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Mission statements decoded

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John Klein

John Klein

John Klein

I picked a mission statement from a successful company in the US and removed any references that might expose their identity or product:

“Our mission is to fulfill the (category) needs of our customers and, in doing so, exceed their expectations for service, quality and value. We will strive to earn our customers’ long-term loyalty by working to deliver more than promised, being honest and fair and ‘going the extra mile’ to provide exceptional personalized service that creates a pleasing business experience.”

Ask yourself the following: Can you determine what market they serve, or what mission they serve? Do you get a sense of what is unique about the organization? Do they give you a reason to believe what they are saying? Are they specific about what they do to achieve their mission? And finally, is it easy to read and understand?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then the mission statement has failed to achieve its goal.

Mission statements are the foundation of an organization’s activities and should be easily understood by employees, board members, patrons, donors and the public at large.

It can be enhanced with statements about vision, artistic focus and the like, but it should be the literal expression of why it is in business.

The crafting of a mission statement is hard work, and the successful completion of it requires the combination of writing and diplomatic skills.

For-profit marketing groups create similar kinds of statements for the brands they serve, calling them positioning statements. Well-crafted positioning statements include four basic elements:

  • A brief description of the target audience
  • A frame of reference, or statement of the target’s goal that will be served by engaging with the company
  • The point of difference, which is an assertion regarding why the company is superior to alternatives
  • Supporting evidence for claims, also referred to as reasons to believe

Based on these four points, here’s an example of a mission statement – using the concepts of a brand-positioning statement – that works:

“For music lovers and their families, (organization), a professional, nonprofit arts organization serving the (geography), provides a unique and enriching involvement in (musical) performances with its year-round calendar of classic and modern repertory performed by professionally-trained, emerging and established artists from the region; and by taking…educational experiences and performances directly to children in the schools.”

As a result, the organization is likely to have a clearer idea of how to execute its vision, compete for audiences and funding, be considered a worthy organization to receive grants, and express its unique points of difference so that constituents act on the organization’s behalf by attending performances and donating money.

Your mission statement is probably your best and most powerful organization tool. Use it wisely.


John Klein is president of Trilithon Partners, a marketing consulting agency based in Cary, N.C.

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