As many of us in the marketing and communications world begin to plan for the next year, one of the most important things you can do in your own planning is to understand the differences among vision, mission, and strategy. Once you have that understanding, everything about your marketing and communications will improve dramatically. First, let’s begin with definitions.
Your mission as a company or brand is the thing that you are fighting for or fighting against. It’s the reason you get out of bed every morning. Your mission doesn’t have to be some arcane concept; it may be something as simple as “Serve better coffee to the world” or “We are the airline that doesn’t abuse its customers” or even “We are the only cable company with no hidden fees”.
Your vision is the corollary to your mission: it’s what the world looks like when you’re done changing it. If your mission is to serve better coffee to the world, you might change the coffee industry as a whole to serve better coffee. If your mission is to be the airline that doesn’t abuse its customers, perhaps you become so popular that other airlines are forced to change their practices just to stay in business. If your mission is to be the cable company with no hidden fees, maybe you put other competitors out of business entirely.
Your values provide the guard rails, the rules by which you will or won’t accomplish your mission and achieve your vision. What will or won’t you do to reach your goals?
Once you understand your mission (why you’re doing something), your vision (the results), and what’s fair game vs. off limits (values), formulating your strategy should become clear. Strategy can be defined as an equation: goals + methods = strategy. You know what your purpose is and you know what the outcome should look like, so now you have to pick what methods you’re going to use to reach those goals and how you’ll measure your progress to them.
Here’s the challenge you’ll face as a communicator: most often, companies have none of this defined clearly. Corporate mission statements are often a mishmash of jargon and meaningless filler, such as “Innovate to leverage key synergies to improve shareholder value”. That’s not a mission that will inspire anyone to get out of bed. It’s not something worth fighting for. Without a clear mission, a clear vision is impossible. Without a clear vision of the goal, strategy is impossible. Once strategy becomes impossible, you’re left with throwing random tactics against the wall to see what sticks without any sense of where you’re supposed to be going. Without values, you’ll try anything, including things that will be counterproductive and demotivating.
Having that clear mission, vision, values, and strategy also informs your public relations work. If your mission is unclear, then finding a story angle to share with the media becomes exponentially more difficult. If your vision is unclear, then understanding how to leverage public relations and other marketing communications tools becomes more difficult because you don’t know what goal you’re trying to achieve. No reporter or influencer wants to write about or talk about something that’s uninspiring. No publisher wants to lend space or air time to a product, service, or idea that’s boring or unclear.
How do you achieve this kind of clarity? One exercise that SHIFTers often do with clients is to ask them to summarize their corporate mission in a single tweet, in 140 characters.
Forced brevity tends to help create clarity, because you can’t stuff a corporate mission statement filled with jargon and meaningless words into 140 characters. Forced brevity can help to distill out what your company’s true mission and vision are.
Once you’ve done the forced brevity exercise to clarify your mission, take your single tweet around to your team and ask them if that’s the reason they get out of bed in the morning. If it isn’t, you’ll need to repeat the exercise until your mission matches the reason people are inspired to work for you.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology