One of the eternal challenges faced by strategic planners and market planners when developing an effective marketing strategy is grasping the difference between a Mission Statement and a Vision Statement. Often the casual observer has no clear frame of reference as to which is which. Adding to the confusion is that these terms have been frequently misused and the labels even swapped. So it isn’t surprising when executives and planning team members come to the conversation on either statement with a muddled sense of what their true objective is.
Here we'll talk about:
- Simple definitions
- Basic components
- Mistakes to avoid
Part of the problem comes from false assumptions about what the labels themselves mean.
A mission statement is a statement which is used as a way of communicating the purpose of the organization. Although most of the time it will remain the same for a long period of time, it is not uncommon for organizations to update their mission statement and it generally happens when an organization evolves. Mission statements are normally short, simple statements which outline what the organization's purpose is and relate to the specific sector in which an organization operates.
A vision statement is a company's road map, indicating both what the company wants to become and guiding transformational initiatives by setting a defined direction for the company's growth. Vision statements undergo minimal revisions during the life of a business, unlike operational goals which may be updated from year-to-year. Vision statements can range in length from short sentences to multiple pages. Vision statements are also formally written and referenced in company documents rather than, for example, general principles informally articulated by senior management. A vision statement is not limited to business organizations and may also be used by non-profit or governmental entities.
To simplify things, think of a business “mission” as a purpose for the organization - what is it up to? And then think of the “vision” as the grand objective - where does it want to be in the future? As you can see with this point of view, the two statements portray very different commentaries on the organization. Determining each requires the right team member input and strong leadership.
The distinction becomes clearer when you consider the three basic components of a Mission Statement:
- The market / customers you are serving,
- The service you can provide to them, and
- The benefit you will provide for them
A Vision Statement, on the other hand, while it may take several forms, focuses on some future state or condition. It describes one of the following:
- A long-term goal or position for your company in the market,
- An objective you want to see your customers achieve, or
- A stand you want to take regarding your mission, e.g., on objective so far in the future as to be unimaginable at present.
Mistakes to avoid
A common mistake is to jump ahead and envision these statements as instant marketing tools before the basic content has been fleshed out and had a chance to evolve. They should start out as working documents for internal discussion and although they need to be crafted accurately, it may be too soon to worry about literary brilliance. Only after you are satisfied with the content of the statements should you decide if you want to use them to promote your company. That’s the time to devise a more artfully worded version, which will inspire your audience to engage your services or buy your products; in essence, to trust you. Also, keep in mind that the Mission Statement and Vision Statement are not ends unto themselves…they will ultimately be your guides to later strategic planning and marketing strategy work.
Another mistake is turning the process into a group activity delegated solely to employees. Yes, input from your entire staff prior to beginning is important. Ask them questions about what they see the market doing, who they think the customers are, and what benefit they think they provide. Once gathered, this information is best put to use by the executive team, who is most qualified to work directly on both statements due to their industry experience and in-depth knowledge of all the challenges facing the company. Their job is to lead and crafting these statements is a big part of leadership, as it sets the tone and perception of the organization, internally and externally. That said, they should use all resources available, including even the most junior member of the staff, to better understand their business, the marketplace, and their customers’ needs. The strategic marketing planning process is filled with many steps, pitfalls and mistakes to avoid. Avoiding these few around Mission and Vision statements is crucial.
Mission and Vision statements are to help you plan and manage your company. They are both important elements in setting effective marketing strategy. They are, however, fundamentally different. Mission is what you are about, and Vision is where you want to go. Avoid the mistake of turning them into marketing slogans before they are fully baked. While leaders bring the Mission and Vision to their teams, they should also value the input their teams have to offer.
If you want to better understand the Strategic Planning process and want a great framework for ensuring success, consider diving a little deeper.
Download our eBook: Strategic Planning 101 -- Creating the Future of Your Business, which includes:
- An introduction and overview of the Strategic Planning process
- How to make Strategic Planning successful - 6 keys to success
- 10 steps to prepare for your Strategic Planning exercise
- And more…