The Purpose in the Company – From Vision to Strategy

The purpose and attitude of a brand becomes a company's sustainable raison d'être.

Companies need a vision, a mission and the corresponding strategy to make society and the environment better. This should always have been the case. But now it is assumed by customers.
That’s why it makes sense in marketing to use the terms “vision”, “mission”, “strategy” or even … “purpose” as a clear semantic convention. It is important what comes out at the end – namely the irrefutable positioning of a brand – but to clarify an optimal process within a collaboration in the brand team, it is important to have a clear understanding of the terms.

Suddenly, there is a lot of talk in marketing about vision, about mission and – yes, it’s here again now – purpose …. These terms have become buzzwords of the ambitious marketer. No wonder, in our increasingly volatile and uncertain world, social and environmental foresight – also from companies and brands – it is needed. And at the same time, the natural disasters of the last few months have shown us first-hand that climate change has now really reached us. Companies must respond to this, because consumers are vehemently demanding it.

Companies have a responsibility to society and the environment. This is not a new insight. What is new, however, is the depth and scope with which the community expects and demands tangible implementation in every single product.

The purpose and attitude of a brand becomes a company’s sustainable raison d’être. Companies need a vision, a mission and the corresponding strategy to make society and the environment better. This should have always been the case. But now it is demanded by customers.

That’s why it makes sense to use the terms “vision”, “mission”, “strategy” or even … “purpose” as a clear semantic convention in marketing. It is important what comes out at the back – namely the irrefutable positioning of a brand – but to clarify an optimal process within a brand team collaboration, it is important to have a clear understanding of the terms.

That’s what this article aims to do. And it should also clarify the importance of a fundamental vision for marketing. Because with such a purposeful definition of the corporate purpose, everything that comes after that is easier, be it marketing, sales, employer branding or motivating employees.

Vision and mission as the starting point for positioning

The positioning of a brand finds its origin in a future-oriented purpose and a pioneering attitude. Positioning is not an artificial, imposed “coloring” in order to present one’s own brand products differently. Rather: The positioning of a brand “colors” the products from the inside out.

Viewed quite pragmatically and in no way emotionally exaggerated: In every molecule of the brand, no of the products, this ideally special purpose and orientation of the brand resonates.

Everything else, such as distribution, marketing strategy and employer branding, follows almost by itself.

1. Vision

The vision should be the starting point of entrepreneurial action. So what is the vision of a brand, of a company? Here in particular, there are a multitude of different interpretations and emphases. This conceptual confusion does not make it easy for a marketing manager when he enters the discussion on brand positioning. The narrow, IMHO outdated, understanding of the marketing term “vision”, describes the success-driven, long-term goal statement of where a company would like to be in 10-15 years. For example, a conventional vision statement might read as follows: “In the next 10 years, we want to achieve market leadership with our products.” Or, “In 2035, we will generate the highest sales of any retail company in Europe.” This definition of a vision is strongly inward-looking and entrepreneurial. At the same time, the old interpretation of “vision” serves to formulate a target definition for employees: What do we work for every day? What do we want to achieve together? However, a formulation like the one above can never generate intrinsic motivation. The well-known quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry sums it up wonderfully: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up men to procure wood, assign tasks and divide up the work, but teach the men the longing for the wide, endless sea.

Whether it has to be the longing that motivates people remains to be seen. But what this quote makes clear is that we need images, feelings, desires that drive us to achieve our goals. Not abstract business objectives, the value of which each individual can only influence with great difficulty.

I therefore plead for this more far-reaching and fundamental definition. However, the motivating, people-activating power of a vision is one thing. The other: A vision must have an effect both internally and externally. It is intrinsic motivation for employees. But it is also a future-oriented purpose of a company. A fixed star that shows customers what a brand stands for. And why it pays to be loyally associated with a brand. Customers can match how the brand brings the vision to life and how each product carries that vision.

The vision of my favorite brand is, “With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently.” Okay, guess: Apple.

Apple’s formulation is a general, product-independent statement, but that’s precisely why it has such greatness, giving employees a daily “work order” and motivation not to settle for what’s already there, but to think creatively ahead.

The product-independent formulation of a vision is smart because it gives freedom for disruption and innovation. Apple not only makes computers, but also groundbreaking smartphones and multimedia services that set new standards. If Apple had set as its vision that they wanted to make the best computers in the world, they might have succeeded in making the best computers in the world, but they wouldn’t have come up with the iPhone or Apple TV.

Henry Ford once said the following phrase: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, ‘faster horses.'” Fits!

So: a vision must give space, inspire and motivate to further develop a company. The vision is the rocket propulsion, the own boost to reach for the stars. It always resonates that the brand wants to make people’s lives a little better. Even better if the brand wants to make society and the environment better.

2. Mission

The mission defines the direction in which the company intends to achieve the vision. This is the medium-term path, possibly subdivided into routes, towards achieving the vision. The mission reflects the customer benefits in a more tangible way, without having to think in detail about specific products and services. And yet it has the power to give the company an orientation that differentiates it from the competition. The mission describes the customer promise, how one works today in each part of the enterprise on reaching the vision.insofar the mission has mainly external effect and less internal effect. Therefore, corporate or brand values and attitude also flow into the mission.

The mission is the link between the vision and the strategic business model in which the brand moves with products, revenue stream and cost structures.

