And Does Your Business Really Need One?
Once you get passed the myth that branding consists of your brand name, logo, and website design, things can quickly get confusing.
As a comprehensive business strategy, branding has to cover a lot of ground, and a lot of detail to keep track of. There’s also an inundation of terminology.
So, if you’re feeling trapped in Wonderland with all this new brand jargon, you’re not alone.
Among the most confusing brand terms are purpose, vision, mission, and values because they’re often used interchangeably, and other times treated as separate strategies. The truth? They are all different aspects of your brand, but they’re very, very closely related, making them easy to confuse. Each of these terms represent tools you’ll need to build a world-class brand. Like any good carpenter, you need understand what each tool can do, before they can help you build a cathedral.
The definition of vision
A brand vision is simply what your brand is trying to achieve.
You want your brand to be successful and profitable, sure, but what does that look like specifically?
Imagine a future where your brand has conquered the market:
- How has the world changed?
- How have the lives of your customers changed?
- What difference has your success made to our everyday lives?
Bill Gates’s vision for Microsoft was “a computer on every desk in every home.” This may seem obvious now, but we’ve come a long way since Microsoft was founded in 1975. At the time, computers weren’t accessible technology to the average consumer.
Today there’s more computer power in your smartphone, than NASA had in 1969 when they landed astronauts on the moon. Not to mention the fact that vintage supercomputers often required thousands of square feet in real estate, and your smartphone fits into your pocket.
Gates’s vision was actually a lot more ambitious than it appears. He saw a future where computers were small enough, affordable enough, and user-friendly enough to be a mainstream tool. A vision that required a lot of variables to align.
But that’s the point. Your brand vision isn’t somewhere to be realistic or conservative. It’s what success on a massive scale would look like. Typically, a brand’s vision is distilled as a vision statement, a simple, clear, one-sentence description of the future your brand is inspired to create.
Characteristics of an effective brand vision
It isn’t selfish
At this point, your ideal vision of success might be: “I have a 10,000 square foot mansion, a helicopter landing pad in the backyard, and drive a different Ferrari to the office every day.” There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s what you want. But it’s not a brand vision.
Take another look at Microsoft’s vision statement. It has nothing to do with profits, and more strikingly, it doesn’t mention the Microsoft brand at all. Instead, the vision is centered on the benefit to consumers, and society at large. If NASA can put a team of astronauts on the moon with a single computer, imagine what the world could be if everyone had access to this power.
Above all, a brand vision shouldn’t be about you. It’s the change in peoples lives that your work has brought about that counts.
One more thought: none of this means your vision has to be for the whole world. It can be for your tribe of customers, or your local community. It just can’t be about you, alone.
Another quality we can glean from Microsoft: a vision has to be visual. “A computer on every desk in every home” is a concrete image. A phrase like “the world is a better place” will translate to millions of different outcomes to different people. Be precise and clear.
If you can’t hold a picture of your vision in your mind, it won’t inspire anyone. We’re only moved to take action when the outcome feels attainable.
Being able to picture your brand vision doesn’t mean it should be easy to achieve. What’s tricky about using Microsoft as an example is that we now live in Bill Gates’s vision, and many of us were born into it. So, it feels inevitable and obvious. It’s hard to understate how ambitious and crazy he sounded in the 70’s. A more modern version is Tesla’s vision of a future without oil.
Don’t let the fear of failure limit your vision, it should force you to stretch your idea of what’s possible.
Of course, your vision does have to stay anchored in what your brand tangibly does. If there’s no obvious connection to your brand’s work no one will take it seriously, and it will end up being a vanity project.
It gives clear direction
The purpose of a vision is to give your brand a clear, long-term direction. You need to know what you’re working toward in order to know what actions you take today are the most meaningful. Ideally, a brand vision aligns everything you do in one direction. It keeps you from spinning your wheels – which leads to wasted time and resources.
It can evolve
While you don’t want to revise your brand vision every week, it should be open to evolving long-term. Microsoft’s founding vision is now our lived reality, so the company has had to evolve in order to keep moving forward.
Today, Microsoft’s vision follows the same democratic values of their original vision but has been updated to create technology that “adapts to each person’s needs” so everyone can “take full advantage of their capabilities.” Their new vision is a world where no one’s potential is hindered because they can’t access the right technology.
