Building an awesome brand part one: mission statement

April 4, 2018
5 minutes read

If you want your business to succeed in the long term, you need to build a strong brand and protect it at all costs. I’m going to help you get started on building a brand you can be proud of in April’s #goals series.

Over the month, we’ll cover four major aspects of brand-building:

  1. Mission statement
  2. Brand positioning
  3. Visual identity
  4. Brand story

This week, let’s dig into the first item on the list—the mission statement. I’ll walk you through examples of some famous companies’ mission statements, and we’ll do an exercise at the end to help you build your own.

The foundation of a great brand

When marketers use the word “brand”, we’re talking about a bunch of puzzle pieces that come together to paint a picture of your company. Pieces like your logo, tone, manner, voice, colors, customer loyalty, reputation—the list goes on.

Many people dive right in and create their visual identity (logo, colors, imagery) first, but we’re saving that for part 3. In parts 1 and 2, we’re going to help you clearly define what your company stands for, how it’s different, and the value it brings to the world. This is crucial to making sure your brand is grounded in truth and substance.

Remember when your Mom said, “You have to love yourself before anyone can love you”? Well, that’s what we’re talking about here. You need to build a message that your team, your customers, and the public can rally around. Then you can tackle how to best represent that core idea visually and through your brand’s story.

A good mission captures your passion

So, what does a strong mission statement look like? A good place to start is by articulating your passion.

Here’s an example from Patagonia:

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Implicit in Patagonia’s statement are clear boundaries that tell us not only what the company is, but also what it isn’t. It tells us something about the world around us and Patagonia’s relationship to it. It takes a stand.

That’s a key point to consider. People are passionate. We have things that we believe in. We operate from a sense of right and wrong. If you can connect with your customers on a shared belief (like ethical, sustainable clothing in the case of Patagonia), that goes a long way toward building brand loyalty.

A good mission makes your customers feel something

Another way to connect with your customers is to make them feel, and you can use your mission statement as a starting point.

Take this one from the children’s toy company, Build-a-Bear:

“Our mission is to bring the Teddy Bear to life. An American icon, the Teddy Bear brings to mind warm thoughts about our childhood, about friendship, about trust and comfort, and also about love.”

Now compare that with this one from United Airlines:

“We are committed to providing a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader in the airline industry.”

The second one is a pretty typical mission statement—it’s clear, concise and somewhat aspirational (“a leader in the airline industry”). But it probably doesn’t hit you on an emotional level the way Build-a-Bear’s does.

The real genius of Build-a-Bear’s mission statement is that it recognizes both the customer (parents) and the end user (kids). They’ve capitalized ‘Teddy Bear’ to humanize their product the way they know their pint-sized users will. At the same time, Build-a-Bear instantly makes parents feel a sense of warmth and nostalgia, so they’ll want to share something precious from the past with their own children. This is a great example of a mission statement that has legs beyond the employee handbook.

A good mission captures your difference

Another thing to consider when you’re creating a mission statement is to focus on what makes you different from your competitors. The women’s clothing company Life is Good does this well:

“Spreading the power of optimism. Life is not perfect. Life is not easy. Life is good.”

Everyone needs clothes, but not everyone connects with messages about glossy perfection, so Life is Good has an opportunity to stand out by highlighting its different approach to clothing in its mission statement.

Even though some companies consider a mission statement be “internal only” (i.e. not for customers to see), it’s so important to capture your company’s unique place in the market. The mission statement should act as the basis for how you market the company in advertising, and how employees talk about the company when they meet people at events.

A good mission is bold

When you’re building a mission statement, it’s important to be as bold and aspirational as you can be within the realm of reason.

Take Amazon, for example.

“To be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.”

That’s pretty fitting for a company that has completely changed the retail model across the world, and consumer behaviour along with it. That being said, you don’t have to be changing the world to build a bold mission statement.

Chanel, for example, has a mission to remain a constant influence on how people think about and consume fashion:

“To be the Ultimate House of Luxury, defining style and creating desire, now and forever.”

From the little black dress to women wearing pants to the Breton top, Chanel has made a lasting impression on style since the 1920s, and probably always will. While other fashion houses rise and fall, Chanel always stays true to its mission to be the epitome of taste and luxury.

Here are a few other companies with aspirational mission statements:

Headspace: “Headspace has one mission: to improve the health and happiness of the world.”