Thus, the mission is the directional guide to the vision. And it forms the framework for the strategy.

3. Strategy

The strategy is therefore the roadmap to achieving the mission. It is dynamic. This is because, depending on certain external conditions, the strategy also offers the possibility of planning changes of direction and detours. It sets objectives in operationalizable and measurable planning steps. The strategy is therefore the medium-term plan for achieving objectives. A strategy thus consists of a plan to effectively and efficiently dovetail value proposition, revenue mechanics and value chain as elements of the business model. In this way, the various goals from different sub-areas of marketing, sales and product policy, which all contribute to the overriding objective of the mission, are perfectly orchestrated.

4. Purpose

And then there was Purpose. Purpose will be the enduring buzzword of the current “advertising decade,” I’m sure. The term “Purpose” is the construct that reflects the customer benefit, the emotional result of the vision, and the fulfillment of the mission.Purpose in its narrower view on the part of marketing is a declaration of intent by the company to align its purpose or that of the brand in such a way that people’s lives become better in certain sub-areas. And especially to have a positive impact on the environment and society. So the temptation is close to create green products and services that have a positive image transfer to the whole brand. For me, Purpose is thus in a broad interpretation – in order not to be tempted to greenwashing (or bluewashing*) – the strong formulation of a statement that combines elements of the Vision Statement and the Mission Statement. Urgent, clear, striking and comprehensible.

Purpose = Vision + Mission
Fig 1: Purpose = Vision + Mission – Source: Kai Bösterling

Pragmatic simplification in the Golden Circle

The renaissance of the purpose concept has also seen the rebirth of the wonderful Golden Circle model, which Simon Sinek introduced back in 2009 in his book “Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action“. This has become incredibly popular in marketing due to the reignited Purpose discussion of the last five years. Probably in part because the model is so simple and striking.

The Golden Circle works with three simple concepts, each of which is formulated in a single, simple sentence. It is also because of this strikingness that the model is so effective:

WHAT

Every company knows what it does, what it produces. Its products and its services.

HOW

Ideally, companies also know how to make their products and services special and differentiating. In this way, in addition to the entrepreneurial benefit (costs plus profit), the benefit for the customer is created, which decisively defines the added value of the brand compared to the competition.

You can equate the how with mission statement.

WHY

Sinek has recognized that very few brands can say why they actually exist. What is actually the core of the company, from which all drive for the common cause and lighthouse effect for customers should come?

What is the higher purpose? So ultimately, what is the vision of the company? The Why is the starting point of corporate action. If the company can answer the Why, then it can inspire and excite others about the brand.

Sinek’s Golden Circle ignites its power by reversing direction. It is not the product that is the core of the company but the attitude-strong purpose of a company. Apple leads the way. Customers of Apple do not buy computers. Apple customers buy the belief in a digital infrastructure that is the most user-friendly and smartest in the world. This gives rise to a very different emotional communication alignment than comes from the product itself.

See the following example of Apple’s Golden Circle.

Golden Circle using Apple as an example
Fig. 2: Golden Circle using Apple as an example – Source: Own illustration

Why companies need vision, mission and also purpose

In the end, it doesn’t matter what you call it, the main thing is that there is something in the company that sparks passion and that vividly formulates an emotional positioning. The WHY establishes the entire orientation of a brand, the culture, the tonality, the attitude, the aspiration, the responsibility, the benefit, the USP. It emotionalizes the storytelling of a brand and is therefore so differentiating and guiding for all stakeholders of a company. For customers, employees, partners, investors.

Today, I am convinced that a company must make society and the environment better, otherwise it has no reason to exist and will not retain buyers in the long term.

A vision, or whatever we want to call it, must carry this impetus of responsibility for society and the environment, because today companies are becoming more democratic, because the community demands participation and co-creation.

Digital transformation enables this participation of customers in the company. In this respect, digitization is also the precursor of the purpose idea and the realization of how important vision and mission are for a brand. After all, brands are measured tangibly and vocally by what they say, how they take a stand, and how they behave.

Today, consumers have numerous platforms to share and speak out and either inspire or advise others in the community against buying a brand’s products. That’s a good thing. Shopping is becoming more transparent. Shopping is increasingly becoming a statement of a conscious decision. For or against a brand. And not just for or against a single product, but for or against a company. Everyone can get information about a company, its actions and world views on the Internet. Virtually in real time, a company can be elevated to the golden throne by the community or sent to eternal damnation.

Formulating vision, mission and purpose is therefore critical. For the inner motivation and orientation of the employees and for the purchase motivation of the community. Because questioning the attitude of a company is now part of the purchase decision process.

And so Purpose (or Vision and Mission) also becomes the most important “KPI” of a brand.

*Distraction with social commitment, as opposed to greenwashing as a distraction with environmental commitment.

Kai Bösterling ist seit 20 Jahren Berater in verschiedenen Werbe- und Kommunikationsagenturen. In den letzten Jahren verantwortete er in der Geschäftsleitung von Digitalagenturen die Markenberatung. In Agenturen wie Zum goldenen Hirschen und GREY klassisch ausgebildet, ist er heute überzeugt, dass Marke, Idee und Kundenerlebnis Leitfunktionen in Unternehmen übernehmen müssen – als geistige Haltung, als service-orientiertes Handeln für den Kunden und als Brücke zwischen digital und analog.

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