Why Mission Statements Don’t Work
Just because we have mission statements doesn’t mean they should magically inspire people. Only 1 in 4 employees actually believes in their company’s mission statement, let alone their customers. The truth is most businesses don’t have very compelling stories because we focus our attention on telling our stories rather than the customers we serve. Most companies explain their products, services, benefits, and features, not WHY we should care or about the ultimate outcome we provide for the customers we serve.
The fundamental question every business must answer is what problem we’re actually solving. To tell our story in a way that attracts customers, we have to put the customer at the center, not just values and ideals.
In Lisa Cron’s book, Wired For Story, The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, she says that “story was more crucial to our evolution than the opposable thumb. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and to prepare for it. A feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not.”
To form a bond with customers, knowing what’s important to them and where those customers can be reached in the media landscape, and developing the type of content and experience they desire requires a level of storytelling. After all, we don’t buy fortune cookies to eat them. We buy into the stories they tell. The future they inspire is more potent than the product itself.
What message should we really tell our customers?
- Who is the Hero?
- What is the conflict they’re confronting and struggling to overcome?
- What future outcome do they really want us to help them achieve?
Most businesses talk about what they sell, not what conflict they help resolve. Over time companies have been selling solutions to external problems, but people buy solutions to internal issues. Nobody is interested in our products. They’re interested in what your product can get them.
When people ask us what we do, what they’re really asking is:
- Does what you do matter to me?
- If so, why?
- And exactly should I do about it?
Make the Customer the Hero of Your Story:
If you need advice on your heart, you go to a cardiologist. When you need help with your marketing message, you go to NY Times Best-Selling Author and former screenwriter, Donald Miller. Miller says the biggest mistake businesses make with our marketing is describing our companies as the attractive character or the Hero of the story instead of the customer. Instead, we should play the role of the guide to our customers’ needs. By being the guide, we, in turn, become seen as the Hero to them instead. We’re describing too many benefits and not the potential outcome we provide the customer.
In his famous book; Building a Story Brand, Miller writes: “If The Bourne Identity were a movie about a spy named Jason Bourne searching for his true identity, but then also included scenes of Bourne trying to lose weight, marry a girl, pass the bar exam, win on Jeopardy, and adopt a cat, the audience would completely lose interest.” There are too many directions that deviate from the original goal. Instead, Miller argues we need to provide a common goal we can agree we want for each member of the audience or community we’re trying to reach.
When we clarify our marketing message into a single want, we bring our audience into our story by getting them to want the same future outcome instead of the process and tools it takes to get them there. We should focus instead on explaining the results we provide than what we have to sell them.