The Ultimate Guide of the Why, What and How of Brand Mission

Introduction

An increasingly important term for eCommerce entrepreneurs to get acquainted with is “the attention economy.”

Entrepreneurs tend to focus on the market economy. Which is just a fancy way of saying that most entrepreneurs are hyper-aware of how market forces like supply and demand, as well as competition between businesses impact what they can charge for their product or service. Applying market economy thinking to your brand, you understand that money is a finite resource for most consumers, and the art of selling is communicating the value they’ll receive in exchange for that resource.

Unfortunately, obsessing about market economy dynamics is often what leads entrepreneurs into the death spiral of price wars and discounting.

There are smarter ways to manage a consumer’s perception of value than by lowering your product price, but you’re getting ahead of yourself. The truth is that before a consumer even gets the chance to worry about whether your products are priced fairly, you to get their eyeballs on your products.

Like money, attention is a finite resource, and it’s increasingly scarce. We an only focus on one thing at a time, and especially online, there’s a never-ending barrage of ads, notifications, articles, memes, discussions, dramas, and YouTube rabbit holes competing for our engagement.

Basically, the attention economy is the management of human attention. And it’s being applied all around you. Social media platforms, mobile games, and apps are all examples of experiences designed to be addictive by taking the attention economy into account.

In the marketing world, we often refer to this as “cutting through the noise.” We’re so bombarded with messaging and endless options all day, that we’re becoming experts at tuning it out.

It used to be, that just getting your ad message in front of enough people would be enough to move the needle. It’s the theory behind spending millions on a Super Bowl ad. But even the power of traditional media is waning.

A consumer seeing an ad, and caring about it, are 2 vastly different things. This is where brand mission comes in.

What is a brand mission statement?

The attention economy, as a discipline, combines economics, psychology, cognitive science, and neurology. But don’t worry, you won’t need to consult textbooks or professional journals.

You just need to be able to answer one simple question: so what?

This is all consumers ever really want to know. With endless options for any conceivable consumer product at their fingertips, why should they care about your offer?

Luckily, humans invented the best business tool for capturing attention and answering this question centuries ago: branding. And at the core of a brand, is your brand purpose, and your brand mission.

In order to define brand mission, you need to understand that it’s one part of a larger picture. Your brand’s purpose, mission, vision, and values combined make up the heart of your brand.

Brand Vision

This is the future your brand is hoping to make a reality. This is where you define what “success” looks like for your brand. But this isn’t just about target profits or revenue, a vision should address the benefit your customers and/or community will gain as a result of your brand’s work.

For example: Tesla’s brand vision is “to create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.”

Notice they define the company’s success as being “the most compelling car company of the 21st century,” the vision also extends to the environmental and social benefits of their success, as it would drive the “transition to electric” cars.

If you’d like a deeper dive on brand vision, check out this post.

Brand Purpose

This is essential reason why you’re in business. Why is what you’re selling important to you, and why do you think it should be important to consumers?

TED Talks have a clear, succinct purpose: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.”

Brand Mission

You know what you’re ultimately trying to achieve and why, mission is where your brand gets practical. It’s how you intend to achieve your vision, and how you’re going to put your purpose into action every day.

If you look at TED’s purpose, you wouldn’t immediately know what the brand actually does. Mission is the aspect of your core that’s the most closely rooted to what you tangibly offer. Consider these examples:

LinkedIn’s mission is “to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

A mission is primarily for the people inside the brand. It gives everyone direction and focus on what matters the most. The team at Google, for instance, have enough coding and tech expertise to do just about anything, but their mission keeps them focused only on the tools and innovations that better organize information, and makes it more accessible.

A recent example of a brand mission in action came in 2019 when Google employees lobbied brand leadership to end a contract with the US military to develop drone technology. The petition from employees argued the contract put “Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values.”

Likewise, the team at LinkedIn constantly ask themselves what other tools and services they can provide to help users make the right professional connections more quickly, easily, and effectively. It means they probably won’t wake up tomorrow and decide to develop a gaming platform, even though they probably could.

