I was recently speaking to a group of entrepreneurs about how they could boost their businesses by slaying their Frankenbrands. The most intensive part of the presentation was on the importance of knowing their brand’s core message—the combination of values, a mission and a vision statement.

As I was finishing up the section, I asked the audience whether they had any questions.

This question came from the crowd:

“In John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech, he stated that the nation would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Is this an example of a mission statement, or a vision statement?”

I took a moment to think about it.
Then I was stumped.

In the moment, I admitted I wasn’t sure—that it may be a mix of both. However, even throughout the rest of the evening and during the days after, I was still thinking about that question. Now, I finally have an answer. Want the short version?

It’s neither.

Want the explanation? Read on.
Feeling impatient? Skip to the end.

The Branding Question I Couldn't Answer

The Difference Between a Mission and a Vision Statement

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
– John F. Kennedy

Your Mission is Influenced by Your “WHY”

On the surface, your mission statement may answer questions like “What do you do?” and “What makes you different?” However, its true power is derived from answering an even shorter question:

“Why?”

Your mission is your reason for starting in the first place. It’s who you want to help, what you’re offering them, and what you want them to achieve. However, the why behind these questions are what will help you craft a truly impactful statement. Notice how these simple shifts change the emotion of your answers:

  • Who do you want to help? → Why do you want to help them?
  • What do you offer? → Why is what you offer important?
  • What do you want your audience to achieve → Why is that outcome important?

Answering the basic “who-what-how” questions are a start, but if you want your mission statement to be emotionally-charged and impactful, you need to know your “why”.

Why Kennedy’s Statement Isn’t a Mission

We know from history that the space race was a politically motivated competition against the Soviet Union. We also know that the whole concept was emotionally-charged (come on, humans were going to the flipping moon—in the sixties)! However, Kennedy’s statement alone doesn’t call on the “why”. Without the luxury of context, the deep-rooted purpose isn’t present.

Your Vision Is the Desired Result of Your Mission

Much like your mission, your vision has a mix of surface-level and deep-rooted qualities. At first, a vision may bring to mind the superficial or tangible outcomes of running a successful business: wealth, distribution, notoriety, land, etc. However, a powerful vision statement is all about one thing:

Impact.

If you achieved the most successful outcome for your business, how would this impact the world? How do you want to impact the world?

  • A shelter in every city → a world where every human has access to a warm bed and fresh food
  • $6 billion in revenue for a life insurance agency → a world where families have peace of mind and financial security

Your vision statement can also be influenced by the impact that people, events or ideas had on you. It can be inspired by your mission—your “why”. It can be a response to a problem that has affected you, others, or the world as a whole. Your vision offers a solution to that problem.

Why Kennedy’s Statement Isn’t a Vision

Kennedy’s statement certainly tells us where America wanted to go, but it’s missing the impact. How would success impact America, its citizens, or the world? While we know how this story ends (and the resulting impact), this knowledge is only gifted to us by time and context.

So What IS It?

If it had to be labelled as anything, Kennedy’s statement could be called a goal. In fact, the clue to this answer is in the phrase itself:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

It’s inspiring, powerful and historical. However, it’s not quite a mission or vision statement (and that’s OK)! For a person announcing a previously unimaginable journey, the idea itself was enough to stir emotion. However, for the rest of us shooting for the moon right here on Earth, our crystal clear core message is still one of the strongest tools for building a connection with our audience.

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