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Why your business needs a mission statement

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However, have you considered setting down in black-and-white a clear mission statement on what your business is about? – something brief and snappy that summarises who you are, and why customers should consider buying from you?

Every large company has a mission statement. You can see details of Fortune 500 companies and their mission statements on this website. The influential business writer and lecturer, Dr Diane Hamilton, also lists her Top 10 online mission statements.

But well-crafted mission statements shouldn’t just be the preserve of the big boys. In essence, it’s a succinct and clear statement about your company – and the big idea that underpins it. 

Writing a compelling mission statement is more than scribbling down a few sentences. It’s about thinking through why you’re in business, what you offer customers, and why you’re different or better than everyone else.

In a sense, a good mission statement encapsulates your business plan, and going through the creative process can be as beneficial as the finished mission statement.
However, mission statements should not be a procession of dull and meaningless words, joined together by phrases that we’ve all heard a million times before.   

The clothing firm Joe Boxer makes wacky a part of its mission statement:  “…Because everyone wants to have fun everyday, Joe Boxer will continue to offer something for everyone with fun always in mind.”

Of course, if you’re a law or accountancy firm, you might reasonably not consider fun to be part of your mission statement. But beware of using words such as “professional” or “expert.” Clients expect you to be professional and expert – otherwise you wouldn’t be in business.

In other words, a good mission statement shouldn’t be a statement of the blindingly obvious, or trite words that could equally apply to any other company in your sector. For example, Dell’s mission statement is “to be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in markets we serve.” Really?   

Equally, mission statements should reflect reality, and illuminate how staff should behave. Enron’s snappy mission statement was “Respect. Integrity. Communication and Excellence.” Okay, a bit vague, – and a pity that Enron was also in the business of ripping off pension funds and ruining livelihoods.

Nike’s mission statement is also rather good: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”  A co-founder of Nike made the point that if you have a body, you’re an athlete.

Starbucks goes for cute: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.” Nice also that the company paid UK corporation tax this year for the first time since 2009.

Some good examples are:

Google: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Jaguar: “To create and build beautiful fast cars that bring the enjoyment and exhilaration of driving to life.”

Amazon: “To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”  A recent UK TV documentary called into question some of its labour practices.

Perhaps the last word should lie with Sir Richard Branson, who suggests that a mission statement should follow the Twitter format – no more than 140 characters.

He follows his own advice. The Virgin Group’s mission statement is to the point: “Be different by being better.” Enough said.

Charlie Laidlaw is a director of David Gray PR and a partner in Laidlaw Westmacott.

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