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Untangling the complex world of corporate values, missions and ideals

by Nigel Hollis | December 03, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting at a private bank in Beijing, China. I had taken a copy of my book, The Global Brand as a gift, but that proved unnecessary. Not only had our contact already bought a copy, he had also bought a copy of Jim Stengel’s Grow. And subsequent questions not only proved he had read the books, but he was already actively trying to apply the learning to his business.

My reason for being at the meeting was to share the ValueDrivers framework and demonstrate that it applies just as well to financial services brands as to any other brand. But before I had finished outlining the need for a brand to have a clear purpose, the first element of the framework, I was asked how this fits with vision, mission and ideals.

It is an excellent question and one that I struggled to answer easily at the time. I ended up scribbling down a matrix in my notebook and we filled the subsequent pages with diagrams, trying to clarify how the different aspects of corporate mindset fit together. A clarified version of the matrix is shown below.

Like any simplification the matrix forces clarity, when in practice, things tend to blur together. But I think that the key dimensions do help identify where the different elements fit.

The first axis of the matrix looks at whether the impact of the element is internal or external. Does it apply to the company or to the people who buy the company’s product or service? The second axis identifies whether the influence is functional i.e. what the company does on a daily basis or whether it is aspirational (what the company intends to achieve in the future). In a way, this parallels the functional and emotional benefits of a brand. Because both of these are concerned with the future, I believe they can both be encompassed by what some call vision. 

Where do corporate values fit? To my mind, these underpin the intent. They determine how the brand goes about its business. Does it really respect its customers and consumers and treat them fairly? Does it really have their best interests in mind or is it only about the profit that can be made from them?

So what do you think? Does this serve to clarify how these different elements fit together or obscure it? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. GLYN, December 12, 2012
    Hi Nigel

    I think this is a very interesting topic. We just founded a company in 2011 and we have constantly found ourselves talking about being resourceful by uplifting people's lives "external" and providing a unique solution to a problem, unique in the sense that you should have a good reason to give us your money in a crowded space of solution providers "internal"
  2. Nigel, December 03, 2012
    Thanks for the speedy comments! I guess I was seeking to clarify what we mean by the different terms not suggest that a company should have all four of them! If you are focused on your customer or consumer - as any good marketer should be - then to my mind Ideal and Purpose trump in the inner focused Mission and Intent. 
    So, yes Eileen, what you say is true. Ideals do not need to be communicated but, if effective, they will be felt by the customer or consumer. And to Mats point, if you have an Ideal then I believe it subsumes the Mission.
    And Drew, apologies, lack of clarity on my behalf, values do underpin the four quadrants. I meant intent with a small "i" not a big "I"!
  3. Drew M, December 03, 2012
    I like Eileen's comment above as I also believe that the culture of a company is the true reflection of the corporate values.  In the matrix example you provide, to me it seems like there is a disconnect, since the corporate values should be reflected in each piece--if the internal mission is profit driven, it seems like a stretch that the company's ideal is to make a true difference in people's lives.  Of course any business needs to turn a profit, but if this is communicated as the internal mission, that implies the company values money over people.  As such, each of the four boxes in the matrix should reflect the corporate values so that the company and its employees live these values and ultimately convey them via the customer experience.
  4. Mats, December 03, 2012
    I believe what you have as the "Ideal" in your model above must also be the internal "Mission". If you succeed in your Ideal you are likely to achive your Mission, but not the other way around.

    But I actually prefer to talk about Vision and Purpose when defining a company's long-term direction. The Vision states where the company ultimately wants to go and the Purpose tells why the company should/wants to go there.
  5. Eileen, December 03, 2012
    Hi Nigel,
    When I think of our brand ideal, my first focus is inside the company.  It's not something we say to the outside world, it's something we hope the outside world will see & feel through how we behave and what we believe.  In some ways, I think it displaces the need for a mission.
    Look forward to hearing what others think!

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