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Don't Let That Mission Statement Out of the Office!

by Marcia Yudkin

The Question Put to Marketing Minute Subscribers

Do you have a mission statement? Great. Share it with your employees, spouse or personal coach - not with customers. A mission statement, fashionable in management circles, does not demonstrate competence or sincerity. It may even backfire.

Consider this typical specimen:

Our Mission: Acme strives to become a leader in the lab analysis equipment industry by adhering to the highest standards of scientific rigor, customer service and ethics.

Note first "strives to." Such a phrase implies that nothing in the statement is true at present, but rather is merely a goal. The reader gets the impression that Acme is trying to be rigorous, responsive and ethical. Trying in such matters does not merit respect.

Second, Acme here confesses that it is not a leader. Who wants to hire an obscure player with its eye on its market position more than on excellence itself?

Promises, guarantees and testimonials from clients have much stronger marketing power than mission statements.

Do you agree or disagree?

The Responses in Summary

Nearly 70 subscribers weighed in on this question, with the outcome clear:

  • Agree: 85%

  • Mixed opinion or not sure: 8%

  • Disagree: 7%

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The Responses in Detail

Here, with no editing other than spelling correction, are the opinions in full, from those who offered comments beyond "agree" or "disagree."  You'll find my conclusion and advice at the bottom of this long page.


Could not agree more about your conclusion about Mission Statements. Even if we still have some ground to cover before we're "perfect", no need to dish this out to customers. They are looking for assurance that they are indeed dealing with the "best". Show them what you do well!

It does not necessarily need to be the "absolute best", as long as it meets the need of the customer closely or exactly, it is the "best" in the eyes of this customer. That's what makes a customer happy!

Rolf C. Zimmerli


Couldn't agree more.  I'll show your message to clients who believe they
must have them--where did they get that idea??

Lee Barber


Interesting comment this week.  My audience (for the moment) is
strictly teachers, and teachers LIKE mission statements, since they're
like classroom/school objectives.  In my opening letter in my brochure
(Bonjour chers collegues page on website), I state specifically that "our
vision is to engage you in the issues of French society and make them
accessible to you as a teacher."  It's also my mission--now I'm
wondering, are vision and mission the same??  Hmm.

Valerie Sutter
The French Traveler

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I do not necessarily agree with the idea that one should not share their
Mission Statement with customers.  I think you are correct if the company has a poorly defined or just plan bad mission statement.

A clearly defined mission written in concise language can be a wonderful brand building tool for any business.  It should describe why they are competing in their category and what values they represent in terms that customers can identify with.

Dave Dolak


I remember editing and proofreading an academic department's mission
statement, not of my making, wondering all the time for whom it was written.  Certainly not for the students enrolling in our courses. Certainly not for the employees who worked in the actual environment of the place. All I could conclude is that it was written to meet the demands of a higher-up, who in turn was "striving to" meet the real or imagined demands of a higher higher-up, who maybe had gotten the idea from a management seminar developed by someone who simply was trying to churn out a publication prior to tenure decisions.

I was struck by the discrepancy of the loftily-stated ideals and the
sharklike hierarchy that governed the workplace. I now own my own business and answer to no one but my clients, my colleagues and the law. My practice has grown steadily in its three years of existence, all the time drifting along with no "mission" in sight.

Julia C. Cochran, Ph.D., LPC
Licensed Counselor


I totally see the point in not having mission statements except maybe for new businesses.   

Shefaly Yogendra  


I disagree! I love mission statements.
I cried when I read the mission statement for Southwest Airlines, which is posted at the gate. Mission statements, like great speeches, can be calls to arms.


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What is shared with the client should be a marketing message which
states what benefits the client can expect to receive from the company.
The hopes and dreams of the company are of no concern and, as you point out, suggest a future-orientation rather than a present-orientation. The future is unpredictable, uncontrollable. Maybe your company will be a "leader" then ; maybe the company can help them then. Clients want and need to know who you are now, what is available now, and how it can help them now. I believe a statement of benefits that will accrue to the client as a result of working with the company along with promises, guarantees, and testimonials will attract rather than repel the
potential client.

