As part of branding strategies and positioning, we are often asked to write or review the organisation's 'mission statements'. These bits of copy do a number of 'jobs' and should help the organisation communicate with the outside world as well as their own staff. Here then are a few pointers that should help you when thinking about putting together a set of texts.
These statements get used typically in branding guidelines/styleguides, annual reports and About Us pages on websites. They are often the first thing people read and the second thing they see after the corporate identity.
First of all, I reckon there are three different types you should consider. Not all organisations split these types out, some create one text that addresses all, in one go. Here they are:
This should be a 'workman like' description of what the company is and does. It should not include any flowery or emotive terms.
This should state how the organisation goes about its work and what it hopes to achieve.
This is similar to a mission statement but with the added aim of explaining what the organisation hopes to achieve through its actions.
Stating the organisation's values helps people understand the ethos of the organisation and how it aims to conduct itself.
To a certain extent the definitions above have 'blurred lines' and a level of crossover. But before you start tackling these often very contentious statements it is helpful to know what the parts are trying to achieve.
Who are you writing for?
A phrase that is often banded about is 'stakeholders', which means anybody that has an interest in your organisation. That's fine, but it can lead to texts that do not actually speak to everyone. These statements should speak to – and directly address – these groups where appropriate:
- Clients and customers
- Funders and governing bodies
If you think about it (and you should) these groups will interact and have different perspectives on your organisation. Each should be addressed.
If you are lucky enough to have comprehensive branding guidelines with a complete styleguide it should contain guidance on tone of voice. These documents help writers and editors use the correct terminology that best explains how the organisation refers to itself and the words it prefers to use to describe what it does. However having a defined tone of voice document is a rare luxury.
Here are some things to consider when starting the process to ensure you keep focused and deliver a robust set of statements:
- Keep it short
- Write to your market(s) and stakeholders
- Avoid industry jargon
- Don't use acronyms
- Break each section down, use paragraph breaks
- Think externally, how would you describe your organisation to your Mum (or Dad) so that she (or he) can easily grasp what you do
- Remember, what you might care about may not be what your stakeholders care about
- Don't try to say everything.
The process we take
When Navig8 gets called in to an organisation to look at branding guidelines to then review and write these statements, we are in a unique position. We know nothing about the organisation and its ethos. This may sound like a bad thing, but it isn't. By not knowing too much we can look at an organisation and be free of any ingrained knowledge giving us an open and untainted view. This is really handy because that is how a 'new person' will come to the organisation.
What this means is you can write freely because by doing so, you are writing to understand the organisation from scratch. I don't know if I have explained that well or not.
Of course over time you have to deeply understand the organisation, what it does and how it goes about its business, but in my opinion the first steps benefit from not knowing too much.
Now write out your statements long hand, don't edit just scribble down everything you want to say. Break each text down to cover the mission, vision etc and the different stakeholders you have defined. An employee wants to hear something very different from a client.
Then edit, edit and edit again. Then edit again. What you should end up with is a tight set of texts that throw up a number of questions. Every client is different and their questions vary enormously. A recent project threw up these questions, as an example:
- Do we say we were founded in 1916 or we have a 100 years worth of experience?
- Are we international or global?
- Do we work with base and precious metals or are they non-ferrous?
We present these as alternatives and they can often create heated discussion with clients. It forces them to think very carefully about the terminology they commit to.
We'd expect to go though a number of rounds of refinement, often having to fight off the CEO's view that not enough has been said about 'risk management'. Remember this is not a list of services and unless all you do is make rubber washers, these statements cannot and should not try to cover everything an organisation does. Imagine writing a set of statements for Google! We deliver search, map, free software, etc. And what happens when Google delivers something new? No. Can't be done and should not be done.
What to avoid
Particularly with mission statements these can read as generic garbage that could apply to any organisation. Statements like 'we engage with our clients and employees to make a real difference...' blah. Don't do that. Be more specific, be meaningful and write and focus on your organisation. These statements should only belong to your organisation. If you can change the name at the top, you haven't done your job properly.
This article sets out to provide a set of guidelines for people who are embarking on writing statements that explain what their organisation does, how it operates and what values they hold dear.
It advises best practise to help enable people deliver the best and most compressive set of statements based on our 20 years of experience delivering similar projects to a wide range of clients.
Our advice is offered in the spirit of a helpful and non-instructive manner, with a view to helping people who may feel unsure how best to achieve their aims in creating concise and emotive statement that best describe their organisation's aim, attitude and activities.
You get the idea.