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I'm Erika Fitzgerald, a website copywriter and educator with a big heart for small businesses. Here on the blog, you'll find copywriting education, online business tips, client case studies, and snippets from my life as an entrepreneur.
A lot of terms get thrown around when it comes to business development and brand messaging. There’s the obvious vision statement, mission statement, and core values. But in order to clearly define these objectives, you should start with your purpose statement.
“Wait,” you might be wondering. “Aren’t there enough terms to define for my business already? Do I really need another?”
In my opinion, yes. Your purpose is actually the most important—and the first—term to define when starting or pivoting your business. Simply put, your purpose is your why—a concept popularized by Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED Talk and appropriately named book, Start With Why.
Before you dive into your purpose statement, though, let’s take a look at the primary pillars that make up your brand messaging framework.
There are enough business terms and acronyms to make anyone dizzy, I know. So to get things straight, I’ve put together a brief glossary of key terms to help you gain more clarity around what’s what.
At the start of every website copywriting project, I create brand messaging guidelines and define these terms. If you’re not ready to hire a copywriter, you can do this exercise on your own with the help of my free brand voice guide.
Your mission statement identifies what type of work you do, the specific people you serve, and what type of approach you take. Ultimately, its purpose is to help you and your team align around a shared understanding and reason for being. In other words, it defines what you do every day, how you do it, and why.
For example, the Patagonia mission statement is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Let’s break that down.
→ Build the best product = the type of work Patagonia does.
→ Cause no unnecessary harm = the type of approach Patagonia takes.
→ Use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis = their reason for being.
Because Patagonia is an established outdoor gear company, we know they serve outdoor enthusiasts. By reading their mission statement, we can also deduce their ideal customers are people who appreciate the value of quality products and care about the environment.
As you can see from this example, a mission statement zooms out and focuses on the big picture. This is not the place to talk about your step-by-step process or nitty-gritty details.
Your vision statement describes where your business aspires to be upon executing your mission. If your mission statement allows you to clearly see the day-to-day of your business, then your vision statement paints a picture of your ideal future. It inspires you and your team to work towards a shared goal. A rally cry, if you will.
Around the time of its founding in 1975, for example, Microsoft established a vision statement to see, “A computer on every desk and in every home.” Back then, a computer was far from a household appliance—and wi-fi certainly wasn’t on the monthly utility roster. So Microsoft set out to achieve its vision of a more connected future.
And I think we can all agree that Microsoft achieved its original vision, considering its current-day vision has evolved “to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.” Like Microsoft, your vision statement can—and most likely will—change as your business grows.
Your core values serve as guiding principles for everything you do on behalf of your business. They describe the culture of your business and attract people with similar values, including team members and customers.
For example, Etsy states their values as: “We commit to our craft. We minimize waste. We embrace differences. We dig deeper. We lead with optimism.”
These values shed light on the people of Etsy: who they are, what’s important to them, and how they operate. Publishing your core values not only helps your team align around a shared philosophy but also establishes trust and connection with your customers who share similar ideals.
Your elevator pitch is similar to your mission statement because it also summarizes what you do, who you serve, and why your business exists. However, it serves less as an internal guidepost and more like an outward-facing handshake. An effective and well-rehearsed elevator pitch grabs attention in 30 seconds or less. As the term suggests, you use your pitch to sell yourself and your business when networking.
Elon Musk gives a great example when pitching Tesla: “Why does Tesla exist? We have record-high C02 levels in the atmosphere resulting in a steadily increasing temperature. And, it’s still climbing. Combustion cars emit toxic gases too, killing 53,000 people per year. What can we do to change this? How can we make a difference? What we’re trying to do with Tesla is accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. At Tesla, we make great electric cars. This is really important for the future of the world.”
→ At Tesla, we make great electric cars = answers WHAT the business does.
→ Killing 53,000 people per year = tells us WHO the business serves (humanity).
→ Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport = WHY the business exists.
In his pitch, Musk also creates a sense of urgency. If we don’t buy his idea now, the future of the entire world is at stake. *mic drop*
Different from your mission and vision statements, your purpose statement flips the spotlight away from your business and onto your audience.
While your mission, vision, values, and pitch focus primarily on the inward properties of your business, your purpose statement shifts the focus outward to your ideal clients. Ultimately, your purpose connects the heart and logic of your business to say, “This is what we’re doing for others.”
For example, insurance provider IAG states their purpose to “Help make your world a safer place.” With only seven words, IAG makes it clear that they exist to make people feel safe. Notably, IAG says “your world” (not “the world”)—a smart word choice that makes each individual feel seen and considered.
Of course, your purpose goes beyond words alone. The way you conduct your business—from everyday actions to big decisions—exemplifies your purpose.
I could easily write a deep dive into each of these five brand pillars (and I will, eventually). But when I was first starting my business, I searched everywhere for a simple, side by side breakdown of these basic terms. I never found one—so I created this one to help you focus your business messaging.
Taking the time to clearly and intentionally define these pillars for your business will pave the way for all your other content and copy. Here’s a TL;DR recap of the primary focus for each pillar:
Ready to write your brand messaging guidelines? Snag your free copy of the brand voice guide below. This guide walks you through three easy steps to define your voice and develop your brand messaging.