Signe A. Dayhoff, Ph.D.


I've always discouraged clients from posting their mission statements on
their sites, however not exactly for the reasons you gave. Most are written in a stilted, MBA style that is much too stuffy for a Web page. Instead of a mission statement, I urge clients to come up with a motto and post it prominently on the home page. A motto tells the viewer right up front what to expect from the company. As far as I'm concerned, mission statements belong in a business plan and nowhere else.

Mary Ihla
Gilded Zebra Enterprises LLC


I completely agree with your assessment.  As a former TQM and ISO
consultant, I view mission statements as good for the internal employees and internal stakeholders as goals to shoot for.  But, as marketing documents they are terrible.  They do not show a company in the way a prospect needs to see a company.  Maybe, as the relationship grows closer, say farther down the sales cycle or after the prospect has been a client for a while, then maybe it's time to show this.

On the upside, the more my competitors do this, the better off I am :-)

Jim Verzino, VP of Business Development
Jerboa, Inc.


Marcia, thanks for the words of wisdom and the distinction you have described. Language is so important in our marketing endeavors.

Barbara Jacobs


Actions speak louder than words. Mission statements are "old school". Word of mouth is by far the best way to secure new business that I've ever seen.   

Kate Ross

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Mission statements are a cliche. They may be important exercises for
figuring out philosophies, purposes and priorities, but they convey an
image of a stuffy, uncreative management that, ironically, has lost its
vision. Often, mission statements come across as insincere doctrine one must chant in a droll tone. The opposite may be true, but that doesn't change the ick factor for anyone turned off. Bottom line: No one reads mission statements.

 Valerie Wells


Mission statements are almost a waste of time and are only done because management has been told they're important. They pretty much sound the same ("to be an industry leader"), use the same buzzwords (i.e. paradigm, focus, excellence, leadership, etc.), and aren't quantifiable.

I've been on several committees and groups that will argue and bicker
over the exact wording of a mission statement ("I think we should say
'highest quality' instead of 'top quality'.") for hours without actually
accomplishing anything. The mission statement is then usually filed away and forgotten with a day or so.

Does anyone really write a mission statement that DOESN'T say they want to be an industry leader, or that they actually WON'T use the tools that are available to them? "Acme kinda wants to be -- at best -- fourth or even fifth in the lab analysis equipment industry. We will accomplish this by doing a half-assed job in utilizing new technology, creating mediocre marketing materials, and doing absolutely nothing to improve our presence in the marketplace."

Every company has the same goal: to make money. If they didn't make
money, they wouldn't stay in business. No one starts a business with the
intention of purposely losing money before going bankrupt. What's more
important is how a company chooses to reach that goal.

Erik Deckers, Director of Marketing
WE International, Inc.


I agree. I used to work in management consulting in the early 90s when
mission statements, vision statements, and mission/vision statements were all the rage. They all can be summarized as follows:

[Name of Company] will be the best provider of [goods or services] and offer the highest level of customer service.


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Most mission statements are written in "corporate-ese", worded in a way the average customer or consumer likely finds confusing. Also, there is often reference to financial and other non customer-oriented goals that may turn off some customers.

If a company wants to communicate its mission to customers, it should be rewritten and presented as a *customer benefits statement*, explaining what the company does to enhance its customers' lives. Customers are interested in how a company plans on meeting their needs, not such things as market share and profitability.

Bobette Kyle


Yes, I totally agree if the mission statement is structured like the example you gave.  But some mission statements are structured positively. for example, I used to work for a ladies fitness centre in Riyadh. Our mission statement was: we offer the BEST instructors teaching the LATEST techniques and trends in the fitness world.
we even shortened it so that the cover of our schedule read: ... the BEST and the LATEST!

Inji Grizi
Saudi Arabia


I totally agree and when I see a mission statement and a firm doesn't deliver on what it states regardless of whether it's their fault or not they lose credibility in my eyes as a potential customer.....especially in the B2B market...

Chris Wright


I couldn't agree more.  My university has the most egregious form of mission statement - one that we're expected to wear on our sleeves at all times.  AAAAACCKK!

Peter Storandt


Agree 1000%. In addition to your valid comments, I find that mission
statements inevitably end-up being generic. Isn't it every company's
mission to be the best at something (make the best products, provide the best customer service, etc)? Unlike a USP [Unique Selling Proposition], there is no Unique in a mission statement (at least none that I've seen).

Robert Mendelson
Doverco Inc.


I completely agree with not letting your customers in on your mission
statement.  The customer wants to know instantly WIIFT.  (What's in it for them?)  The mission statement focuses on what's in it for the company.
Mona Lyden Moore, Image Strategist

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Absolutely agree, Marcia. Evidence of achievement, not hope or aspiration, is what gets results.

Chriss McCallum, Author of 'Getting Published' (How To Books, Oxford, UK - June 2001)


I am in complete agreement with you relative to promises, guarantees,
customer testimonial in advertising.  My opinion is that people are not as impressed with technical data compared to what you can actually do for them.

LL McAndrews


In my humble opinion, well written vision statements do not use "weak" or future oriented "wish" words but identify the organization as living in their vision at the moment (even if it is not true yet).  Example: "Every day we make a difference in the lives of million of New Englanders.  Together our efforts provide businesses and families with safety, security and peace of mind."

So although I agree with your thoughts, if a vision statement is well
written, it is important to share it with all, even customers.

Wendy Capland


All your arguments against sharing mission statements with clientele are
correct in my opinion. Additionally, the majority of mission statements I see are convoluted, clumsy and overblown.

Don Weidner
Waterguard Inc., Of Washington

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Strongly agree that mission statements are derived by the company egomaniac.

Karyn Zoldan


I tell my clients that a mission statement uses the word committed.

Ken Keller

[I emailed him this:]

Thanks for your input.  I don't understand how the word "committed" is
any more believable than "strive to" from the standpoint of the customer.

[His reply:]

If you don't know the difference, then maybe you should remove me from your mailing list.

Ken Keller

[I did exactly that.]


I beg to differ: Acme's statement is NOT a mission statement, but a
statement of objectives.  A mission statement, by nature, is typically a
one-sentence description of what we ACTUALLY do.

Ricardo Talbot, ing.
IRISCO, Québec (Québec)


Perhaps part of the formula may depend on where you are in the race.  For example, our local Mariners baseball team has rarely been a leader in the sport until this incredible season.  If their mission statement at the beginning of this season included words about striving to get to the
pennant, I think it would have more integrity among the team than the
Yankees' mission statement.

When three of us decided to support a unified approach (including a web site) to become the state leaders in the individual health market, we were basically unknown and with a little known company.  Within just a few months, we've made some big strides.  The integrity of our service is the key to our mission, but realistically linking it to our starting position was not a mistake.

Douglas C. Nickson
Health Insurance of Washington


I agree!

I have worked with a number of customers who spend countless hours
perfecting their mission or vision statement and then lose that momentum when it comes time to market their business.

It is good to have a vision, but much like making a wish when you blow out the candles, it is best kept to yourself.  I'd rather see some action than a mission statement.

Kathleen Crisley, MNZIM
E-Commerce Advisory Ltd, NEW ZEALAND

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As always, you make a great and subtle point. I've never been a fan of mission statements myself. But this does raise a question: how can you go about positioning yourself as a leader in the eyes of your clients if you're not actually the industry leader in size or revenues. One way is to establish yourself as an industry "expert." You can do this with a truly useful "Resources" section on your Web site, as well as with a compelling e-newsletter that offers useful information about a business or marketing issue important to your clients or customers.

