This week's bounty: Online mission statements

Relly Annett-Baker

Do you remember the cartoon Rabbit Fire where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck duke it out to declare what sort of hunting season it is, with Elmer Fudd chasing them to get something for his pot? Well, I declare a new bounty: Mission Statements.

Before I declare Open Season on these vagrant spacewasters, however, let me backtrack to a question I got on my page.

What’s wrong with having a mission statement on a website? (Please respond in words a client would understand.)

My response is at the end of this article but first I want to direct you to perhaps the most plaintive part of this question: ‘Please respond in words a client would understand’. I think there are plenty of web savvy folks out there that have been noodling about on the web long enough to look at a Mission Statement and know instinctively it is the wrong thing in the wrong place. It pains them but it seems to be a business requirement so it is hard to explain what about it jars so much.

If you’ve been trying to put your finger on it then perhaps this will resonate with you: the web is about doing tasks. It starts with a thought and ends (ideally) with a transaction or exchange of information. Very rarely is this enhanced by knowing the company’s internal hopes and wishes.

Three random examples of opening statement for mission statements, that a quick search gave me:

“business is not just about looking down at the bottom line – it is also about looking up at the horizon” – a training company

“(our mission:) to inspire and nurture the human spirit” – a coffee company

“(we aim) to promote the benefit of the inhabitants of Newtown by the provision of an Internet site devoted to the supply of information about the Newtown area, its public and private facilities and its commercial enterprises.” –  a local town website

So tell me, how is this ‘content’ (in some cases on the homepage) of value compared to:

“We would like to talk to you about your business. You can call us on XXXX”

“We make great coffee and an atmosphere where you can relax. Here is where you can come and sample it – here’s a voucher for you.”

“Here are pages about the town [link], public facilities [link] and our commercial enterprises [link]. We look forward to seeing you at Newtown [map link]”

After all, no-one really needs to say they inspire the human spirit. They just need to do it.

It reminds me of my three year old who insists every morning before nursery that today he will be a good boy and not do shouting or pushing or snatching. When you are three these things constitute a challenge, after all, but when you are a company giving over a section of your site to say ‘Hey, we don’t plan on f**king anyone over and we never snatch toys and we inspire the human spirit.’ I am left thinking ‘Well, yes. You are a grown-up right? Now get on and tell me what you have that fulfils my needs.’

I think web people get this. After all, we are adept at scanning the crap on other sites so it hardly bothers us. When we are given it as content to work into a page structure, well, that’s when we are left thinking ‘hmm, something about this isn’t quite right’ though we can’t quite express it to a client. It’s because a mission statement should be an internal guiding principle not a public morality lecture. The value in the second statements is that they begin to embody the values the companies purport and – great news! – they can just have them on the site, as part of their everyday content.

So, to finish, here is the answer I gave to the question “What’s wrong with having a mission statement on a website? (Please respond in words a client would understand.)”

‘The space and words given over to explaining what you would like to do would be better spent on doing it, especially if you are selling a product or service. Mission statements are to direct companies and not customers.

The values found in a company mission statement should be naturally weaved through what you offer and how you do it (on your site and elsewhere) so stating it *should* be redundant?

Actions speak louder than words and all that.”

Rabbit Season - Frame from the cartoon rabbit fire showing Duffy and Bugs in front of a sign reading rabbit season

So, go on. In the immortal words of Elmer Fudd ‘It’s huntin’ season’. Imma gonna bag me some Missions Statement for mah cookin’ pot! Wontcha join me?