The Marketing Analytics Intersect

If you love mission statements, there is a high probability that we are not going to get along.

I hate mission statements.

Well, hate is a strong word (intensely dislike?). Perhaps it is more accurate to say... I've come to hate what mission statements have become.

Mission statements had great intent behind them: Signify purpose. Provide a clear True North. Ground individuals. Bring people together.

Mission statements have long since morphed into blathering homages to nothingness, constructed by committees trying to appease every vested interest.

This is painfully real...

mission statement


For me, the presence of a mission statement, in the above spirit, has become a signal of an emperor has no clothes culture.

After all, it takes the application of a tiny amount of critical thinking by any human (like you) to conclude how abjectly useless the above effort/outcome is. And still, no one stopped it. That right there is a huge red flag about bigger issues with the corporate culture (of which the comma-rich mission statement is just one manifestation).

It does not matter if the mission statement is short or long, if it represents everything and/or nothing... You have a useless instrument in your hand.

Here's one, anonymized, real, example:

“ABCD is committed to developing a wide range of innovative products and multimedia services that challenge the way consumers access and enjoy digital entertainment. By ensuring synergy between businesses within the organization, ABCD is constantly striving to create exciting new worlds of entertainment that can be experienced on a variety of different products.”

Really!?! Really!?!

What does any of that even mean?

Yet. There it is. In public.

How is it possible that any employee, or leader, can find any purpose, a true north, in it?

Let's look at another example. This one is well intentioned, not quite as painful...

“To collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and stimulate appreciation for and advance knowledge of works of art that collectively represent the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality, all in the service of the public and in accordance with the highest professional standards.”

Does it really need all that stuff in there? Does it need simulate (use simulate with care, right?)? Look, there are a lot of ands and commas in this newsletter... But, are they helping in a mission statement?

Also, I'm sorry, I stopped caring after preserve. MoMA, why not just say:

        Display art that inspires humanity.

Better? (Reply and let me know.)

Or, just...

        Inspire humanity.


Why all the fluff to make that into a mission statement?

On that note...


Say no to mission statements, say yes to mantras.

As I'd mentioned above, I do respect the original intent behind mission statements: Signify purpose. Provide a clear True North. Ground individuals. Bring people together.

But, instead of mission statements, I like creating mantras. It is an idea expressed by Guy Kawasaki a long time ago.

As I've practiced it, mantras are five words, or less. In that space, good mantras, capture the very essence of existence (of a team, company, product, or a person).

They are as far away from long-winded meaningless let's check all the boxes things we call mission statements.

The best mantras communicate purpose, meaning, and are a clear rallying cry to bring people together.

This is the mantra of The Rachel Maddow Show:

        Increase the amount of useful information in the world.

Ok, more than five words. But, come on, isn't it amazing?

(Note: It is possible your opinion about Ms. Maddow is different than mine. I request that you set it aside for a moment - in service of a valuable lesson. Thank you.)

Put yourself in the shoes of anyone who works on that show. Now let that mantra run through your head. Purposeful? Yes. Full of meaning? Yes. A north star? F' yes.

That is what I mean. It actually stands for something. You can actually understand what it means. It is something you can remember. Something that shines like a north star giving you direction, when you need it.

Six words.

I'm a bit of mantra connoisseur. Here are a couple more I love...

Tesla: Accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

Big. Bold. Entirely product independent, with room to grow.

Square: Empowering people to make a living from their ideas.

You'll see below, I'm partial to a focus on the customer. Given how Square started, I adore the living from their ideas bit.

Here's a slightly longer one by a politician...

        In a modern, moral, & wealthy society, no American should be too poor to live.

Purpose. Meaning. Direction. Clear rallying cry. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

You can obviously get mantras wrong.

This was the mantra of one of the (subjective opinion coming...) least yummy chocolate brand in the Western world:

        Undisputed Marketplace Leadership.

I give them points for hubris and ruthlessness.

Can you imagine what purpose, meaning and rallying cry this communicates to their legions of employees?

