Where your brand purpose defines the problem you will solve through your product, service, and actions, your brand mission defines how you will solve that problem. It’s important to get clear on your brand purpose to begin with, as you can’t determine how to solve a problem without first knowing what that problem is.
Brands usually write their mission as a statement, such as Suntory’s mission to “create harmony between people and nature.” This type of mission statement has the same issue I discussed with the typical purpose statements – it’s poetic when it needs to be practical.
If your mission is supposed to define how you will solve the problem, it needs to outline targets that are actionable, measurable, and directly tied to the unmet needs or wants that you must satisfy. Those who have taken the time to identify these clear and specific targets tend to follow through with massive action.
The most powerful brand missions I’ve ever seen weren’t statements. They were lists.
Setting clear targets
Heal Rewilding defines their mission in three action items: “raise money, buy land, rewild it”. Amazon also breaks down their mission statement into three action items: “selection, price, convenience”, or more specifically, the widest selection, lowest prices, and fastest shipping.
Each of these action items directly relates to the problem being solved, meaning time, energy, and resources are focused on things that will make the most difference. They can all be measured, meaning progress towards purpose fulfilment can be tracked. And most importantly, they’re all actionable, meaning it’s crystal clear what must be done. Together, these action items form the solution that will ultimately fulfil the brand’s purpose.
Everything is connected
It should now be clear how purpose feeds into your mission, and your mission feeds back into your purpose. Being thorough and precise in the creation of both will set you up for success. A written purpose and mission will only be made useful by design, not by chance, and this is why many brands will tell the world what they wrote whilst never looking at it themselves. Like a luxury car with no engine, it looks good, but don’t expect it to get you anywhere.
Most people believe simplicity is what drives action. It doesn’t. Detail articulated simply does. People get started on their plans because they’re simple, but lose momentum because they lack detail. If you don’t want to be caught out by this, I encourage you to learn the difference between detail and complexity. It’s the same difference that explains why many brands tend not to follow through on their mission statements, but will often tend to follow through on their lists. I talk specifically about brand strategy, but the concept applies to any type of plan.
Writing your mission
In a typical brand strategy process, your mission is one of the first things you’ll articulate along with your purpose and vision. This makes no sense. After defining your purpose, the logical next step is to identify the unmet needs and wants you must satisfy in order to solve the problem. Your mission is going to be based on the unmet needs and wants of the people or cause you serve, so you want to write out your mission after you’ve identified them.
Once you understand the core things you must focus on to solve the problem, you can distil them into a list of 3-5 concise action items. To make your mission a practical asset to your brand, there are two types of words you need to use. The first is adjectives, which are descriptive and therefore measurable. The second is verbs, which describe things you can do, and are therefore actionable.
Some useful examples are: lowest or highest; most or least; increase or decrease; create or eliminate; or words like Heal Rewilding’s “raise, buy, and rewild”. Remember, these words should reflect the unmet needs and wants of the people or cause you serve. If people demand low, you aim to go lowest. If there’s a need for more, you aim to give the most.
Success is never just about solving the problem, it’s about solving the problem better than anyone else.
Final words of advice
It’s important that your list of action items is only short, otherwise it will be overwhelming and lead to inaction. You are not addressing every single nitty gritty unmet need and want, only those that are absolutely necessary to fulfilling your purpose.
In order to achieve unbeatable customer satisfaction, Amazon needs to have the best selection, prices, and be most convenient. In order to rewild new locations, Heal Rewilding needs to raise money and buy land. They did not say “we will have the most volunteers”. If the problem can be solved without it, it shouldn’t be on the list.
You also don’t want to make your action items so specific that they limit what moves you can make, as this will only be counterproductive to fulfilling your purpose. For example, “buy land” is specific enough to take action, but “buy land in West Yorkshire” would close off many possibilities. Your action items are specific in the sense that they are the key ingredients for solving the problem, but they are otherwise fairly broad. After all, it will be a more thrilling journey if you allow yourself room to imagine.
A practical mission will enable you to develop creative solutions with but a single, highly useful limitation: you can only take action that positively impacts your progress.