But this isn’t to say that your mission should only be internal. The best mission statements are a promise, or commitment to your customers as well. LinkedIn promises that the professional network they’re creating with make users “more productive and successful.” Google’s mission promises users they’re committed to keeping information “universally accessible and useful.”

Brand Values

The last piece of the brand core puzzle are brand values. Values are the principles and beliefs that your brand is committed to. They define what your brand stands for, and what you’re bound to defend. Like your mission, there’s both an internal and external purpose to this tool.

Internally, values are the “rules” your brand vows to follow as you pursue your vision and execute your mission. They are the beliefs and principles you will not cross or compromise.

Externally, values communicate the emotional experience buying from and interacting with the brand offers. They’re a promise for how the customer will be treated.

Take Patagonia, a brand founded in the 1970’s that’s well known for their commitment to sustainability. Their values are to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Their commitment to causing “no unnecessary harm” is powerful internal guidance when making decisions. In one famous case, Patagonia switched to organic cotton even though it meant they had to increases prices on the gear. Likewise, customers feel good about buying from Patagonia because they know they’re buying a best quality made with the highest standards of sustainability.

Values are important because the right decision isn’t always the easiest to make, these promises act as a reminder of what matters most. Head over here for the ultimate guide to brand values once you’re clear on your mission.

Mission vs Purpose

Of all 4 core elements, mission and purpose are the most conflated and are the most likely terms to be used interchangeably. There’s a good reason for this.

In practice, purpose and mission are very often combined into a single statement. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but when it comes to designing your brand’s core, it’s important to understand that they are separate tools. Combining mission and purpose in one statement is an effective communication strategy, but when you do the work of branding, you’ll want to address each one separately.

Mission vs Value

Like purpose, values are also sometimes confused with mission. We’ve described brand mission as your brand’s “how.” How you put your purpose into action every day.

Values are another “how.” They define how you’ll conduct yourself, how you’ll treat stakeholders, and how customers can expect to feel when interacting with your business.

This analogy might help you remember the difference between the 4 core elements: Imagine you’re undertaking an important trip. Your brand vision is the ultimate destination you hope to reach. Purpose is why you want to arrive there, as opposed to somewhere else. Mission is the set of directions to get from where you are today to your vision – what roads you’ll take, where you’ll turn, how long you’ll travel each day, where you’ll stop along the way and so on. Values are the rules you’ll follow along the way – the speed limit, traffic lights, stop signs, and so on.

Why is a mission statement important?

Formally crafting a mission statement (and hopefully a strong brand core with a vision, purpose, and values as well) forces you to get clear on your goals, the difference you’re looking to make, and how you’ll serve your audience.

This kind of clarity is underrated. When you have it, it sharpens your “elevator pitch,” a vital skill to thrive in the attention economy. You only have a few seconds to engage consumers, and a clear, confident mission is one of the best ways to do so.

A mission won’t make every consumer care about your brand. Not everyone prioritizes sustainability when buying a coat, so they may not consider Patagonia worth the price. Nor does everyone want or need to expand their professional network, so they’re not going to sign up for LinkedIn.

But a mission will help you target the customers that do care. In fact, a brand with a strong core increases its organic value, as it will naturally attract the customers who share your brand’s worldview.

Finally, a strong core is a serious shortcut to make quicker, more meaningful decisions. With the focus of a mission, everything from what causes to support, what new products to launch, and what partnerships to nurture are more straightforward.

Mission and the 4 P’s

We often refer to the “4 P’s,” product, price, place, and promotion. A mission provides powerful guidance to make better choices for all 4 P’s, because when every aspect of your brand is aligned, it comes across as authentic and trustworthy.

These benefits translate into hard results.

Keither Weed, the CMO of Unilever, has said that Unilever’s purpose-driven brands grow at twice the speed as the other brands in their portfolio.

Likewise, Jim Stengel studied 50,000 brands over a 10-year period and documented the results in his famous book, Grow. He found that the highest performing businesses were those steered by a strong mission, and grew an average of 3 times faster than competitors.

