There's never been a worse time to publish a mediocre mission statement.
According to a 2022 Google Cloud and Harris Poll study, 82% of consumers prefer buying from brands whose values align with theirs. And three in four respondents reported no longer purchasing from a brand due to conflicting values.
Whether your company serves business or consumer buyers, they want to know what you stand for — and they'll drop or keep you based on what they learn.
Reading your mission statement is how many customers, employees, and investors learn what a company stands for. Even if someone doesn't read your mission statement personally, they'll often learn about your brand positioning from a company representative who has.
Sound intimidating? Don't worry. Writing a mission statement is easier than you might think. It's a simple matter of clearly expressing your business objectives and values — and avoiding the traps other mission statement writers have fallen into.
What Is a Mission Statement?
A mission statement concisely describes an organization's purpose and core company values. It uses concrete language to identify who the company serves and the "why" behind its operations.
A strong mission statement drives company growth in many ways, including:
- Attracting customers with a similar value system
- Inspiring investors
- Helping the creative team maintain brand consistency
- Promising meaningful work for potential employees
The last point is crucial for growth organizations. According to one survey, 56% of workers won't consider an employer if they disagree with its values.
Because mission statements instill a sense of purpose, some professionals call them "purpose statements." A vision statement, however, is something different.
Mission vs. Vision Statement: Know the Difference
People often talk about vision and mission statements interchangeably, but thinking about them that way can steer you in the wrong direction.
The primary difference is time-related. A mission statement explains what the company strives to do in the present, while a vision statement establishes a common goal.
A vision statement expresses high-level business goals for the medium and far future. These are usually the company leaders' most ambitious goals, presented as an ideal overall outcome.
The Corporate Finance Institute's (CFI) statements highlight the difference between mission and vision statements:
- Mission: "To enhance the skills, knowledge, and productivity of finance and banking professionals."
- Vision: "CFI will be an enduring resource for finance and banking professionals."
The mission statement expresses CFI's primary objectives for its work today. Its vision statement creates an image of what will happen if it succeeds.
Elements That Mission Statements Should Contain
An effective mission statement is concise yet descriptive. It touches on all of the following elements:
- Target audience: Who the company intends to serve.
- Unique contribution: What the company brings to the market more effectively than anyone else.
- Motivation: What values underlie key company goals.
- Societal benefits: How accomplishing the mission will help people or the planet.
The challenge is hitting all these touchpoints without wordy or "fluffy" writing. Mission statements should only be one or two sentences long and accessible to the average reader.
In other words, don't write your mission statement solely for industry-savvy investors. Potential employees and customers also want to know why you do what you do. Some will choose to buy from or work for you based on that statement alone.
5 Examples of Bad Mission Statements To Learn From
If you're struggling to write an effective mission statement, you're not alone. Some of the biggest corporations in the world have tried and failed. Learning from their mistakes is one of the best ways to avoid writing a bad statement.
1. Hershey's: An Overly Concise Statement
If you look at almost any list of lousy mission statements, you'll likely find this one:
"Undisputed marketplace leadership."
This famously uninspiring phrase came from the Hershey Company. The chocolate maker's statement was so concise that it failed to express a mission at all.
There's no "why" in this statement. It doesn't express Hershey's reasons for wanting to be a market leader. It also doesn't explain how the world will benefit from that leadership.
Fortunately, the company has since replaced it with a stronger alternative: "Making more moments of goodness." This on-brand phrase implies a benefit and purpose, creating more good in the world.
2. The Home Depot: A Statement Without Personality
The Home Depot doesn't lack brand personality. Even the most casual consumer would describe it as rugged and resourceful. Unfortunately, the company's mission statement doesn't reflect these values.
Home Depot's mission statement is generic, reading as follows:
The Home Depot is in the home improvement business and our goal is to provide the highest level of service, the broadest selection of products and the most competitive prices.
The statement also expresses eight equally generic company values, including "doing the 'right' thing" and "excellent customer service."
If you eliminated the industry and business name from this mission statement, it could describe almost any product-based company. It doesn't express what makes The Home Depot unique.
3. Sony: A Vague Statement That Falls Short
Sony has been innovating in electronics since the 1940s, but you'd never know it from its mission statement's vague language:
"A company that inspires and fulfills your curiosity."
It's not the worst mission statement ever written, but it doesn't encompass Sony's capabilities and promise. Sony has produced some of the world's best-selling headphones, cameras, gaming systems, and more. Plus, it's won awards for corporate ethics and sustainability.
Think how powerful Sony's mission statement would be if it touched on those ideals.
Perhaps Sony could take a cue from its original mission statement. Founder Masaru Ibuka's purpose was to "establish an ideal factory that stresses a spirit of freedom and open-mindedness that will, through technology, contribute to Japanese culture."
Adapt that statement to a global scale, and you have the makings of a top-notch mission statement.
4. Cisco: A Statement With Too General Core Values
Like Sony and The Home Depot, tech giant Cisco doesn't use its mission statement to set itself apart. Cisco's mission statement is:
To shape the future of the internet by creating unprecedented value and opportunity for our customers, employees, investors, and ecosystem partners.
Like Sony's, Cisco's mission statement could describe almost any tech company. It needs to be more specific about what opportunities it creates and why its value is "unprecedented."
5. Dell: A Statement That Fails To Stand Out
In 2016, Dell Technologies acquired cloud infrastructure group EMC Corporation. Before it acquired EMC, Dell had one of the least exciting mission statements in tech:
Dell’s mission is to be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in markets we serve.
Like Hershey's and Sony's mission statements, this one reflects a vague ambition to excel without identifying why the company wants to thrive — or why anyone else would want it to.
Dell's current mission statement is much stronger: "We create technologies that drive human progress."
Bottom Line: What Makes a Well-Crafted Mission Statement?
If you avoid these companies' mistakes, you can create a compelling and inspiring mission statement that is:
- Descriptive, not empty
- Inspiring, not dry
- Specific, not vague
- Unique, not generic
- Clear, not obscure
Remember that someone will probably use your mission statement to create brand attributes — assets and qualities that reflect your brand's values. So, your mission statement should be specific enough for a newly hired content creator to read it and create on-brand material.
Finally, don't worry if you write a few bad mission statements before landing on one that truly resonates. Get feedback, revise, and check in with stakeholders until you have something that reflects your brand's purpose