Unsurprisingly, the company was widely panned.

Their fix was to replace the three words with 70 words (at which point it is so long that, not kidding, the mission statement contains inside it a summary of the mission statement!).

When done well, mantras effectively solve the original intent behind mission statements. Great mantras are not easy to come by, but always worth their weight in gold.

I hope you are inspired to speak up when you see generic slather mission statements, and that you'll lead the creation of great mantras.

Let me share how I've tried to do that, I welcome your critique...


Practicing what I preach.

For larger teams I've had the privilege of leading, I've often created mantras.

In my quest, mantras have often come from me (a leader defining their singular vision) or they have come from someone on the team (a peer defining their singular vision).

They have never come from a committee spending a few days at a posh Four Seasons spa retreat trying to find themselves, and through that the team. (Though look, if you get a paid-for spa retreat at the Four Seasons, take it! I recommend the Biltmore.)

Another lesson I've learned is that teams grow, people come in and out, and with that some of the original cultural nuances that are intimate to the oldies are invisible to the newbies.

My approach to solving for that is to infuse each element of the mantra with a set of words that provide additional context. To frame. To infuse meaning. To require a lot less historical/cultural nuance.

Here's a specific example...

I'd received a new leadership assignment on a visit to New York. It came with only loose outlines of what the team was going to solve for.

We were a part of the Sales team, but not a salesperson role. We had to use our strong analytical savvy to identify strategic patterns in massive data-sets to shift marketing strategies. I did not want us to be what teams like these typically become: Glorified data pukers.

That is all I had in my head for the six and half hour return flight.

My hope was to come up with something that would communicate the values that'll motivate our work, while emphasizing the outcome important to me.

At some point I wrote down...

e mc2

E = MC2

That it ended up like that made me smile. Felt clever. :)

We as a team would obsess about the customer, not the company. Instead of talking at them, we wanted to have conversations. Most critically, for the conversations to be meaningful.

Then came the hard part.

Infusing the mantra with context, clarity... Give each element a purpose.

This took a bit longer (and I moved to doing it in Excel as it is easier to move cells around!). But, just before my flight landed, I had this...

e mc2 detail

Gather, translate, purify, is standard operating procedure in our business. But, empowering truly requires an ability to tell stories (I ended up developing an entire day long storytelling ideation session to solve for this, you should come to one!). It also requires the ability to test our insights to ensure they are not full of c.

The size of our company mandated that we could only empower if we could scale our stories. That word's there to emphasize that we had to make them so effective that others - often with less analytical skills, as their jobs did not require them - could tell them intelligently.

To me meaningful was the most important word - given the purpose of the team. The first three context words you probably get. Non-Obvious was as a challenge to the team. Insanely Big was a demand for audacity.

The last two are my favorite.

While we were housed in the Sales team - whose entire reason for being is to make money -, I wanted to evoke a higher calling for us: To empower meaninful customer conversations that were relationship positive first.

Our customers (CEOs, Board of Directors, VPs) would feel we understood them, their business, their challenges so deeply that the solutions we shared would strengthen the relationship between our two companies. The desired outcome was for them to value us as strategic partners. Optimize for relationship positive outcomes - changes the entire perspective.

And, we were in Sales... You did not think I could get away by not having revenue positive in there, did you? :)

I love doing this because it is how you get to purpose, meaning, have a true north star, and bring the team together around a shared vision.

I deeply appreciate it as a leadership challenge. It requires looking into your soul, understanding your (the team's) intrinsic motivation, to consider a million different things, to try and create something... well... meaningful.

On the occasions when you get it right, I can think of a few things more rewarding.

I hope you'll give this approach a try.

Bottom-line: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. It is easier to go together, if you share a common vision for both the destination AND the journey.

What's your, five words or less, mantra?


PS: I've applied this approach to my individual self. I have a mantra that guides my professional life at a personal level. With words to infuse meaning. If you are interested, I'll share it in a future edition of TMAI.

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