In this article I set out what a Mission, Vision statement does, how an organisation can use a descriptor and what a Lift Speech is. We help organisations establish these as the bedrock of their brand values. This article is an edited piece from my forthcoming book, Know Your Onions: Corporate Identity.
Descriptor, mission and vision statement
What are descriptors, mission and vision statements for, and what do they do? Well, they all do slightly different things and are often combined to create an entirely different ‘animal’, the ‘Lift Speech’ or for our friends across the pond ‘Elevator Pitch’. More on that later. Let’s define them.
A descriptor describes (no surprises there) what the company is.
A mission statement describes what the company does.
A vision statement describes what it hopes to do and often includes the potential outcomes.
The majority of the time these statements are written by the company themselves and that is not always the best approach. These bits of copy need to focus very clearly on communicating to the end reader (the client or customer) and if written internally that can be a bit internally focused, understandably.
They often need what I call ‘fresh eyes’, they need someone external to look at the text and see if it really communicates the right messages to the audience. On occasion, it is better to know very little about an organisation in order to write something like this, let me explain.
I’m new to a client, I don’t really understand what they do. They explain it to me, thanks for that. But it makes little sense to the uninitiated. Now here’s the opportunity, if I can describe what the company does, without know too much at this stage, then any ‘new’ person trying to understand what they do will be in the same situation as me. I hope that makes sense?
I have to say my clients ‘don’t tell me too much, just tell me what you do’ and then gone away to write like I am new to the organisation, like their new customers might be. This doesn't last long, because as you build a relationship with a client, you will know more about them and become more ingrained in the way they think about themselves.
If you can - seize the moment - early on, because your eyes will never be fresher.
If the descriptor, mission and vision statements are not quite right or don’t exist, it is a very worthwhile exercise suggesting these get done.
Let’s have a look at how to go about writing these statements for clients.
Each statement will help focus the clients mind on what it is they actually want to communicate. They help people understand exactly what the company does and what it wants to achieve, as well as the ‘spirit’ of the organisation.
These statements can often be found on the about pages on their websites, annual reports or staff induction documents..
Charities are great users of descriptors, mission and vision statements, so I shall use one as an examples, here goes.
My imaginary client is a charity called ‘Socks for Schizophrenia’.
When writing a descriptor
To a certain extent you can just describe the organisation, although you should use language that sits well with the brand and tone of voice.
Each statement should include the organisation’s name, that is because journalists will often use this text in articles, out of context.
‘Socks for Schizophrenia’ is a registered charity, it was established in 2011 to raise awareness of the plight of people suffering from Schizophrenia. We also make and sell great socks’
Note: that it is very short but immediately you know that they are a charity that operates in specific sector. No woolliness (ho ho).
But the statement hasn’t yet said what they do.
‘We commission designers and artists to design socks which we sell commercially and all proceeds go directly to the charity’.
OK - but how do you help people with Schizophrenia? That’s were the mission statement comes in.
‘Socks for Schizophrenia’s mission is to dispel the myths that surround Schizophrenia and educate and inform the true nature of this common affliction’. (affliction may not be the right word…)
OK, there are a couple of things going on here, the organisation recognises that most people don’t really understand what Schizophrenia is, i.e it’s not just about dual personality or voices in your head. It also begins to explain what they aim to do and the result they hope to achieve.
Remember this isn’t what they do, or who they are, this is more about what they hope to do.
‘Socks for Schizophrenia’s vision is to raise awareness of the broad and wide ranging effects of Schizophrenia and eliminate the stigma and misunderstandings sufferers experience.’
In a very few lines, we know:
What kind of organisation they are
When they were established
The issue they address
How they do it
What they hope to change
The Lift Speech
If you run your own business, your lift speech is a very handy thing to have sorted and in the forefront of you mind, I should know. When I get asked to describe my company and what we do, and what we do differently, my lift speech comes rolling out. Don’t get me wrong, this is no robotic response to a question, I have the foundations in my head and repurpose it for each client. But hey, this isn’t about me, this is about ‘Socks for Schizophrenia’.
The idea of a Lift Speech is to get into the lift (or to answer a question like, ‘so what is it that you guys do?’) briefly and in an inspiring way. So for ‘Socks for Schizophrenia’, I’d amalgamate our descriptor, mission and vision statements and come up with something like this;
‘Socks for Schizophrenia is a charity that commissions designers and artists to produce designs for socks that we produce and sell. Using this platform we aim to dispel the myths surrounding Schizophrenia and raise awareness and change public attitudes towards this often misunderstood condition’.
As you can see, this statement gathers up all the information from the three pieces of text into one, that hits the nail on the head.
This of course is an imaginary project and I use it because clients are quite rightly sensitive about who originates these statements - but I hope you get the idea.
Mission, vision and descriptors are important parts of communicating an organisation’s brand. They often feature in the opening pages of a website or annual report. They are the bedrock of your brand.