The importance of carving out your purpose in a competitive landscape
When I was younger, I read Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start. In his book, Guy repeated his frequent criticism of corporate mission statements with a takeaway phrase that I would repeat for many years: that “nobody cares what your mission statement is.” After twenty years in marketing, I realize how mistaken I was. The problem isn’t with mission statements, but in the disconnect from an organization’s mission statement and their actual mission. This disconnect often came from the way in which mission statements were created.
Many mission statements are not created by organizations themselves, but are instead either copied from another organization or are constructed over multiple-day planning sessions with expensive business consultants. I’ve sat in sessions in which the group has spent an excruciating amount of time to choose just the right words and through a battle of wills and numerous concessions arrived at what amounts to a ‘compromise’ mission. If the mission isn’t created by and agreed upon by those who will lead the organization, how can we expect it to survive contact with the day to day operations?
The point of a mission statement is to provide purpose. The mission statement should guide the day-to-day operations and decision-making of an organization. Decisions become a lot easier when you can recall your mission statement. Even developing KPI’s becomes easier when you can tie them back to your mission. Key performance indicators that help measure the success or failure of a mission statement allow people to see how performance and mission fit together.
Deconstructing the Mission Statement
The mission is composed of three parts and it is these parts that lay the foundation for future decisions. These parts include:
• What do we do?
• How do we do it?
• For whom do we do it?
What do we do? The answer to this question should address the real needs that are fulfilled when your customers buy your products or services, not just what you physically deliver. Consider all the emotional, logical and emotional factors that are in play when customers are making the purchase decision.
How do we do it? This question is about the more technical elements of your business, and therefore your answer should relate to the physical product or service, how it is sold or delivered to your customers, and how it satisfies the customer’s needs.
For whom do we do it? Defining your target by answering this question will be integral to helping you focus your marketing efforts. Many businesses start out with the wrong idea that everyone is a potential customer or client, but this simply isn’t true. In the beginning, it’s important to flesh out the demographic characteristics of your target customers and then define the geographic area where your business may have an opportunity to gain visibility.
Having a mission that is both clearly stated and can be used to measure the performance of your organization can be the difference between success and failure. You may find that even a very successful startup mission statement will change over time, needing to be revised and adapted to changes in your business, your target customers or even different geographical places as your business grows.