Mission statement process

Before diving in, you might be wondering whether it’s better to start with your brand’s vision, mission, purpose, or values? Or if the order matters.

Ultimately, all of these core elements must be tightly aligned. So, it’s likely that you’ll revise one or all four of them several times before your brand’s core is in place.

However, we strongly recommend that you begin with your brand purpose. Following that, mission and vision should follow, then your brand values. In our experience, being clear about why this business is important to you is the best foundation to approach what you hope to achieve. When you’re ready to take on your mission statement, here’s the process:

Elements of a mission statement

First, you’ll want to get context on what an effect mission statement looks like.

In Grow, Jim Stengel proposes what he calls “five ideal fields of human value.” In other words, they’re 5 categories of human value brands can offer customers. If you have no idea where to start with your mission statement, identifying which of these 5 categories algins with your brand can point you in the right direction:

Impact

These brands challenge the status quo and redefine categories. A brand like Casper, which upended the traditional retail model, or Uber which radically changed the taxi industry would count here.

Connect

Brands that enable stronger connections “with the world and each other.” LinkedIn and other social networks like Facebook fit well in this category.

Joy

Brands that delight customers, deliver experiences of wonder and happiness. Think Coca-Cola, and Disney.

Explore

These brands exist to offer new adventures, challenges, and experiences to its audience, to broaden horizons. Google’s commitment to make information accessible is a good fit here, as would NASA, and the Discovery Channel.

Pride

Brands that enable deeper feelings of “confidence and vitality.” This category works for many lifestyle brands, where the primary brand value is status or self-esteem, but isn’t limited to luxury. Mercedes-Benz and Peloton would be on the more luxurious end of pride, while brands like MeUndies and Aerie who promote self-acceptance would be more down-to-earth options.

Bonus Tips

Keeping your category in mind there are also a few other tips to make sure you get the best results from the statement drafting process:

  • Keep your statement clean and uncluttered. Keep your mission statement focused on a single core idea. Trying to jam in too many ideas will confuse customers and your team members.
  • It must tie back to your vision and purpose. Remember, your mission, vision, purpose, and values are all tightly interconnected.
  • A mission should be vivid. Use concrete language that makes it easy to visualize. The more real you can make you mission, the more likely it will actually influence your decisions.
  • Focus on people. Whether you’re addressing your mission to your team, yourself, or your customers, the center of your mission needs to be your brand’s benefit to the people invested in your brand.

Be aspirational. I like the term “bottom line” because it can also be a reminder that when it comes to branding, concerns about money should be at the bottom of the list. This is the human side of your brand, so choose a mission that bigger than your brand’s balance sheet.

Build your mission statement

Step 1. Find your core competency.

Your mission is an extension of what your brands tangibly offers, but this goes beyond just what you sell. What does your brand offer that’s unique compared to your competitors? This is your core competency. Zappos, for instance, is known for their sterling customer service which goes above and beyond what most other brands are willing to match.

Step 2. What’s your secret sauce?

Now that you have your core competency in mind, how does your team deliver on it? What is it you’re doing differently than competitors?

Step 3. What are the emotional benefits of your core competency?

So your brand’s product are the highest quality out in your category. What’s the emotional outcome for your customers? Does it deliver greater peace of mind? Does it save them money over time because they don’t need to replace the product as often?

What you’re trying to pin down here is exactly why customers are coming to your brand. How do you make your customers feel?

Step 4. Use a mission statement template.

Don’t worry if your answers to Step 1-3 aren’t perfect right now. Start plugging potential answers into the template and experiment. You’ll know when it feels right.

Our mission is to [ACTION – provide/create/deliver etc] [EMOTIONAL BENEFIT] through [CORE COMPETENCY] with [SECRET SAUCE].

Pro Tip: if none of your mission statement candidates seem compelling enough, experiment with plugging in your brand purpose to give context and explain why delivering your secret sauce matters.

Step 5. Make it your own.