Debbie Weil


I disagree.  A mission statement like the example can provide a clear focus of your intention as a company.  No one, customers included, expects you or your company to be perfect.  The fact that you are striving for greatness in your area of business lends legitimacy to your company.

Scotty Bosman
Scotty's Biscotti


Our mission statement is very simple:  "There are no problems, only solutions!"

Gary Doty
Diamond Press, Inc.


I agree that mission statements are not for clients' eyes. They usually are
vaguely worded and don't spell out anything that tells potential customers how they could benefit from doing business with the company. Mission statements can be in the annual report, etched onto a plaque hanging in the company lobby, and circulated among employees to keep them aware of overall goals--but they're meaningless to clients.

Bonnie Feingold, Manager, Marketing & e-Learning Services
Gas Technology Institute


No, I think it is good to share your mission statement with your customers. The challenge is in writing an acceptable one.
I do agree that it can backfire if your mission is not customer focused.

Let's consider your example. A better mission statement that is customer focused might be:

"Our mission is to offer you superior, high quality products that will
enable you to ....<whatever> We will do this at a competitive price with outstanding customer service." (The personal, word "you," here, makes all the difference in the world, I think.)

Philip Seyer, author of the MagicClipBoard


Agree wholeheartedly!  Mission statements in my experience are a sure-fire way to breed cynicism, and too often they are full of tired, bloated language. Fortunately, I think this management fad is on the wane.

Paul Horn


Yes, I agree. I think a mission statement is internal (for people who work in the business and possibly for the business's suppliers). The statements give the staff and suppliers something to focus on and work toward.

Maybe instead of using "strives to"  the statement should be "will keep striving to." This implies that the goal has been reached but it's still an ongoing process.

Mission statements explain what businesses do.

Unique Selling Propositions and Positioning Statements are external (for prospects and clients). These two statements express what clients get and prospects will get by buying from the company.

Dennis S. Vogel


I agree 100%. In fact, most mission statements are so poorly written and so completely unfocused that I would advise that they not be shown to employees either. But here is a mission statement I really like. It comes from Jordan's furniture. It clearly describes what makes them so successful. "We vow to wow." Check out the Framingham, Mass. store for proof. And, no I have no affiliation with or interest in the company.

Gabe d'Annunzio

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Agree.  I've been doing a lot of research in this area to help my company better communicate what it's all about internally and externally. Competition is really fierce out there. I think a company that can tie it's mission, vision and business strategy together and then carry it throughout the organization and beyond can have quite an edge in the market over the competition.

Testimonials, promises and guarantees can carry the message. Those companies that can't or won't do that won't get very far. Unfortunately, my company falls into the later category.

Anita Fisher


I absolutely agree.  Mission statements are a (fading) fad designed to make companies believe they can succeed by adopting a mantra instead of truly working to find ways to serve their customers.

Jim Edholm


The mission/purpose statement is really the Foundation statement or Core Belief of an organization.  I helped write our temple mission statement and was appalled that it didn't have any mention of GOD. 
The group included GOD after I spoke up.  

Actually Purpose is a better word for a general statement than Mission.
From the dictionary: Purpose is an ideal or idea kept before the mind as an end of effort or action. It's an aim. Mission is any body of persons sent to perform a specific work or service.  A mission is also defined as the specific task that the group is assigned to do.

Barbara Hoberman Levine
Co-owner, Aslan Publishing & WordsWork Press

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Conclusion and Advice

I found none of the "no" arguments and examples convincing. Even the Southwest Airlines mission statement, which provoked tears from one of our respondents, did so because of the well-known fact that Southwest delivers on a different way of treating airline passengers, not because of the goal itself. All the other purported counterexamples were just more hot air.

Conclusion: As a summary of your aims and values, a mission statement may motivate you and employees, but keep it out of the sight of customers. Tell them instead about what you deliver, and back up such factual statements with testimonials, promises and guarantees.  Then you've got hope of persuading skeptics!


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Copyright 2001 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.


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