Microsoft: “Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Toyota: “Toyota will lead the way to the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of moving people.”

Twitter: “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.”

A good mission tells a story

Sometimes the way you craft your mission statement can be as powerful as what you say. There is a standard formula that a lot of companies follow when they craft a mission statement, and one way to stand out is to tell a story about your mission instead of building a traditional mission statement.

This can work especially well if your company is unique in terms of the product or service it offers, or its culture. You’ll want your brand to reflect that uniqueness, so why not start with your mission statement?

Airbnb uses storytelling to craft a narrative of how people should think about it:

“For so long, people thought Airbnb was about renting houses. But really, we’re about home. You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere. That is the idea at the core of our company: belonging.”

As you can see, Airbnb doesn’t expressly state what the company does, or its goal. Instead, it paints a picture for you to illustrate its uniqueness in the market.

Warby Parker also ignores the typical one sentence formula and goes for a longer storyline:

“Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.

We started Warby Parker to create an alternative.

By circumventing traditional channels, designing glasses in-house, and engaging with customers directly, we’re able to provide higher-quality, better-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the going price.

We believe that buying glasses should be easy and fun. It should leave you happy and good-looking, with money in your pocket.

We also believe everyone has a right to see.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes brevity can have just as much power, as is the case with Casper.

“Great sleep, made simple.”

How to build your best mission statement

First off, don’t expect it to be perfect right off the bat. The key is to keep working at it until it feels right. Here are four steps to follow that will help you get there, but you’ll need to spend time thinking and reworking at each stage.

Let’s use a fictional yoga studio (we’ll call it Yogify) as an example you can follow.

Step 1: Answer five questions

First you need some building blocks for your mission statement. There are five questions you can answer to help create those building blocks.

Here’s how Yogify might answer the five questions:

What does your company do?
Yogify offers in-studio and online yoga classes in a variety of levels and styles.

Why do you do it?
We believe yoga can play a key role in people’s overall health and well-being.

Who do you do it for?
We offer classes for people of all ages, abilities, and levels.

What’s unique or different about what you do?
Yogify records and streams many of its classes online at a lower price point, so people who can’t afford or easily access our studios can still benefit from our classes.

How does this help your customer?
Yogify helps people enjoy the health benefits of yoga, becoming healthier, fitter, and more relaxed.

Step 2: Write your first draft

Now you have the building blocks you’ll need to start the first draft of your mission statement. Here’s a handy formula to put it all together.

[Your company name] helps [your customer] to [benefit of your business] by [your company’s goal or vision].

Let’s try the example for Yogify:

Yogify brings the health benefits of yoga to everyone by making it affordable and accessible.

Step 3: Add personality

Great, we’ve managed to distill what Yogify does, its target customer, what makes it unique, and how customers benefit into one sentence. But what do you notice when you compare it to some of the examples above?

It’s wordy, and it lacks passion. So let’s take another stab at it and see if we can make it more readable and human.

At Yogify, we believe that everyone deserves yoga. We’re making it possible for every person to become healthier, fitter and more relaxed through the power of yoga.

See the difference? In the second example, we still hit on all the key elements in the first, but now you can get a feel for the kind of company Yogify is. It’s built on a lofty goal—health and fitness for every person. That’s something people can connect to and be inspired by.

Step 4: Take it to the next level

Now that you’ve got your mission statement in a good place, take some time to think of ways to strengthen. Can you be bolder with your statements? Do you want to break away from the formula and tell a story? Or maybe distill your message down to a short, powerful phrase?

However you choose to approach it, take your time and make sure it feels right for you. Put it in front of friends, family, and customers. Make sure you’re building a strong foundation for your brand.

What to do with your mission statement

Some companies keep their mission statements internal, while others choose to make it public. If you’ve built something you feel your customers will be able to connect to on a deeper level, consider publishing it on your website, painting it on the wall in your office, and weaving it into the story you tell about the company when you talk to the media, potential investors, or new clients.

A well-crafted mission is powerful because it can help you build a narrative about the value your company brings to the world. People want to be a part of an exciting brand story—they’ll want to buy your products, tell others about your company, and join your team.

Keep following this #goals series—part two will help you differentiate your brand from your competitors with solid brand positioning that you can use in your marketing materials and advertising.

By Kristin Knapp

The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.

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