Why is a brand vision important?
People don’t trust business, and they definitely don’t trust corporations. Consumers are very slow to trust new brands, and it doesn’t take much to ruin a reputation. In the age of eCommerce, this dynamic is amplified as any one customer’s experience can travel around the world in seconds.
Don’t forget, Millennials and Gen Z now have the most generational spending power, and they’ve grown up with the consequences of economies built on greed. They’re intentionally seeking to do business with brands that aren’t just built for themselves.
An authentic brand vision, along with purpose, mission, and values, are tools that demonstrate to consumers your business doesn’t put profits ahead of people. However, these tools only work when they are also used internally as guardrails to keep you and your team accountable as you grow.
Because with growth comes change (which is not always for the better). Competitors crop up, customer lifestyles and interests evolve, new realities take hold (COVID anyone?). These core tools help you stay focused when it would be easier to forget principles in the name of self-preservation. More broadly, your vision is part of the human side of your brand. At the end of the day, even in eCommerce, every transaction happens between people. With all the hype about metrics, data, and funnels, it’s easy to forget this.
Vision vs Purpose
Once you have a brand vision that defines what you’re trying to achieve, you’re still missing an important detail: why.
Until you can give consumers a compelling reason why this vision is important to you, they’re not going to believe you. When they don’t believe you, they don’t trust you, which means they won’t buy from you.
Brand purpose is the why behind the vision’s what.
One curious detail about Microsoft’s vision to create a world with a computer in every home… they didn’t make computers. They’re a software company and didn’t make PC hardware until the Surface which launched in 2012.
So why is it important for there to be a computer in every home? Because Microsoft knows that information is power. And putting a computer in someone’s hands means they have “information at [their] fingertips.” Microsoft’s purpose is to democratize the access to information.
Vision vs Mission
Vision gives you the what. Purpose gives you the why.
Mission gives you the how.
If Microsoft is our to democratize the access to information… how do they plan on doing that?
Well, according to them: “We consider our mission statement a commitment to our customers. We deliver on that commitment by striving to create technology that is accessible to everyone-of all ages and abilities. Microsoft is one of the industry leaders in accessibility innovation and in building products that are safer and easier to use.”
Mission statements are focused in the present, and deal with the brand’s real-world capabilities. A mission details the actions a brand takes every day in service of reaching its vision.
Microsoft’s vision of a computer in every home requires radical accessibility, not just in terms of the technology being affordable (and desk-sized), but in terms of the interface with the hardware as well. As a software company, this is what Microsoft could focus on, and making easy, accessible software is still a guiding mission they have today.
Want to know a bit more about brand mission, head over to [THIS POST].
Hey, where are brand values? We took a super deep dive into values and created the ultimate brand values guide, which can be found here.
Brand vision examples
It won’t surprise you that Amazon’s brand vision is pretty grand:
“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
Now, they’re cheating slightly here. Technically, both their vision and mission statement have been combined into one entity. Their vision, specifically, is “to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” This is their vision to be the “Everything Store.”
Their commitment to being “earth’s most customer-centric company” could easily qualify as a mission because it’s guidance they can apply every day. And it’s certainly not wrong to develop a statement that combine what, why, and how – but it’s a habit that does contribute to the conflation of the terms vision, purpose, mission, and values.
At first glance, their vision to be the central hub of online shopping may sound selfish (and certainly they often act that way – ask any 3rd party seller on the platform), but it is essentially a customer benefit. They’re out to make online shopping with them so easy their customers don’t have to think twice about where to go. It’s similar to Microsoft’s “a computer in every home” vision, but Amazon’s is “the site for every purchase.”
Walmart’s purpose is well known, they used it for many years as a tagline: “to save people money so they can live better.” For them, the “why” is that when people save money, they have more resources to increase the quality of their life.
What are they out to do? Their vision is “to be the best retailer in the hearts and minds of consumers and employees.” Again, this might sound a bit self-serving, but let’s take a closer look under the hood, because every brand element works together to create meaning.
