Ask yourself honestly – and without looking – can you remember your company’s mission statement? I’m going to guess you can’t.
I ask this question when I’m presenting at conferences: who works for a company with a mission statement and about 70% of the hands go up. When I ask who can remember what it is, 70% of the hands go down. When I ask the remaining people if they really know it and would like to come up and read it out without any notes most hands go down.
But the criticism in this example isn’t aimed at those in the room who can’t remember it, or people like you, reading this post, who can’t quite recall a mission statement. It’s aimed at the people who write them.
Death by Management Speak
The humble mission statement may well be one of the most derided pieces of business information.
I’ve lost many a lunch break while someone from the senior management team explains our new mission statement. They proudly announce that after a three day retreat in an expensive hotel, we have a new mission statement that will change our world. And then share something that reads like the it was written by the bastard love child of David Brent and Alan Partridge.
I’ve been on the retreats where we spent nearly a whole day arguing over the words “global” or “international”. And discussing if we needed to put more words in to the mission statement because of the amount of time we spent away from the office?
And, sadly, I’ve been the bore ruining people’s lunch breaks explaining why some lengthy paragraph will change their world, when all the team cared about was when can we get real milk back in the fridge.
I love this Marketoonist picture because it sums up all the reasons why people, including me, hate mission statements. Long, waffley, vague, clichéd and rubbish. It’s no wonder people hate them.
Making Mission Statements Great Again
But, despite the many faults of many mission statements, I should say I love them. Not all of them, however, just good ones.
My go-to guy on mission statements is Ben Drury, also known as The Culture Guy. Ben is a passionate advocate of getting the whole team to buy into a goal. This isn’t just because it’s nice to do, but because it improves performance, employee happiness and creates an environment where great things can happen.
I often refer to TED’s mission statement of ideas worth sharing as a prime example of something that captures what a company does perfectly. But my last chat with Ben, he told me about the Ritz-Carlton hotel group, who have the mission statement we are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.
I. Just. Love. It.
What struck me about this, as someone who has only ever bought a coffee from the Ritz-Carlton group, is how accurately it summoned up the experience. It doesn’t mention being the number 1 in the world or sleeping in comfort or hotels that feel like home, but it does capture everything about them.
Why? Because having that core statement that nearly sums up what you do is one of the best ways of ensuring your organisation flourishes.
It’s no secret that the arts sector was hammered for funding when the recession hit. Staff numbers are lean, budgets tight and debates about where it should be spent are heated. So having a guiding statement that helps shape all those decisions is a key operational priority.
Another speaker, sadly I didn’t catch her name when she asked a question from the audience, spoke about how long their organisation spent defining and refining their mission statement. It was almost a year.
Not because they loved meetings and wasting time, but because they were pivoting from a festival into a society and clarifying what they do as an organisation was the most important thing they had to do.
Value Based Marketing
Listening to business leaders talk about the importance of a mission statement can make many marketers think mission statements aren’t for them.
Yeah we have a mission statement, but I don’t know what it is
Mission statements are an operations thing. HR look after that.
The board worry about mission statements, my job is to do the marketing.
These aren’t direct quotes from anyone, but I have paraphrased things I’ve heard over the last few years. And I’d say all of them are incorrect. Understanding what your company does and how it does it, sits right at the heart of marketing.
Listening to Moira Sinclair, CEO of @phf_uk talk about core purpose and focusing on customers is music to our ears. It’s the ❤️ of marketing pic.twitter.com/FmIBeR0GUs
I mean, if you can’t boil what you do down to a sentence or two, how can you get your message out via Twitter in 280 characters?
How can you align your promotional work to what the company is trying to achieve, if you can’t remember the mission statement? After all, the clue in the name…
If you’re not following the mission statement, you’re making a promise in your promotional work that the company might not be able to deliver on. And that broken promise is at the heart of almost every bad review you’ll ever receive. That broken promise is what stops a first time buyer becoming a long term customer. That broken promise is what starts loyal customers looking elsewhere for someone to solve their problems.
I call this value-based marketing. It’s about positioning marketing at the centre of the organisation, so you can take everything that’s good about what you do as a company and use that to reach your target market.
It helps to entrench marketing into your company ethos too. No longer can the marketing department be stuck on the side of the company, dragged into meetings only when sales are falling. Practising value based marketing, relentlessly using the mission statement and company values to promote your organisation helps to embed marketing at the heart of the organisation as the brand guardian… and that’s not just the person who complains that the logo is the wrong size or used too close to edge of the print.
Marketing will add more value if it’s at the centre of the organisation, influencing the mission and values, and working hard to spread that message internally as well as externally. Have a look at these images below from GSMA – a place where the marketing department work closely with other teams to make sure the culture isn’t just words on a page in a welcome pack.
Value based marketing makes your life easier too. What content are we going to create to promote the company? Easy – anything that relates to the mission statement! And that helps to keep your messaging consistent too, because you’re always testing it against the mission statement: does this ad capture what we’re about?
As an example of this, my old agency The Tomorrow Lab, had a mission statement that read “connecting businesses to customers online”. I once set a work experience kid a task of finding stories to populate our Twitter feed with.
She asked what sort of story I was after and I told her that if she thought it was relevant to connecting a business to their customers using online channels, that was fine. The briefing took less than 10 seconds and we used about 90% of what she found. Ask yourself if you could brief an outsider to find content for your social media in less than 10 seconds.
No? Thought so.
It wasn’t always thus at The Tomorrow Lab. Or, as we’ve already established, in my head.
I must give praise to a few people for shaping my thinking on this. Firstly, there’s Richard McMullan. As a consultant, Richard helped us kick around our mission statement at The Tomorrow Lab from one that looked like the Marketoonist to the slick line above.
I’m sure he still has nightmares about the hours we spent on it…
Nial Toner was also part of that process and his straightforward thinking also shaped some of my views. We spent an awfully long time debating the word “customer” v “consumer” and Nial’s views on that would be worth publishing if it wasn’t for the fear of my mum reading this.
And finally, I should mention Ben Drury, again. Ben is the person I call when I’m stuck on mission statements or when I need a new example. Ben spends his days helping companies identify their mission statement, vision and values, and helping them implement a positive, effective work culture. Central to that is making sure the mission statement reflects the company, is known and used across business.
The process that The Culture Guy uses starts in exactly the same place as Eximo Marketing’s. And that’s not a surprise. Getting buy in from your internal customer as just as important as buy in from external customer.
So if having a short, compelling and memorable mission statement is onlyessential for ALL of your customers, your user feedback, your marketing efforts, your existing staff and new staff recruitment, why haven’t you got one?