The purpose of a template is to help you gain clarity on your mission. But the power of a mission isn’t unlocked until it’s your own. Over the course of a few days, spend just a few minutes experimenting with different wordings of your templated statement. Identity which of the 5 human value categories your answers align with to help you find the right angle and wording. Play with it until you find the phrasing that resonates with you.

Pro tip: give your templated statement to trusted team members or friends and ask them to re-word it. Sometimes hearing someone else say it out loud will knock some ideas loose.

Brand examples

Need some inspiration from real-world brands?

Nordstrom

The mission of this luxury department store is:

“To provide a fabulous customer experience by empowering customers and the employees who serve them.”

One of the hallmarks of luxury is personalized, exceptional service. Throughout their history, you can see how Nordstrom’s mission has continued to steer their growth. Nordstrom was one of the earliest chains to hop online in 1998 and pioneered seamless offline and online shopping experiences. By 2009 they were industry leaders in inventory management and fulfilment capabilities. Their emphasis on experience makes them a joy-category brand.

Granted, their mission can seem generic, but legacy retailers often get away with this because they’re already well known and their reputations are enshrined in public opinion. What’s important here is that while Nordstrom’s turn or phrase might be less than artful, they’ve certainly stayed true to their mission in their 100+ years in business.

Tesla

Tesla’s mission is:

“To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy by bringing compelling mass-market electric cars to market as soon as possible.”

This mission is crystal clear about what the company does and their secret sauce – they make compelling electric cars, which signals the brand’s focus on aesthetic appeal, not just building a utilitarian car. This mission also blends their brand purpose to work towards a world run with sustainable energy.

They acknowledge that they aren’t the world’s only electric vehicle brand, or the only company looking to make the world’s energy more eco-friendly. This is why the word compelling is so important. It’s what makes them special. Although there’s a good case for Tesla as a joy category brand, they are all about impact as they’re set of changing the world.

The statement is also an artful phrase. What better way to express the brand’s thrilling essence than to use the word accelerate. It’s these little details than make your mission statement stand out.

Disney

Here’s Disney’s mission statement:

“To entertain, inform, and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technology that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company.”

What’s great about this statement is that it sets a standard for the brand. They’re not just looking to entertain, inform, and inspire people, they’re looking to do it through unparalleled storytelling.

This pushes the film studios to produce the most powerful stories on the planet (you should look up the Pixar story development process for insight into how seriously they take this standard). It also gives direction for the kinds of experiences they offer in their theme parks and retail stores. It’s all about the stories.

Likewise, it guides their acquisitions (Marvel, Star Wars) to expand the “iconic brands” it has access to in order to tell more diverse stories. Disney’s “magic” is undeniably in the joy category.

Best Buy

The tech giant’s mission statement is:

“We believe technology is amazing, and we aspire to enhance our customers’ lives through technology – anywhere, anytime.”

Another mission that focuses on what the brand does well, which is deliver technology to customers in order to improve their lives. But the addition of “anywhere, anytime” also suggests Best Buy’s commitment to omnichannel shopping. It makes Best Buy a connect-category brand.

Is this a mission statement that’s dripping with emotional resonance? Not in isolation, no. But their passion for technology is clear. This is also why it’s so important to develop your brand’s vision, purpose, and values as well. It’s in combination that they create an emotional connection with customers.

Nike

For a more emotional mission statement, check out Nike:

“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.* (*if you have a body, you’re an athlete)”

There’s a good argument that there’s no better brand than Nike at selling emotions. Their mission statement is no exception. This is also an example of a mission statement that combines elements of the brand purpose with the reference to Nike’s belief that everyone is an athlete. This perspective is a cornerstone of what makes Nike unique. It also makes them a strong pride-category brand, as their purpose is to build their customers’ determination and confidence.

Many brand mission statements will specify who the brand serves, in this case, Nike makes an inclusive statement that speaks to their underlying belief in the potential of every human body. Nike’s mission statement does a great job of integrating with their larger brand identity.

