I am often asked what the relationship is between a company’s mission statement and its brand. My answer is simple: There usually isn’t one. The reason is that most mission statements fail miserably to address the most basic task of branding which is to differentiate. Oh sure, a typical statement will say words to the effect of “we will strive to be the best at what we do,” and because mission statements are inwardly directed, there might be a statement related to how the company values and protects its employees. But if a mission statement is supposed to chart a course for a company (as a good brand strategy does), then far too many firms are sailing in exactly the same direction.
Exhibit A: This is FedEx’s current mission statement from their website:
FedEx Corporation will produce superior financial returns for its shareowners by providing high value-added logistics, transportation and related information services through focused operating companies. Customer requirements will be met in the highest quality manner appropriate to each market segment served. FedEx Corporation will strive to develop mutually rewarding relationships with its employees, partners and suppliers. Safety will be the first consideration in all operations. Corporate activities will be conducted to the highest ethical and professional standards.
76 words and they haven’t really said what they do. Substitute “UPS” for “FedEx” and would it still make sense? Unfortunately, yes. Here is the UPS mission statement, slightly edited to save us all a little time:
“As the world’s largest package delivery company and a leading global provider of specialized transportation and logistics services, UPS continues to develop the frontiers of logistics, supply chain management, and e-Commerce … combining the flows of goods, information, and funds.“
Except for “world’s largest,” which is the only differentiating element, is there any substantial difference between these two? Not really, and that is the problem with most mission statements: They mean well, but they don’t mean anything to you or me.
But some do. And generally they do so simply, elegantly and with a refreshing lack of predictable superlatives and empty abstractions.
Exhibit B: this is Disney’s mission statement:
To make people happy.
Notice that they didn’t say “create the utmost in satisfaction for our customers,” or “be the world’s leading provider of family entertainment experiences.” It’s a huge statement because of its simplicity. It ties directly into the Disney brand, which is ultimately about making their customers feel like good parents for taking their kids to Disney theme park, a Disney movie, or a Disney ice show. The kids are happy. The parents are happy. (And probably a fair chunk of change poorer.) But wait, you say, couldn’t any company make that their mission statement? The answer is, “Yes, they could.” But the reality is they wouldn’t dare. And that’s why Disney can own the idea for their brand and for the way they manage their far-flung operations. It’s as simple as making people happy. Disney employees can ask themselves a simple question: “How am I making people happy?”
Another good example of a mission-to-brand connection is 3M, whose statement is almost as simple as their name.
To solve unsolved problems innovatively.
3M has certainly done this, haven’t they? Brands like Scotch Tape, Scotchgard, Scotch Print, Scotch-Brite, Post-It, FiltreteTM Filters, VikuitiTM optical films, and CommandTM mounting products lead their industries and set new standards for product performance, and in some cases, created new categories of products that didn’t exist before. 3M has consistently shown that once problems are solved, they move on by divesting themselves of successful businesses and stay focused on solving the next batch of unsolved problems. 3M’s brand is about innovation and their mission statement reflects that literally and without obfuscation.
As an unwavering advocate for the principle that simpler is better for branding, it seems to me the same concept should work for mission statements as well. Ironically, FedEx once had just such a statement. Their original mission statement was: Get it there overnight. Now that’s an understandable mission. They did it and created an entirely new category of service that changed the way companies did business. (A favorite story is that FedEx has noticed companies in large cities using their service to send a package from one floor to another in the same building. Now that’s reliability.) I understand that Get it there overnight may not be a broad enough mission for the far more diverse services of FedEx today, but Get it there on time probably would be.
A simple way to look at mission statements is this: If you can switch your name with that of another company in your industry and still have it make sense, it’s probably not a very compelling mission statement. But if you can sum it up in one sentence that anyone can remember and your employees can act on, it probably is.