One of the first steps in building a brand is often one of the hardest: defining the brand mission. This is a strategic brand step that, frankly, can make or break a brand. It involves much more than deciding “who we are” and “what we stand for,” and it certainly demands much more than lofty phrases about brand identity, brand promise and keeping customers happy.
A brand mission is also a far cry from a papered-up “mission statement.” Gaze for a moment at those stalwart fellows in the picture above. Are they reading a mission statement? No, they are on a mission. That’s where your brand belongs.
Most brand missions don’t go far enough
Most brands have a defined “mission.” The problem is that most brand missions don’t go far enough. In broad brush strokes, we can identify three main areas where brand missions often fall short:
- They don’t provide strategic direction to the business
- They’re not primary tools to create customers, and customer value
- They’re framed as corporate communications rather than action steps to drive the company (and its customers) forward
We’ll discuss these elements in the following sections, after we first define the purpose of the brand mission itself.
The purpose of the brand mission: create the customers that will drive the business forward
In general terms, a company’s brand mission is to create the customers that will drive the business forward. Yes, the brand mission is all about creating customers. Defining the brand mission in this context means that the brand team has to set up shop at the core of business. Creating the brand mission involves pulling together a company’s vision, strategic direction, intended product development, and marketing and operations priorities. From these, we then map out the platform strategies for creating brand value and creating customers.
How to approach the brand mission
Defining the brand mission is never an exercise in wordsmithing, although that’s often as far as it gets for many brands. In our approach, here are three new ways to think about the brand mission.
- In the brand mission process, you dial into yourself so that you and your customers can dial out to a bigger and better universe—and then go there.
- Brands are company potential X customer potential. That X right there in the middle is the brand mission. (And that’s why brand builders are essential.)
- The brand mission is a Harley, not a hymnal.
The brand mission pushes the limits of the company
A brand mission should push the limits of the company, because the goal of the brand mission is to take the company (and its customers) into new market spaces where competitors can’t follow. That calls for a strong sense of market direction, opportunity development, value innovation, and customer collaboration.
Effectively, the brand mission combines: company mission + customer mission + business mission. It does so using all the weapons in a company’s strategic, creative, expressive and innovative arsenal.
The brand mission sets the company’s future in motion
Defining the brand mission sets the company’s future in motion. It is casting the die: alea iacta est. In many ways, it’s the defining act of corporate vision, and courage.
Brands need a mission, not a “mission statement”
Companies may be tempted to bypass the brand mission and instead settle for a nice-sounding “mission statement” that’s formally approved then stuck in a drawer. Such brand mission statements can be dangerous, for two reasons. First, they can lull a company into believing that it’s brand mission is solid, when actually it’s vulnerable. Second, making the brand mission a “statement” can reduce the brand to a “paper brand” of words, rather than an active brand of deeds. A paper brand can regress to superficial styling, symbols, slogans and puffed up “personality” attributes. These can give a brand the strategic clout of window dressing, and place it at a competitive disadvantage.
Short and sweet, vital and visceral
The brand mission should be short and sweet, vital and visceral. It’s a way to focus energy, action and innovation within a company, and between a company and its customers.
- A brand mission doesn’t describe; it activates.
- It is direct, never delegated.
- It leads by example.
- It works as a force from within, not doctrine from above.
Employees and customers should see evidence of the brand mission everywhere. And they should feel it. It’s the shared pulse that carries everyone forward.
A framework for action
What the brand mission delivers to customers is more important than what it says in gold-lettered parchment on the wall. Your brand is what you deliver, not what you promise. The brand mission is a framework for action; it is not meant to be framed.
Generally, the less said, the better.