Copy Clarification: Mission vs Vision vs Purpose

Before diving into the specifics of what set these items apart, I’d like to define them as quickly as possible. From there, we’ll just be expanding on these definitions.

Brand Purpose

Why your business exists.

Focused on your external audience.

Mission Statement

What you are doing to execute on the Brand Purpose.

Focused on both internal & external audiences.

Vision Statement

Where you plan to be if you live up to your mission.

Focused on your internal audience.

Something you may be asking yourself is why we’re leading with Brand Purpose before the Mission. For whatever reason, the Mission Statement has become the hero of most strategic brand planning. If a business does any brand planning, they’ll at least have a mission. Because of this, most mission statements are vague, overly flowery, and elicit an eye roll from most team members who weren’t a part of its creation.

In other words, it’s starting with What instead of Why. If you know anything about General Public, you know that goes against everything we believe in. So, we’ll be starting with Brand Purpose.

Oh, and we’ll be using Disney as an example of a brand doing all of this correctly.

Brand Purpose

We’ll start this discussion of Brand Purpose with a quote from David Packard, founder of HP, which I came across courtesy of a Disney Institute article. Packard said a brand’s Purpose should “last at least 100 years and should not be confused with specific goals or business strategies.” He went on to say, “You cannot fulfill a purpose. It’s a guiding star on the horizon – forever pursued but never reached.” What Packard is saying here is not that a Brand Purpose should be impossible, he’s saying it should be immeasurable.

Your Brand Purpose should be a quick, pithy answer to questions like “Why are we here?” or “Why do we exist?” or “What is our reason for being?”

It’s important to note, a Brand Purpose should go beyond making money. Making money is a critical side-effect of your Brand Purpose and the result of properly executing on your Mission Statement, but it isn’t your sole reason for being. If your only purpose is making money, General Public is the absolute wrong agency for you.

To illustrate this with an example, Disney’s Brand Purpose is stated as follows:

To Entertain, Inspire, & Inform People Around The Globe Through The Unparalleled Power Of Storytelling.

For any writers out there, this is the type of Brand Purpose we should aspire to write. This fits our criteria because it’s explaining why they exist but now how they operate, what they do, or where they’re going. Furthermore, you can’t truly measure entertainment, inspiration, or education.

It’s emotional, brief, and it guides their employees. So, with their why out of the way, we can discuss what they’re going to do to pursue their Brand Purpose.

Mission Statement

A successful Mission Statement puts a Brand Purpose into action. It explains what a business will do, how they will do it, and oftentimes projects into the future. Because it inherently reiterates a portion of the why and can also project where a company is going, it’s easy to see why the Mission Statement became the star of the show. It can (but shouldn’t) encapsulate every aspect of a company’s purpose, position, and goals.

The other danger with a Mission Statement is viewing it purely as a piece of advertising. Your Mission Statement should inform the general public and should be well-written, but it isn’t supposed to function as a de facto tagline. Getting too cute with your Mission Statement is how you end up with something like AirBnB’s: Belong Anywhere.

As a tagline? It’s great. I’d be proud to present that to a client. I can see it in my head existing on posters, at the end of commercials, and as a hashtag. But as a guiding principle for a business and its employees? I’m not getting anything out of that.

Instead, let’s again look at what Disney is up to:

Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services, and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative, and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world.

It’s less emotional than their Brand Purpose, as it should be. It tells us both what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it. It’s not centered on revenue generation, but it’s a piece of the puzzle here. And lastly, it’s not sexy. Unless you’re a stockholder.

With your Brand Purpose and Mission Statement out of the way, it’s time to look toward a brighter future.

Vision Statement

As Harvard Business Review puts it, a Vision Statement defines what an organization wishes to be in some year’s time. It’s not as immediate as a Mission Statement, and unlike a Brand Purpose, it should be reevaluated more frequently than once a century.

The purpose of the Vision Statement is to go beyond day-to-day thinking so that your internal audience is focused on the forest rather than the trees. A tempting trap that companies fall into with regard to their Vision Statement is focusing purely on financials. Your Vision Statement operates under the assumption that you are successful and is instead focused on what that success actually looks like.

All three of the brand statements we’re discussing and defining share certain traits, which is part of the inherent challenge. For most companies, their Mission Statement and Vision Statement tend to overlap, but I’d posit that a Vision Statement has more in common tonally with a Brand Purpose. They’re aspirational and should be at least a little shorter than a Mission Statement. Their points of divergence are that the Purpose is external while the Vision is internal, and unlike the Purpose, the vision should be reasonably attainable.

Disney’s corporate Vision Statement is as follows:

To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.

In other words, a successful Vision Statement is a clear answer to the question “If all goes right, what do you want your business to become?”

The written portion of branding goes so far beyond naming a company and writing a tagline. Successful businesses are built on a foundation of clearly articulated, actionable ideas. By formalizing your reason for existing, how you plan to become a success, and what you want to do with that success long-term, you’re ensuring that it never gets lost.

If your first inclination is to scoff at how silly, fluffy, or useless these brand statements are, I feel for you. The majority of businesses out there aren’t using these strategic pieces of branding correctly. However, I’d urge you to keep an open mind.

Trying to create a successful business while operating under the assumption that you’ll just remember these critical statements is like not hiring a wedding photographer because you were there when it happened. When these brand statements all work together, you’re making it as hard as possible for your organizational culture to fail. Why wouldn’t you want that?

What Is Branding?


Let’s Get To Work.