Retailers exist to meet the needs of their customers. Likewise, a happy employee means the retailer is creating enough wealth that the employees needs (both financial and emotional) are also being met. The vision to be the best retailer to consumers and employees is really a vision for a healthy community. It’s an attitude you can see in every detail, right down to the door-greeters.
Disney has come a long way since 1923. Today it’s one of the largest entertainment corporations on the planet, and while it’s easy to Google their corporate vision statement, it sucks:
“To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.”
Well color me shocked, they want to rule the world. At this point, Disney is Disney, so a lackluster vision statement isn’t going to hold them back the way it might for a startup, but I think it’s worth pointing out that they seem to have lost something in their growth.
Walt Disney once said: “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” So, I think it’s more useful to reach back to 1923 and look at Walt Disney’s vision for Disneyland, which comes much closer to his vision for the brand itself:
“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
Walt’s vision wasn’t corporate world-domination, it was to create a space in the world where “imagination has no age and dreams are forever.” When you think of the “magic” of Disney, this is the vision people connect with, not a portfolio of franchises.
It’s a lesson in finding a vision that will help push you out of bed in the morning, versus one that will motivate you to try and overturn Supreme Court cases for the benefit of your bottom line. I think it speaks to the clarity of Walt Disney’s vision that it can still be felt decades later, even though the brand has been corporatized.
Disney’s mission, though, is still wonderful: “The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to entertain, inform, and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling.”
Starbucks describes themselves as “performance driven, through the lens of humanity.” And their vision reflects this principle.
Starbucks’s vision is “a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.” This is something they strive to do every day in their stores.
They’re pushed along by their mission (which is really a combination of purpose and mission): “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”
There’s a commitment to the grassroots here. On the meta-level, vision, purpose, mission, and values are all an effort to keep you anchored to the human element of business. Starbucks has taken this to heart. Of course, it doesn’t make them infallible. As brands grow, they take on more complexity, and more complexity means the likelihood of something going wrong goes up exponentially. But having a clear, core identity is what makes sure you get back on track quickly. It’s also what builds up your brand equity, so when something does go sideways on you, your customer base is a lot more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt and the chance to make it right.
The vision statement process
Something all of these examples have in common? You can do better than a lot of them. Go beyond just wanting to be the “best” in your industry, create a vision that will leave a legacy and change how we think.
Ready to get started?
Step 1. Know What You Do.
A vision starts with what you do every day. If you’re vision is going to connect with people, it has to be rooted in reality. So, in 1-2 sentences, write down what your brand sells, the promise you make to customers, and the benefits your brand offers.
If you’re in a particularly competitive category, write down what makes your brand unique, what you offer that no one else can.
Step 2. Quantify It.
Once you have a handle on the basics, decide who those benefits are for. The people in your local community? Your global community of customers? Everyone?
Answer this question: who do you serve?
Step 3. Daydream.
Seriously. Take what you just wrote down and run with it. Think about what your business does, and what reaching more people could help you achieve, but not just personally. What would a world that loved your brand look like?
As you do this, though, focus on “output” rather than the “input.” As in, think about the benefit your brand offers customers, not just about what more profits would look like.
Step 4. Pour Concrete on It.
You need to be able to visualize your vision. So use concrete words and images. Make sure your vision paints a picture of the future, so include real-life details (like Microsoft’s reference to “every desk”).
Step 5. Draft Your Statement.
Here’s a template you can use to organize your thoughts:
[YOUR BRAND] believes that by doing [WHAT YOUR BRAND DOES] and [WHAT YOUR BRAND OFFERS], our efforts will lead to [OUTCOME] for [AUDIENCE], which will create [BENEFIT].
Ultimately, though, you’ll want to work on rewording this draft into a phrase that you can own, one that inspires you. But this template will get you started. And don’t forget, this vision may evolve over time, so feel free to revise it when something changes. The idea is to give your brand direction and get going. You can refine as you move.
One Last Word…
Part of the reason why purpose, vision, mission, values are used interchangeably is because they’re interdependent. The core of your brand is made up of all 4 of these elements, which is why it can be challenging to find brand that post all 4 separately on their About Page when you search for it online.
Separating each of these tools is useful to get the initial clarity on the direction of your brand, however. And tools are only as good as the hands that use them. If you don’t understand what job to give which tool, you’ll struggle to build anything with structural integrity.