February 11, 2013

Branding: Your Mission


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First and foremost, a brand must have a mission. In the future, we will touch on the importance of identifying a problem that truly motivates you and resonates with others. Your mission is what your company is doing, why, and for whom. You should be able to articulate this succinctly in the form of an elevator pitch or mission statement (sometimes called a mantra). Your brand mantra is a statement of why you exist. Consider the following examples:

AppleCommitted to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals, and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software, and Internet o‚erings.”

MicrosoftTo enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.”

NikeTo bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. (*if you have a body, you are an athlete)

GoogleTo organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

These sentences distill each company’s intent and purpose into a single statement that represents the core of the brand’s identity. All other facets of branding—personality, assets, and experience—are outgrowths of this statement of purpose.

The company’s products also reect this purpose. Consider Apple’s and Microsoft’s mission statements in the context of their product lines. Apple builds beautiful products and prioritizes a seamless user experience. Microsoft builds exemplary productivity tools used in enterprise companies all over the world.

Knowing your mission helps your company in both an internal and a public-facing capacity. Internally, it serves as a guide for employees to know what they stand for and what they’re working toward. It provides a company with a framework to evaluate strategies and products: to what extent does a specific action or product release advance your mission and align with your core values?

Sean Murphy points out:

There’s a tremendous pressure to cut corners when you’re a startup. Having strong brand principles gives you something to refer back to during development. As the product evolves, you’re going to make decisions with respect to what you understand your brand to be. The software, the service components…it will all be viewed in the context of answering the question “Who are we?”

Publicly, your mission statement is a communication tool that frames your brand in the minds of consumers. You are telling people what you stand for and why you exist. In his book Grow (Crown Business), marketing expert and former Procter & Gamble global marketing officer Jim Stengel advocates that a company should have a brand ideal, a “higher-order benefit it brings to the world” that satisfies a fundamental human value that improves people’s lives. In his own words, people’s lives can be improved by engaging five fundamental human values:

Eliciting Joy

Activating experiences of happiness, wonder, and limitless possibility.

Enabling Connection

Enhancing the ability of people to connect with each other and the world in meaningful ways.

Inspiring Exploration

Helping people explore new horizons and new experiences.

Evoking Pride

Giving people increased confidence, strength, security, and vitality.

Impacting Society

A‚ecting society broadly, including by challenging the status quo and redefining categories.

These ideals elicit emotional responses. Emotional connections lead to deeper relationships with customers. Brand communication skills expert Carmine Gallo has interviewed numerous CEOs about what their brands stand for. He recalls Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, replying with one word: “happiness.” Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group: “fun.”

New founders might be skeptical of the real impact of values and ideals on important metrics, such as sales numbers. While a direct link is difficult to quantify, Stengel cites a study that examined the connection between financial performance and customer engagement and loyalty over a 10-year period. The researchers looked at 50,000 brands and found that in the minds of consumers, the 50 top high-growth brands were linked with an ideal. These 50 companies (called the “Stengel 50”) grew three times as fast as their competitors over the 10-year period. One example of such a company is Pampers:

Pampers’ brand ideal, for example, its true reason for being, is not selling the most disposable diapers in the world. Pampers exists to help mothers care for their babies’ and toddlers’ healthy, happy development. In looking beyond transactions, an ideal opens up endless possibilities, including endless possibilities for growth and profit.

You can’t be all things to all people. A well-defined set of values and authentic messaging will help you attract customers who share your values and vision, and care about what you are trying to do for the world. As a startup, it can also help you find investors and potential employees who are aligned with your mission.

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