Amazon

The mission statement for Amazon is:

“Our mission is to continually raise the bar of the customer experience by using the internet and technology to help consumers find, discover and buy anything, and empower businesses and content creators to maximise their success. We aim to be Earth’s most customer centric company.”

Amazon’s mission statement might not win many literary accolades, but it gets the job done. It’s easy to find their commitment to the customer experience from their pioneering of free shipping and returns, to one-click purchases, and their enormous product selection.

Consider Amazon’s extension into branded products, like the voice-powered Echo, or their line of Fire tablets which make tech accessible to more consumers. These products are also manifestations of being customer centric. Amazon’s mission is a good reminder that a focused statement can ensure your brand is continually growing in the right direction.

Ultimately, Amazon is a exploration brand. It’s hinted at in their name. The vast “jungle” of products to explore, the sense that they sell anything you could possible want if you care to search, is the heart of their appeal.

Uber

This disruptive brand’s mission statement is:

“Smarter transportation with fewer cars and greater access. Transportation that’s safer, cheaper, and more reliable; transportation that creates more job opportunities and higher incomes for drivers.”

What’s great about this mission statement is it’s hyper-focused on the benefits the brand is committed to delivering. It acts as a powerful promise to its users and drivers (though whether their actions align with their mission is another question).

There’s also an implied social benefit express here, with the idea of fewer cars on the road, which will lighten the impact of transportation on the environment.

Another explore-category brand, but this time in the more literal sense than Amazon. Uber’s safer, cheaper and more reliable transportation gives user the freedom to go where they please more often.

GE

GE’s mission statement is:

“To usher in the next industrial era and build, move, power, and cure the world.”

GE is a unique addition to our list because they’re a large corporation that presides over several distinct divisions, including: GE Aviation, GE Healthcare, GE Power, and GE Renewable Energy. Comparing this list to their mission statement and you can see the parallels.

GE’s statement covers a lot of ground with fewer words than many of the other examples here. Your mission statement doesn’t need to be flashy, but it does need to be tightly linked to what you do. Each of GE’s divisions have their own mission statements, of course. The takeaway here is that as long as your mission statement gives your brand precise direction, it’ll work.

GE as a whole is an impact-brand, there is hardly a facet of our lives they don’t touch.

Trader Joes

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This grocer’s mission statement is:

“To give our customers the best food and beverage values that they can find anywhere and to provide them with the information required to make informed buying decisions.”

Another strong example of a mission statement that makes crystal clear what the brand offers. Trader Joe’s mission is all about focusing on what matters to customers, which is access to better food options without busting their budget.

Again, this mission also implies who the brand is for. Not everyone cares about balancing healthier option with cost. Many customers are willing to pay the premium to a brand like Whole Foods, while others are more price-conscious and will sacrifice labels like “organic” for a better deal. Mission is all about focus.

Although it’s not immediately obvious from their mission statement alone, Trader Joe’s is another explore-category brand as their product line is curated from all over the world, and their in-store experience emphasizes discovery. Again, it’s a lesson that a single aspect of branding won’t unlock the full potential of your business alone.

Starbucks

The mission statement for Starbucks:

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

Once again, we have a mission statement that leverages the brand’s purpose. Essentially, this is a mission centered on service, making them a connection brand. Their mission also emphasizes the important of individual interactions, the daily touches with the brand.

One way this mission manifests is the practice of writing the customer’s name on their cup to track their order. It encourages staff to get to know regulars and create a welcoming atmosphere. Like Nike, there’s an emotional appeal to their mission that helps it become brand culture.

Before you go…

Your brand’s mission statement is a powerful tool to focus your effort and resources. It keeps you mindful of what really matters so you can make better decisions and improve your customer service.

But a mission doesn’t stand alone. Be sure to round out your brand core strategy with our posts about brand vision and values. And when you’re ready to take your full brand to the next level, download our free Brand Audit tool, which walks you through every major element of an eCommerce brand, and provides a detailed grading matrix to ensure all your brand assets are up to par and working together.

Whatever you do, take this discussion as a sign that it’s time to stop spinning your wheel and infuse your brand with direction.

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