We talk a lot about the 'brand' - brand value, purpose-driven brands, brand essence, brand values, and brand character in marketing. The brand is an essential part of a company's long-term success and will be some of the most valuable intellectual property (IP) the company may ever create. But for startups, it's arguably not the immediate priority - your mission is. However, the two are often confused, especially in the early stages of building a company.
In this article, we will look at:
- The difference between your mission and your brand positioning
- Explore why they are both important
- Establish how they work together
The difference between your mission and your positioning
Your mission is what you do and how you do it, while your brand positioning is why you
do it - and “why” customers should care.
A mission statement outlines all the things your company is doing in the present to reach your goal. For example, Nike's mission is: "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete."
A vision statement describes what your company is building toward in the future. Nike's vision statement is: "We see a world where everybody is an athlete — united in the joy of movement. Driven by our passion for sport and our instinct for innovation, we aim to bring inspiration to every athlete in the world and to make sport a daily habit."
Its brand positioning is the intersection of the aspirations and needs of the target audience, the competitive frame of reference and critical customer benefits (functional, emotional, experiential and self-expressive). At its heart is its brand essence - how it wants customers to think of it - Nike’s brand essence can be articulated as “Bringing inspiration and innovation to everyone in the world.”
What is your business mission?
In the world of startups, brand positioning tends to be less critical than mission because the focus is on the business model. Founders don't pitch their brand to investors; they pitch their business model, value proposition, managerial talent, and vision to dominate a market.
A mission statement is primarily an internal directive. It drives your company forward, provides a focus for management and staff, and is something to bring all decisions back to. It's a focus to show shareholders what you're aiming to achieve. Whatever you're doing, ask yourself, is it working towards this goal? It's your North Star.
Example mission statements
Often, mission statements don't refer to the product or service - those are a conduit for achieving the mission. Examples from big brands include:
Amazon: "We aim to be Earth's most customer-centric company. Our mission is to continually raise the customer experience bar by using the internet and technology to help consumers find, discover and buy anything, and empower businesses and content creators to maximise their success."
Google: "Our mission is to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."
Facebook (Meta): "Meta's mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together."
What is your brand positioning?
Your brand essence is your raison d'etre - your reason for being beyond making money. Disney existed to make people happy; Nike inspires people to be athletes regardless of their capability.
It shows what your company does, whom, and what makes you different. It explains why you do what you do, and it tends to be outward-facing - predominantly speaking to customers.
Brand positioning elaborates on the story behind your mission statement, telling customers why they should buy from you. It builds trust, loyalty and an emotional connection with your customers.
Apple: "For individuals who want the best personal computer or mobile device, Apple leads the technology industry with the most innovative products. Apple emphasises technological research and advancement and takes an innovative approach to business best practices — it considers the impact our products and processes have on its customers and the planet."
Hubspot: "Since 2006, HubSpot has been on a mission to make the world more inbound. Today, over 100,000 customers in more than 100 countries use HubSpot's award-winning software, services, and support to transform how they attract, engage, and delight customers. Composed of HubSpot's CRM, Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, and Service Hub, HubSpot gives companies the tools they need to Grow Better."
Coca Cola: "For individuals looking for high-quality beverages, Coca-Cola offers a wide range of the most refreshing options — each creates a positive experience for customers when they enjoy a Coca-Cola brand drink. Unlike other beverage options, Coca-Cola products inspire happiness and make a positive difference in customers' lives, and the brand is intensely focused on the needs of consumers and customers."
How do brand positioning and business mission intersect?
Positioning and mission are interlinked in the initial instance because one explains the other. Over time, however, brand positioning adds something else to your mission - it contributes to brand value, which provides an essential function for all stakeholders.
In established businesses, your brand is what consumers ultimately buy into, and it's what gives a company a value that's more than the sum of its parts. That's when the brand becomes of particular and primary interest to shareholders.
Common mistakes startups make
Where startups often make mistakes regarding their brand positioning and their business mission is not thinking about how it relates to their target market.
The wonderful thing about startups is usually the passion that makes founders and CEOs want to do what they're doing in the first place. However, when it comes to creating a mission statement and brand purpose, it's about translating that energy into something relevant and tangible.
The mission statement needs to speak to investors and shareholders, and it needs to drive business outcomes.
The brand positioning statement needs to talk to customers and show how what you do will improve their lives.
Lots of passion, not enough direction
The founder's passion for the business can often become a blind spot, becoming a big, impressive, but a somewhat nebulous goal that's too abstract for the shareholders, investors or customers. Creating these statements is about focusing your goals in line with your business objectives to work towards those lofty ideals ultimately.
Early startups often introduce too much too soon, trying to communicate the ultimate goal (the big lofty one) too early on. The problem with this is that it's too much for customers or stakeholders. It tends to sound naive and unachievable, as well as irrelevant to them - if your goal is to fix the world's pollution problem, how do your actions directly relate to your customers? The net result is that you will struggle to convert prospects into customers because that's not where your focus is. Startups need to build awareness over time by starting with their brand positioning.
At gigCMO, we work with business founders and CEOs to guide them through the different stages of developing their business and growing their shareholder value by building brands - their intellectual property. If you would like to discuss the development of your mission and brand positioning and support your team in working towards common goals, you can explore our CEO Whisperer programme or Talent on Demand from experienced Fractional CMOs.