Don’t Confuse Mission with Brand Positioning

Don’t Confuse Mission with Brand Positioning

By Friday October 13th, 2017

It is common for early startups to confuse their mission with their brand’s positioning strategy, but they are meant to serve two completely different purposes.

What we will cover in this article…

  • Why startups confuse mission and brand positioning strategy
  • The difference between mission statement and brand positioning statement, and the purposes each is meant to serve
  • How top brands are presenting their mission vs. their brand positioning strategy in terms of user experience and messaging
  • What results when startups make this mistake

Think back to the days right after you launched your startup. You were madly in love.

In the first few months, you were drunk on the freshness of it and the future was wide open with possibilities.

You were unbreakable, unwavering, poised to change the world, one widget at a time!

You are poised to change the world, one widget at a time!

That fire you have to change the world now translates into your brand positioning.

You lead with it in investor pitch decks. It’s front and center across your social pages and in your online ads. It’s the first thing potential customers see when they come to your website.

Changing the world, one widget at a time.

Let’s stop for a second. Do you see the problem here?

“Changing the world, one widget at a time,” is not your brand positioning. If anything, it’s your mission statement. Why lead with a statement about what you are trying to accomplish?

Your goal is to connect with the customer as early as possible, speak to their problem(s) and how you are going to solve them.

In my 13 years of consulting startups on their branding and marketing, I’ve seen this common mix up plague too many bright founders and throttle their success. Before I reveal the devastating ending to this startup love affair, I’ll first define the difference between a startup’s mission and their brand positioning strategy (so we’re all on the same page).

The Difference Between Mission and Brand Positioning


Also referred to as a mission statement or vision statement, this statement defines and guides the future state that you are striving for as a brand, whether it’s 3 years from now or 30. It’s not so much an achievement or a specific milestone. Rather, it’s a mindset that continually drives your business forward.

Your mission statement is built for your organization. It is an internal resource for your business and should serve as a north star to guide and motivate your team, making sure they stay focused and in sync. It should only act to support the customer experience, not slow it down. This doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be available to your customers, but that’s not the reason a mission statement exists.

Notice that some of the most recognizable brands in the world do not focus on their products / services in their missions statements:
AirBnb Amazon Facebook Google Sony mission statements

Brand Positioning

Also referred to as a brand positioning strategy, value statement, or positioning statement, this answers the “why” you are different from the competition and “why” customers should care. It also may help to identify “what” you actually do or sell, but the focus should be the value you own in the minds of customers. A brand positioning statement is written to influence how you want your customers to perceive you, but in fact, it is not within your control. A positioning statement should be a collaborative effort, blending your intention for the business with real feedback from customers.  

Using Facebook as an example, here’s how their mission would differ from their brand positioning…

Facebook Official Mission Statement Unofficial Brand Positioning

Notice the difference?

Now let’s go back to the love affair with your startup.

Changing the world, one widget at a time is a lovely line full of promise and energy. However, show it to 10 people in a room, and make sure those 10 people aren’t your mother, sister, cousin or best friend. Now watch how not one of them gives a crap – they may even pull out their phones and start scrolling through Instagram, because you’ve lost their interest with your romantic promises. They are silently thinking, “what’s in it for me, why should I care?” or “…this guy/gal is a dreamer” After all, they just came to fix their own problem, or improve their own life (using your widget).

They don’t care about your grand vision for the world, unless that vision somehow improves their life or their bank account.

Drop the love affair with your startup and start thinking like a customer who doesn’t know you.

If you are leading with your mission, and still trying to build credibility around your brand, the result is frustration. Coca Cola or Amazon could lead with their missions if they wanted to, but that’s because they have the luxury of having already built awareness and trust around their brands (at great expense, I might add).

For an early startup, you want to weave your story and mission in over time. As your brand grows and becomes more trusted, you open up your mission to change the world. If you introduce it too early, or too high up in the acquisition funnel, you just come across as naive and unproven.

You might think that big brands lead with mission, but most don’t because they have a customer-first mindset.

Do you think Tesla puts their mission statement front and center on their home page for potential customers to see first?

Tesla Home page

The Tesla home page speaks to their vehicles: speed, range and safety.

Where’s their mission?

Tesla About Page

Tucked away on their About page… and it’s not even an option on the home page. You have to click on “contact us” to find it.

What about Blue Apron?

Blue Apron Home Page

Their home page messaging speaks to the freshness and quality that they deliver. I would argue that their initial messaging could speak more to the problems they solve, but they do touch on that later down the home page as you scroll.

What about their mission?

Blue Apron About Page

They call it their “vision.” It’s tucked away as well on an “Our Vision” page, available to customers who want to dig in further, but not front and center.

Do you see the trend here?

The End Of The Startup Love Affair

In the story of our startup love affair, the ending is quite sad. Our entrepreneur cannot break from his own passion and bias, and therefore struggles when it comes to converting prospects into customers. The entrepreneur is blinded by his mission to change the world and doesn’t stop to ask his customer, “how can I help you,” “what do you like most about our widget,” “what can we do better” or “what’s keeping you from buying?”

The startup fails, not only because he did not put his positioning first, but because he did not invite his customers into the process.

Don’t be this founder.

If you want to survive your early startup years, move towards a customer-first mindset and position your brand through the eyes of your customers. Talk about the things that your customers care about. Start a dialogue that will connect with their interests, fears and desires.

Find a way to add value.

After all, being self-focused will find you without customers and soon to looking for a new job.

When it comes to brand positioning and messaging, first answer…

“What can I do for my customers?”

And follow up with…

“Who am I and how do I uniquely serve my customers?”

Start off on the right foot and you will be rewarded.

I’m always interested in discussing brand strategy with the next great startup team. If that’s you, feel free to connect with me on Twitter at @jaybrew

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About the Author

Jason is co-founder and CEO of Brolik, a digital agency in Philadelphia. As an entrepreneur, Jason is passionate about helping other business owners navigate the complicated journey of owning a business and developing marketing strategies to grow their brand.
Follow @jaybrew on Twitter or connect with Jason on LinkedIn or Google+