mission statement

There’s an interesting disagreement between Jim Stengel and Simon Clift, former CMOs of P&G and Unilever: “Who is Right: P&G or Unilever?“. Jim is in the process of writing a book and teaching a UCLA class on the role of purpose and ideals in business. He invited Simon Clift to talk to students last week and probed on the different ideals of two different Unilever brands.

Jim asked Simon how he felt about “the juxtaposition of Dove’s Brand Ideal of improving women’s self esteem with Axe/Lynx’s Ideal of helping geeky guys get the girl, with a “tongue-in-cheek” sexist portrayal of girls?”

Simon doesn’t see a conflict. Jim disagrees: “I totally support that each brand in a multi-brand company needs its own voice, its own Ideal, its own “subculture.” But I feel each brand in a multi-brand company needs to not only live under the parent company’s beliefs and values, it needs to actively trumpet them in its own voice, in its own style. At P&G we had two brands in these very same categories, Olay and Old Spice, and they competed head-to-head with Dove and Axe/Lynx. We found a way to reveal their individual Brand Ideals, or Purposes, in a way that brought to life P&G’s purpose with no inherent conflict.”

Regardless of who is right at a corporate level, it’s clear that those individual brand teams have thought about purpose. That itself is rare. The larger issue in my opinion is that many brands and businesses don’t have a well-articulated value system, mission or purpose whatsoever. Scouring the lookalike mission statements from Fortune 500 companies is laughable reading. Most don’t stop to consider the “why” of what they do. Sure, all businesses have mission statements. But most are meaningless fluff. It doesn’t matter that a mission statement is hung on the wall, painted in calligraphy, or chiseled in stone; a meaningless mission statement is still a meaningless mission statement.

David Hieatt has an inspiring essay on the importance of purpose as he launches a new business and recounts his last business. “You see, as well as love, you need a purpose to really motivate yourself, and therefore succeed. You need to understand the ‘why’ you are doing something.”

David shares a telling video on Raleigh Denim, a young blue jeans brand founded with purpose. Their purpose is so tangible, they hand-sign every pair of jeans with a Sharpie. Signing your work personally is a good sign that you’re making something with purpose.

  1. Pragmatic Mom says

    Isn’t that the truth?! A mission statement is not a mad lips that you conjure up! It really should reflect the deepest emotions of the company of why you exist and what makes you come to work everyday. I know ad agencies who try to flush out a mission statements with just such exercises but without soul, it is a meaningless exercise. Thanks for nailing that (as always)with your cartoons!

  2. Mark Barden says

    Great story, Tom. Thanks for sharing. My experience is that many people (not all, but enough to make a difference) are deeply dissatisfied with paint blandly by numbers approach to missions and long for a more authentic connection to their work that is often there lurking under bland corporate-speak. It’s not always possible, but when it’s right, it really is powerful.

    Indirectly related to this is this little vid from Gary V about a return to almost old-fashioned values contained in the film about Raleigh.


  3. Cale D. Hawley says

    That is so true. I laugh at the majority of mission statements that I see. It seems everyone is “striving” to do something. I prefer to do business with companies that “do”. Striving is just a fancy way to say, “well, I’ll try, if I get around to it, if there is nothing better to do, I’d rather not.” You get the picture. I have a similar post on my blog http://wp.me/pPv2Q-i
    You can typically tell when a company lives the mission. They go out of their way to make you feel important and it is embedded in their culture.

    Great post. I enjoy the weekly cartoons and the content to go with.

  4. Peter says

    Isnt that the truth!! Nothing about what the company is trying to achieve or any concept of timeline bit some wishy washy statement of intent. (Also as a side note someone, perhaps an marketing avvy cartoonist, should let people know that being professional, or professionalism, is a base line of expectation -and not and aspiration!)

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