In our monthly “SKU View” series, Food Entrepreneur is tapping the expertise of mentors at SKU, a consumer products accelerator based in Austin, Texas, to deliver timely insights on issues that affect early-stage food and beverage brands.

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Purpose, mission and vision are critical components of a brand’s strategy, said Kathy Galloway, SKU mentor and curriculum director. These elements play an important role in every business decision and should be thoughtfully articulated.

“Purpose and mission are part of bringing your passion to life,” she said. “Vision is part of goal setting.”

A 20-year consumer products marketing veteran, Ms. Galloway is the chief executive officer of kgalloway consulting, helping organizations drive growth with strategy and innovation. At SKU, she leads entrepreneurs through the process of crafting purpose, mission and vision statements.

She offered perspective on why it matters and how to do it.

Food Entrepreneur: What is the difference between a purpose, a mission and a vision?

Kathy Galloway: Purpose is the why we do what we do. It starts from one or more beliefs about the world and how things should be. That tension makes the purpose meaningful, and it drives us in everything we do. Purpose should be big and broad — it has nothing to do with competitive advantage or the consumer. It has everything to do with what makes you wake up in the morning and put so much of your life into this work. The why tells us what we want to accomplish over the very long term.  Everything that we do is in service to this big lofty purpose.

Let’s imagine a brand of plant-based milks targeted at women. The purpose statement might sound like this: “We believe women do more than they get credit for, more than they’re asked, more than you know. And yet can accomplish even more. We exist to inspire and energize women to continue to do more every day and find the joy within.”   

That’s a big lofty task — how can we live up to that? This is where mission comes in.

Mission is the way we address the purpose. It is the what we do. Here we start to introduce a solution and context — but still broadly.  We’re on a mission to solve a problem by doing this thing that we do. At this level, we start to frame up a more unique space for ourselves in the world, but it is still not 100% ownable. And that’s OK — we are talking about solving a problem in the world, and if it’s worth solving, there should be other people trying to solve it, too. Our positioning statements — which frames up our unique proposition — is where our competitive advantage exists.

Thinking of the same brand, the mission statement might say: “We’re on a mission to uplift women to their full potential with products that fuel them.” This mission statement directly connects to the example on purpose. What we want to do to inspire and energize women and the way that we do that is by uplifting them to their full potential.

Vision is an intention for what we want to achieve. It is different from purpose and mission because it is self-serving — and that’s not a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s very important. It’s about what we can accomplish as an organization, not what we can do for the world (that’s what purpose says). Visions should feel uncomfortable and hard to achieve, but not completely unattainable.  

A vision statement for this same brand might say: “To become the brand that is synonymous with exceptional women.” Or... “To become the largest plant-based milk brand.”  Or... “To be the brand that changes how society thinks about ambitious women.”

Purpose and mission statements are part of the heart of the brand. Vision statements are part of the brains of the brand.  If I could encourage you to do something, it’s to set the purpose and mission above vision. Vision is important, too, but that can come with business planning. Purpose and mission create guardrails for everything else whereas vision is about pushing us forward. If you’re a young brand, vision is not as immediately valuable as purpose and mission.

Why and when should business leaders define a brand’s purpose and mission?

Ms. Galloway: It can be difficult to lay out these lofty statements early in the development of a new company. Often, it is easier to wrap our heads around the product positioning — the consumer, the solution, the benefits. That’s because we usually start a company with a solution. And that’s OK — it is the very tangible way we engage with our consumers.

But once we have that starting point, founders should work to articulate the purpose and mission as soon as possible.  These will create the foundation for everything else that the company will do. They are necessary to help make strategic choices about investors, retail channels, hiring, innovation, marketing, company policies, etc. Everything should be in support of the purpose and mission.

The exception to this are brands that are created from a purpose. If there is a purpose that is driving you to create this brand, and the product solution is purely a means to an end, then by all means start there. The Toms shoe brand is a good example of that.

Can purpose and mission evolve over time?

Ms. Galloway: The purpose is unlikely to change. It is the why we are doing what we are doing. Unless the beliefs and society dynamics behind the purpose changes, the purpose shouldn’t change. Because the purpose is broad and big by definition, it is unlikely that it will change over time.

The mission, however, can absolutely evolve. As the company makes progress on the first mission, or finds better ways to live into its purpose, the mission may evolve or change completely.   

What are some dos and don’ts of defining these elements?

Ms. Galloway: Do spend the right amount of time articulating your purpose and mission. This is very iterative work and requires a lot of thinking and clarifying what we mean. Do not shortcut the process.

Do engage your primary stakeholders in the process. If you already have employees, investors, or strategic business partners, you might seriously include them. This really helps them buy into and support your purpose, and their feedback can be really helpful in getting to just the right words to describe your intentions.  

Do not outsource this work. You might work with a consultant, like me, to facilitate the process of getting to your purpose and mission. But at no point should you be paying someone to come up with this for you. This should not look like someone interviewing you and then coming back with an output. This is yours, and you need to own it, even if you leverage experts to help you get through it effectively.

How do you use your purpose and mission when working with service providers like public relations agencies and branding companies?

Ms. Galloway: You should never start a discussion with anyone outside of your organization without first reviewing your purpose and mission statements (and positioning statements). It doesn’t matter who it is — whether you are paying them, they are mentoring you, or you’re just telling them about your brand. Every single conversation should begin with the purpose and mission statements.  

This ensures that everyone is crystal clear why we are here and what we’re trying to accomplish. This provides the guardrails for all of our work moving forward. Without this, you risk people misinterpreting what you want to accomplish, and time will be wasted on ideas that do not add value.

Think of purpose and mission (and positioning statements) as freedom — once you articulate them, you are free from having to constantly think about how to explain your brand, your business, and what you’re trying to accomplish. And that is powerful. And once you’ve done the work to articulate them, don’t forget about them. Always start there, and it will relieve so much stress and extra work because you’ll know exactly why and what you are doing.