Why Coca-Cola’s Mission Statement is the Perfect Template for Yours

This is Part 10/18 in the series “How to Build an Innovative New Product or Company” on the topic of crafting a mission and value statement

Developing (or re-imagining) a company’s mission statement can be a powerful mechanism to align and energize a company … but my guess is that it rarely fulfills that promise. It’s most often a “do-it-because-we-have-to” exercise for corporate executive retreats.

For startups, building a version of a mission statement early on can be a way to align and inspire the team around a long-term direction, especially once you’ve got a draft of a strategy (per the “4 Steps to Develop a Strategy”). Mission statements are a nice way to then step back and say, while our strategy may define the next few months or years for us, let’s set a direction for what the company could be over the much longer term, especially as we grow beyond our first product. And finally, a strong mission can be a great motivator when it comes to recruiting and hiring employees. People are no longer just looking for a job, or even a job with equity, they want to spend their life and career in the pursuit of something meaningful to them. To get great early employees, it really helps to be able to articulate what that is for you.

There are many definitions of mission and vision statements. Here I’ll build on Bain & Company’s:

Vision statement:

  • This is a “We imagine a world where…”-type statement. This is not specific to your company or its products; though presumably, your products will help get the world a bit closer to this vision.
  • I don’t think vision statements are especially helpful. Maybe marketing wants to write a sentence like this and use it. That’s fine, but there’s little strategic value in it.

Mission statement:

  • A declaration that you share with the world about why your company exists and why it is going to win customers.

A good mission statement has three parts (which mirror the core components of a strategy)

  1. The biggest view on how we will serve our buyers and users (from their perspective, not ours),
  2. How we will create an emotional connection with them and turn them into raving fans,
  3. What our unique twist will be that goes beyond product/feature/function

By coincidence, one of the oldest and most valuable brands in the world, Coca-Cola, happens to have a 3-part mission statement that follows this exact outline:

“To refresh the world…
To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…
To create value and make a difference.”

It may not be the most poetic mission statement, but I’m a fan for its directness and adherence to core concepts.

The use of the word “refresh” speaks to the goal of the product for the customer—which is why it is not worded as a purely product-oriented tagline such as “sell them drinks”.

Declaring that Coca-Cola will inspire moments of optimism and happiness is explicitly claiming the emotional connection they will make. The aim of its marketing team is then to create connections in your brain between happy moments in your life and opening a Coke (as demonstrated in their Christmas and polar bear-themed commercials).

Their unique twist is to make a difference in the world, which is an unusual goal for a beverage company. (For our purposes, we can safely ignore how effective they are at actually doing these things.)

Another inspiration for mission statements is the quote, “the first person to live to 150 has already been born,” from Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey. It paints a radical picture of progress and innovation and makes people look up and think “I could be part of that journey now”. It inspires people to believe the future is real and it’s already here.

Another tagline that I like (I’m not sure it’s officially a mission statement), is from Slack’s marketing website: “Where work gets done.” They are carving out the vision to be a complete platform for work-based communication. But they do it in a way that doesn’t put anyone on the defensive; they’re not saying that work doesn’t get done without Slack.

Here are a few thoughts on the process of building your own

Use your mission statement to define your long-term direction, not just the product you sell/are developing today. Think big in your aspirations.
Gather a few bits of information before you start, to use as material in the problem-solving sessions:

  1. Who are your end users? Who are your buyers?
  2. What do can they accomplish with your product that they can’t with others?
  3. What do you bring to them that others ignore or overlook?
  4. What do you do that makes them raving fans? How does your product make them feel?
  5. What do you and your products do for them, in their words? Talk to them and listen to their words they use.

If you’re a single product company, your mission statement should, of course, capture the essence of these things for your product. But it should be bigger than one product. It should create a direction that will determine which future products you add (or don’t add) in the future.

One way to approach creating a mission statement is to create options for each of the paths by which the company could grow.

As an example, imagine your product is a quick drive-thru oil change, focusing on busy families (e.g. you have play areas for kids). Your value pool is reducing time spent waiting.

You might imagine two vectors for future growth:

  1. Own the value pool for all your customer types, regardless of how many different products you need to add to do it.
    • Your mission statement could be to “Save drivers time in all aspects of driving—one oil change and one traffic jam at a time”.
  2. Or serve this one type of customer completely and fully, across many different metrics.
    • … “Turn chores into family moments that will inspire and nurture your kids for years to come”.

The final word can go to the former Chief People Officer at Google, Laszlo Bock:

Google’s mission [to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful] is distinctive both in its simplicity and in what it doesn’t talk about. There’s no mention of profit or market. No mention of customers, shareholders, or users. No mention of why this is our mission or to what end we pursue these goals. Instead, it’s taken to be self-evident that organizing information and making it accessible and useful is a good thing… it is a moral rather than a business goal… These bursts of creation and accomplishment were a direct result of articulating Google’s mission as something to keep reaching for, just beyond the frontiers of what we can imagine.

. . .

All books and other resources referenced in this article

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