Learn what a mission statement is, why you need one and how to write the perfect mission statement for your business.
- Mission statements summarize the primary goals, purposes and values of an organization. It succinctly answers the question, "Why does the organization exist?"
- Without a mission statement, potential customers and the public may not understand or appreciate what your small business stands for, or even what its primary services or products are. Thus, your customers will struggle to understand what differentiates your company from your competitors.
- Mission statements are not solely meant to define the purpose of the organization. They can be inspiring, too (although not all are).
- This article is for small business owners and organizational leaders who want to learn how to create a mission statement for their brand.
Developing a mission statement is a lengthy process that involves the input of many team members who fully understand the business, its employees, customers, products or services, and industry.
Once it's completed, your organization can share its mission statement so that consumers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders know exactly what your organization does (or does not do), what it values, and why it exists.
What a mission statement is, and why companies need one
A mission statement is a declaration of what your company does and why it exists. This message is designed for both internal and external audiences, and it should ignite interest in the organization and its brand.
The best mission statements have two primary objectives. First, they educate, by sharing the "what, how and why" the organization does what it does. The second objective, if it is a well-written mission statement, is to inspire. The best mission statements inspire and energize people to learn more about the brand and become supporters.
The more succinct your mission statement can be, the more likely it is to resonate with audiences. A mission statement that is too lengthy and/or difficult to remember falls flat. A good test to see if your mission statement hits the mark is if your employees can recite it.
The first example of an effective mission statement that we'll share is from TED: "Spread ideas." In two short words, TED outlines what it does and why people might be interested in learning more about it.
Other companies take more of a creative approach. LEGO, whose mission statement is, "Inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow," clearly defines what the company does ("inspire and develop") and who its target customers are ("the builders of tomorrow").
In 2009, LEGO's CEO stated, "We make very clear the values we promise everyone we interact with – whether they are colleagues, partners in retail, the wider community or – most important of all, of course – the children we deeply care for." Its mission is woven through the entire organization, which is when mission statements come to life.
When companies do not have well-constructed mission statements (or any mission statement at all), customers, potential customers, and the public are forced to identify for themselves what the company is and why it exists.
Key takeaway: A business needs a thoughtful, succinct mission statement that defines in clear, direct, and brief terminology what the organization does and why it exists.
The differences between mission and vision statements
Not only are mission and vision statements important, they have different objectives.
A vision statement is about what you want to become and how you want to impact people (or society).
Questions that help define what a vision statement will eventually become include the following:
- What are the organization's goals and dreams?
- What will the world look like if we are successful?
- What problem, or problems, is the organization solving for the greater good?
- Who and/or what are we inspiring to change over the long term?
A mission statement is focused on today, while the vision statement is focused on the future. For example, consider Airbnb's mission and vision statements:
- Airbnb's mission statement is "Belong anywhere." Short and to the point, the message conveys that you can stay anywhere in the world ‒ and feel included ‒ when doing business with Airbnb.
- Airbnb's vision statement is "Tapping into the universal human yearning to belong – the desire to feel welcomed, respected, and appreciated for who you are, no matter where you might be." This message taps into a larger picture of what a future could look like when the global community imbues Airbnb's philosophy.
Key takeaway: A mission statement differs from a vision statement in that it speaks to today, while a vision statement speaks to the future.
How to create a mission statement
According to Chris Bart, a retired professor of strategy and governance at McMaster University, a well-written mission statement has three essential components:
- The key market the business is in. Who is your target audience? What industry does the business serve?
The contribution being made, or the "what" of the business. What product or service does your business offer? How does it better humanity or society?
- Distinctions between your solution and competing ones. What makes the product or service unique? Why the audience should buy yours over the competition?
While incorporating the above three components, ask yourself and your team probing questions to understand whom your business serves, what your organization does and how it does it. These questions include:
- Why do we exist?
- What do we do?
- How do we use our products (or services) to achieve our goals?
- Who do we serve?
- How do we serve them?
- What do we do better than anyone else?
- What differentiates us from our competitors?
- How do our customers describe us?
Creating an accurate, inspiring mission statement isn't purely a philosophical exercise. It has to be practical, too. In other words, a mission statement must be sensible to those who read it, whether they know about your organization or not.
Keep these four tips in mind as you define your organizational mission:
- Make the connection to your business obvious. People who aren't familiar with your company but who read your mission statement should come away with a clear, concise understanding of what your organization does and why it exists.
- Be brief, yet informative. Keep the statement under 25 words. If it's longer than this, people are not going to read it, nor will they remember your company.
- Talk to stakeholders. Before you finalize your mission statement, speak to as many stakeholders as you can to see if it makes sense to them. Use employees, board members, long-time customers and trusted vendors as a sounding board.
- Develop a mission for the long term. This may be one of the more challenging aspects of writing a mission statement. Defining who or what your organization is today may be easier than providing predictions. This cannot always be done well. As such, don't be afraid to update your mission as events and your business change.
Key takeaway: As you craft your mission statement, keep it brief, relevant, and accurate both now and for the long term. Seek feedback from stakeholders to ensure the mission statement is clear and that it aligns with the goals and principles of the company.
Examples of effective mission statements
Here are more examples of effective mission statements from well-known brands. These mission statements briefly define the organization, its purpose and its impact on humanity:
- Nike: "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete."
- JetBlue: "To inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground."
- Harley Davidson: "We fulfill dreams of personal freedom."
- Tesla: "To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."
- LinkedIn: "Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce."
- Microsoft (early days): "A computer on every desk and in every home."
- Disney: "Creating happiness through magical experiences."
- Ford: "To make our cars better, our employees happier and our planet a better place to be."
Key takeaway: As you construct your own mission statement, study the mission statements from your favorite brands for inspiration.