all airlines in customer service. Many of its flight attendants’ funny airplane safety announcements have gone viral. Happy accident? Nope, it is completely by design. Flight attendants are encouraged to have fun in their interaction with passengers. Southwest is delivering on the mission of customer service through warmth and friendliness, which in turn brings it closer to achieving its vision.

Both a vision and mission statement are a vital part of any brand. It tells employees and customers who you are and where you want to go as an organization.

Are your vision and mission statements driving the direction for your brand?

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Melissa Hayden
Melissa has more than a decade of marketing and account management experience, including strategy development, brand development, integrated marketing communications, program management and account service. She has a diverse personal roster of client experience with both B2B and B2C for industries such as grocery, retail, consumer package goods, hospitality and medical device. Melissa holds a bachelor’s degree in law and sociology from American University in Washington, D.C.

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