The basics of mission, vision and values statements

Jun 22, 2016

The basics of mission, vision and values statements

Jun 22, 2016

What are mission, vision and values statements?

The most fundamental part of marketing is communicating what, how and why a business does what it does. Often, this is described in a statement of some kind, like a vision statement, a mission statement, a list of corporate values, etc.

Understandably, the semantics of all these get confusing. They all sound roughly similar, and there’s not exactly a universally agreed upon definition for any of them. Here’s how we at Braithwaite typically define them:

  • Vision Statement: Your transcendent business purpose. What you stand for. The star on the horizon to be chased. Your enduring, ultimate purpose. It serves as inspiration for your employees and your external audiences.
  • Mission Statement: Your transactional  business purpose. The things you do to achieve your vision. A compass to reach that star on the horizon. Ultimately, it keeps people focused on what will drive business results. It serves as a source of direction.
  • Values: Your fundamental principles of operation. The best behaviors of your best employees on their best days. Daily guides for action along your journey. The fundamental principles by which a business operates.

There are many other devices that companies use, which are essentially the same ideas under different names, like creedos and manifestos. These three tend to be the most common.

Um, still sounds a little confusing. Do I need all of these things?

Well, they can be confusing, and we often see organizations get hung up on the nuance of them. In fact, to keep it simple, we often recommend a merger of the vision and mission statements to create one overarching declaration – a “mizion” statement, if you will. We sometimes call this a purpose statement.

In our experience, a purpose statement and a set of corporate values is something every business should formalize and reference often.

Who are these statements intended for? Who’s the audience?

Common target audiences include employees, the general public, partners, stockholders, clients and customers. Ideally, your statements should resonate with all these audiences.

OK, so why does it benefit my  business to have a vision, mission or purpose statement?

There are innumerable case studies and survey reports on this question, with the essential answer that “mission-driven” companies simply perform better.

For example, Gallup’s research on almost 50,000 business units found that missions positively affect margins, and identified five reasons why: boosting employee loyalty, fostering customer engagement, aligning strategy, bringing decision-making clarity and improving measurement by having a better focus.

In our experience, it all comes back to the narrative people use to guide their work. Having a story you can tell yourself about why you’re at a company, and what you’re doing there, fulfills a fundamental need to have purpose in our lives.

Are other businesses doing this? Do you have any examples of how this is done well?

The companies with the strongest purpose statements are those that have really nailed the “why” – the fundamental reason their company exists. The mission has nothing to do what they do or the products or services they offer, and instead highlight their role in making the world a better place. Here are some of our favorite purpose statements:

  • Apple: We believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.  And that we must challenge the status quo in everything we do.

  • Dove: To build positive self-esteem and inspire all women and girls to reach their full potential.

  • GE: To usher in the digital industrial revolution.

  • Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

  • Wawa: We exist to go beyond filling customer orders, to fulfill the lives of customers and communities every day.

From a values standpoint, the companies leading the charge have distinct values that foster confidence and happiness in the employees and capture their unique culture. The best values are specific and tangible for employees. Here are some more great examples:

  • Build-A-Bear: Reach, Learn, Di-bear-sity, Colla-bear-ate, Give, Cele-bear-ate

  • Wegmans Food Markets: Caring, High Standards, Making a Difference, Respect, and Empowerment

  • Zappos:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More with Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Gotcha, I’m starting to get this now. I think what we really stand for is putting the customer first. Is that a good purpose statement?

Sure, it could be, but you should consider whether that differentiates your business. In our experience, ideas like “put the customer first,” “be creative and innovative,” “be the best at what we do,” are so common that they might result in people tuning them out.

Ideally, we aim to find something unique about the organization and the people there, whether it be a way of thinking, talking or acting, or even just a story that everyone there loves telling.

So how long do they need to be?

In general, the fewer words you can use to communicate your message, the better. The easier it is to remember, the less likely it will be forgotten, and the more likely your audiences will be to keep it mind.

OK, then what’s the typical process for getting this done?

Almost all of this can be done by thinking deeply about your own company. When we assist a business in developing a mission/vision/purpose/etc. statement, our process is to review the corporate history and any other relevant existing documentation, meet with key leaders, and hold interviews with a variety of employees. We also evaluate the competitive landscape in order to make sure these pivotal messages stand out from competitors.

After this collaborative process, we most often have a roll-out campaign, using a fun, interactive all-hands meeting, and distributing materials throughout the organization to get everyone on the same page. All of this is done in a way that’s not imposed in a dictatorial, top-down way. Every area of the organization should feel that they’re a part of the process, so that at the end of the day, everyone’s behind the higher purpose.

Great. Any other resources you’d recommend where we can learn more about this?

Absolutely. “The Mission Statement Book,” by Jeffrey Abrahams, encompasses 101 corporate mission statements from top companies in the United States. Another great resource is this renowned TED Talk by Simon Sinek, in which he explores why certain companies have been able to achieve incredible success, while others have failed. Using these as added resources could be very helpful in starting to think about how to craft great purpose statements.

Still have questions about this or any other marketing topics? Contact us today at

This article was written by Mary Cosmides and Lee Procida. It is part of our B On The Basics series, in which we explain marketing fundamentals using Braithwaite best practices. Read more in this series.

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