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How to Define – and Align – Your Brand's Purpose, Vision and Mission

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh | Image credit: Amon Rappaport

With a growing body of evidence showing that purpose-driven brands are more successful at attracting customers, retaining talent and delivering financial returns, it’s increasingly important to define some essential elements that can bring meaning to your brand: purpose, vision and mission. Whether you’re building a global brand or a young challenger brand, any brand big or small can benefit from this kind of clarity. Here’s how one of each — Unilever and Burger Lounge (a client of mine) break it down:

Unilever

  • Purpose: To make sustainable living commonplace.
  • Vision: Double the size of the business, while reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact.
  • Mission: We will work to create a better future everyday. We will help people look good, feel good and get more out of life with brands and services that are good for them and for others. We will inspire people to take small, everyday actions that can add up to a big difference for the world. 

Burger Lounge

  • Purpose: Advancing positive change within the food industry by bridging the gap between the dining public and producers who honor the body, the planet and a “better food” movement.
  • Vision: As the demand for better food and responsibly sourced ingredients grows, Burger Lounge will be positioned as an industry leader.
  • Mission: Delight the guest.

Purpose: The Why

These days, it’s not enough to tout your brand’s promise or products. You need a purpose, too. Simply put, purpose is your brand’s “why”— both why you matter and why you exist. That’s why “making money” won’t cut it as a purpose anymore. Your brand needs to make a difference in the world, and in the lives of those who matter most to you. 

When I help brands find their purpose, I look for alignment between “what you do best” and “how you benefit the world.” Or in other words your brand’s purpose is the benefit you bring to the world through your business. For my client, The Conservation Fund, we expressed their purpose as “Conservation Working for America,” because of their commitment to solutions that have both environmental and economic benefits for people across the country. Here are some other purpose statements from well-known brands:

  • Southwest: As the story goes, it took Southwest a few years as the leader in low-fare air travel before the company defined its purpose: “Give people the freedom to fly.” 
  • Chipotle: “Food with Integrity” isn’t its sustainability or cause program, it’s a business philosophy that guides the company’s every action. As it states, “With every burrito we roll or bowl we fill, we're working to cultivate a better world.”
  • Zappos: The company known for delivering happiness with its shoes says its purpose is “To inspire the world by showing it’s possible to simultaneously deliver happiness to customers, employees, community, vendors and shareholders in a long-term, sustainable way.”

Vision: The What

If purpose is your “why,” then your vision is “what” you want to achieve as a result. In other words, ask yourself ‘If we remain committed to our purpose, what will we accomplish?’ When Unilever delivers on its purpose “to make sustainable living commonplace,” it will make it possible to achieve its vision: “double the size of the business, while reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact.” For Burger Lounge, “advancing positive change within the food industry” (its purpose) will help the company achieve its vision of being an industry leader as demand for better food and responsibly sourced ingredients grows. 

Mission: The How

While brands often start with their mission, it’s easier to define your mission when your purpose and vision are clear. That’s because mission is “how” you’ll advance your purpose and achieve your vision. Patagonia’s mission is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” That direct and bold statement simultaneously defines their “how” while also alluding to a greater purpose.

Whether you express your brand’s purpose, vision and mission individually or in one statement, the important part is defining these essential elements. After all, you want to be clear on not only “what” you’re trying to achieve, but “how” you’ll get there and “why” it matters. That’s the best way to get those who know your brand — from your customers to your team — to come along for the ride and maybe just fall in love on the way.


Amon Rappaport is a purpose-driven brand and communications strategist who helps companies and causes tell great stories that benefit business and the world. As Chief Storyteller of Rappaport Communications he advances corporate responsibility and creates brand value for clients… [Read more about Amon Rappaport]