Ignore your mission statement?

That seems like a pretty bold statement, doesn’t it? Except that it’s not. After all, there’s a good chance that most of you are already ignoring your mission statement. (If you aren’t, you are in the minority. Congratulations!)

There are many reasons companies ignore their own mission statements. Most mission statements…

  1. Are a compromise of committees, and end up as a cluster of cobbled-together phrases that neither offend nor motivate.
  2. Are true, but are not compelling or differentiating. “We value integrity and honesty” is about as important in a mission statement as “It is our plan to pay our taxes.” Duh!
  3. Are not memorable, because they are too long, too broad and too boring.
  4. Don’t spark the imagination or tell the story of why customers love a company.

See if you can identify these companies by their mission statements:

“We value… Dedication to every client’s success. Innovation that matters– for our company and for the world. Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships.”

“We are a company of diverse brands… We’re well positioned to take people wherever they want to go. Today. Tomorrow. And well into the future.”

“Our mission is to make [our stores] the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and an exceptional guest experience.”

With mission statements like this, can you imagine anyone at these companies actually remembering them or paying attention to them?

Most mission statements are not translated into action. Employees not only don’t remember the mission statement, they are not sure about what they are supposed to do to support it.

Instead of a mission statement, focus on your Brand Essence

At Yastrow & Company, we steer our clients away from the traditional mission statement process. Our preference is to define a Brand Essence, which captures the essence of why customers and employees should care about the company.

What is a Brand Essence? Brand Essence is the shared soul of your company, the underlying “it” that bonds you as a group of people working together and, simultaneously, interests your customers in working with you.

“Why ‘brand?'” you may ask. “Isn’t branding just about marketing?” Your company’s brand is about so much more than traditional advertising-based branding. It is about the clear, compelling, motivating beliefs you want your customers and employees to have about you. You can’t fulfill your mission unless you motivate customers and employees, so I believe it makes perfect sense to replace your mission statement with something more fundamentally related to your brand.

When you define your Brand Essence, you define a focused, tight idea that the entire company can think about in an instant and act on for years. (For a more detailed description, read my newsletter, “Brand Essence.”)

I’ll share an example. AMD Industries creates point-of-purchase retail displays for clients such as Sony, LG and Pella Windows. Although AMD is what most people would call a “manufacturing company,” our interviews with AMD’s clients found that clients’ impressions of AMD go way beyond manufacturing. Clients told us that they look at AMD as a company that helps them beat out the competition and capture market share in the survival-of-the-fittest environment of a retail store.

The Brand Essence we created with AMD is called “We Create Yes,” which describes what AMD really does for its clients: It helps them get consumers to say “Yes” to their products. We Create Yes, as a Brand Essence, recasts AMD from being a manufacturing company to being a marketing company. AMD has used We Create Yes as a guide not only for its marketing and sales efforts, but to guide its business strategy and employee engagement efforts as well.

Another good example of a Brand Essence guiding a company’s true mission is Brook Furniture Rental. When we studied Brook, we couldn’t help but notice that people only become furniture rental customers when there is massive change going on in their lives: A divorce, a flood, a six-month assignment in the San Francisco office, etc. What Brook’s best customers valued was the way Brook took this tough, hassle-filled time and made the process of furniture rental easy and simple.

For this reason, we defined Brook’s Brand Essence as “Simplify Change.” Under the guidance of president Bob Crawford, Jr., Brook has engaged all of its employees in finding ways, throughout its entire business process, to simplify the way Brook does business. It is now much easier to rent furniture from Brook and much easier for employees to do their jobs.

Morphing from theory to action

We Create Yes and Simplify Change did what traditional mission statements rarely do: They morphed from theory to action.

By focusing on a Brand Essence instead of a mission statement, you will be much more likely to create something that motivates the people in your company to act. A Brand Essence can be translated into a set of Brand Habits that guide employee behaviors, and can also be translated into nuts-and-bolts customer experience enhancements that reinforce Brand Harmony and motivate customers.

In future issues of this newsletter, I will describe in more detail how a Brand Essence can lead to successful action and implementation. In the meantime, go ask your colleagues to recite, from memory, your company’s mission statement. Let me know if they all can do it– the few exceptions I might hear will only prove the rule.


  • Luigi 345
    Aug 02, 2011 - 16:11 pm

    found this as ALL of your posts very interesting and informative..

    What would you say about a small company who has created a great and successful BRAND and yet are still struggling to navigate the balance to capitalize on supplying and demands to fullfill its great potential success as a business.

    do you think we sometimes put tooo much emphasis on what our emotional (inspired) motives are for creating the ” Brand” and can lose focus on building the a sustainable business venture.

    It is my opinion that if you are truly inspired by your ” Brand’s Essence” your foundation is ironshore sold and success is inevitable. Most people tend to start a business and then try to build a brand.. there is nothing wrong with going the opposite direction and establishing a solid foundation where the “essence of the brand” is priority.

    how valuable is your ” brand’s Essence” when looking for investment ?

    thanks as always

    • Steve Yastrow
      Aug 15, 2011 - 21:47 pm


      Thanks for the comments … what I believe is that the brand essence should be a guide to creating the the right sustainable business venture. It seems that you do too. The problem with so many mission statement initiatives is that they are completely disconnected from the day-to-day realties of the business.

      And … the brand essence is really valuable for raising money and attracting investors … a clear, compelling story can help an investor believe in your future. It’s astounding how infrequently I see those kinds of messages when people are trying to raise money.

  • Shelby Yastrow
    Aug 03, 2011 - 18:35 pm

    Having been an executive of a Fortune 100 company, as well as a director for and consultant to several other companies, both public and private, I have concluded that there are two — and only two — advantages emanating from mission statements: (1) it provides something to do for the facilitator (don’t you love that word?)of the meetings (always plural) to discuss the mission statement; and (2) it gets a lot of people into a room to talk about the business and the product — something they don’t do often enough. After each such meeting, however, the facilitator should collect all of the notes (and doodles) and destroy them — not for security purposes but to ensure that they never again see the light of day. It would be nice if success could be achieved by the magical device of having the right mission statement — or its close relatives, the vision statement and the corporate template.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Aug 17, 2011 - 09:17 am

      Dearest Dad,

      No doubt that most mission statement exercises are a waste of time.

      I think the trick is to take your point #2, people talking about the business and the product, and use that to create a very clear shared idea of what people in the company want the company to be, using what my team and I call a brand essence. That way you ensure that the final product means something to employees and customers, and (we hope) inspires them, as opposed to being the watered down, soon-forgotten, clump of words that most mission statements become.

      And … based on your frustration with these kinds of exercises, I’m wondering where McDonald’s Corp. found their facilitators. Former frat brothers of execs?

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