Monday, January 26

Measuring Communication: Intent, Part 1 (ROC)

Many executives lose interest in them. Some communicators dismiss them. And a few people have called for their death.

Considering the backlash, we might even ask: What did the mission statement ever do to deserve such dissent and disinterest? Or maybe the question ought to be: What didn't it do? Or even better: What did we do to it?

What is a mission statement?

Simply defined, a mission statement and its various counterparts — purpose, vision, core values — provides a brief description of a company’s purpose and answers why the organization exists for the publics it strives to serve.

"We have chosen to specialise within the hospitality industry, by offering only experiences of exceptional quality." — Four Seasons

It also needs to be in the forefront of every communicator's mind, regardless whether the focus is advertising, internal communication, marketing, public relations, social media, etc. Why? Because if a company and its employees cannot consistently define why an organization exists, then one day it might not exist at all. Seriously? Seriously.

Best Buy: Our business strategy is to bring technology and consumers together in a retail environment that focuses on educating consumers on the features and benefits of technology and entertainment products, while maximizing overall profitability.

Circuit City: ? (One of the most looked for, but never found.)

Why don't some mission statements work?

Internet searches reveal hundreds of different reasons why mission statements don't work, ranging from underdefined and overcomplicated to underutilized and overreaching. Take your pick. But in reality, the only reason mission statements fail is the people behind them.

Either people placed too much effort into defining what a mission statement "should" do and not so much effort in what the company does do or they abandoned it all together in favor of the flavor du jour. As a result, some mission statements become overloaded with statements about diversity, empty marketing promises, and ego-driven prose. Others become dusty while the company moves on without them.

Do strong mission statements have common denominators?

Having been part of several strategic planning sessions for various companies since the early 1990s, it seems to me that "should" only consists of four letters when applied to a strategic planning process. It's a dirty word. However, despite various opinions and schools of thought, there are generally four common denominators that the strong mission statements share.

• It defines what the company does.
• It defines what the objectives are.
• It considers various publics.
• It differentiates the company.

"We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world's consumers, now and for generations to come." — Procter & Gamble

Why is a mission statement important to communication?

Regardless of how a communicator feels about the mission statement, it remains as part of the presentation for communication development, brand management, and measurement. Just as a mission statement and its various counterparts provide an underlying direction for the company, it provides direction for communication.

"To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete." — Nike

It is also one of three components to consider in defining the intent of communication. As Philip Kotler once put it, the mission statement acts as an invisible hand that guides employees to work independently and yet collectively toward the same goals. It also provides a baseline of expectations that various publics will use to define their impression of the company.

While we could delve into the methods and differentiate product-oriented models vs. market-oriented models, the purpose of this post is simply to reestablish its importance in defining intent. After all, if an organization cannot communicate or reinforce why it exists, then it leaves its purpose open to interpretation and the risk of brand erosion or failure.

This doesn't mean the mission statement has to appear verbatim in all communication. Far from it. Since mission statements are measured by the experiences of customers, they can be reinforced in different forms across advertising, marketing, public relations, and social media.

For example, Four Seasons communication frequently reinforces exceptional experiences. Nike's "Just do it" campaign almost always captures inspiration. And Procter & Gamble, even though it markets multiple branded products, is still reinforced by "Touching lives, improving life" and "Everyday solutions" All three have public relations efforts that tend to follow suit. So do their community relations programs. And so does their internal communication.

In sum, the mission statement (or other definition of company purpose) is an ever-present part of communication, even as it is influenced by SWOT and other strategic planning methods (presented next week) or as specific communication tactics are developed to meet objectives. It is the presentation behind the presentation.

We help agencies, companies, organizations, and communities produce the most effective communication possible by composing powerful messages across all media. — Copywrite, Ink.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.


Barry on 1/27/09, 5:53 AM said...

Hi Rich,

I love the concept that a mission statement can act as an invisible hand guiding the various folk who make up a company. As the company grows, employees can go directly to the well for inspiration and direction. But I must say that Nike’s statement of purpose lands a little on the lofty side in my opinion. When I read their statement I see no mention of the quality or virtues of their product or indeed that they manufacture anything at all. Nike may as well be in the self help business according to them to which I say: (reluctantly because their advertising is so good) Hogwash! I am sure there are company’s out there who were founded on their principals and humanitarianism, Newman’s Own comes to mind, but with Nike’s track record of sweatshops and top notch pop notoriety I have a hard time believing they want to inspire me to ”just do” anything without first buying their shoes.

Thanks for making me think about the long term effects of a mission statement.

Best Regards, Barry

Anonymous said...

You got me curious enough to look for Circuit City's mission statement.....and I'm still looking......

Rich on 1/28/09, 6:37 AM said...

@Anon, Many have tried. Good luck. :)

@Barry Ever since I was introduced to him in college, Kotler has remained one of my favorite thinkers in marketing. I only wish more people understood marketing as opposed to what it sometimes becomes.

So you don't care for Nike's mission? I might agree with you to some degree. Where they succeed, however, is they own their mission statement (despite it's any faults) and integrate it into their communication. (Nike's statement is also market-centric, which moves it away from mentioning the product even though it is implied).

Nike aside, in developing a mission statement, it doesn't always have to include everything. (I think it weakens some of them when they try.) For example, at a glance, one might never know of our deep investment in community service and yet, it's there.

I'm thrilled that this post made an impact. Even if you never share it with your customers, a mission statement in your back pocket, assuming it is dusted off from time to time (our company's mission statement has evolved once or twice), can help ground the company.

All my best,

Barry on 1/28/09, 8:46 AM said...

Having had some time between writing my comment and reading your response was a very good thing. In the first draft of my response I included the remark “perhaps I am too cynical.” I threw it away because it felt extraneous but I think it was more important than I realized. The thing I find really interesting, from a personal stand point, is that I like Nike’s mission statement when I separate it from my personal feelings about Nike which go back to childhood. This is deep stuff and really personal for each individual but I think what I am beginning to glean from this is that, as a company, you have to collectively like yourself and what you stand for in order to have any hope of success. When I worked in an independent theatre company some years ago one of our members upon seeing some good we had done or after some worthy goal had been accomplished would say: “That’s why we’re doing this.” To this day just thinking about it makes me feel great. I think a good mission statement would arouse the same sensation. Of course, all of this is positive reinforcement at work, because I believe you have been saying this in any number ways for as long as I have known you.

Thanks, as always, for taking the time to respond and for your consistent willingness to take a conversation to the next level.


Rich on 1/30/09, 6:30 AM said...


I am glad you did not write that you are too cynical.

The impressions we have about people, places, things, and companies are personal. That is an impression, and I do not think you are alone.

What Nike might glean from this is that there are people who feel just like you do, which gives them a choice. Do they count you among those who they will never sway or do they consider how they might change to accommodate you? While this might seem cold, the answer is in the percentages.

So you are very right. We have to stand for ourselves as a company, just like we do as individuals.

The example at the company you worked for is great. Leadership inside companies not only have to recognize when they do something that exemplifies their thought, they have to ask "why are we doing this" on a continual basis.

And that is the purpose of a mission statement. It provides a baseline to answer that question. For example, beyond the objectives that I've stated about this blog before, I hope our mission statement sheds light on why we have a blog in the first place and why I teach. It's an extension of why we do, every day.

As for being willing to take the conversation to the next level, that thanks belongs to you. Great questions and comments help drive a conversation.

All my best,


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