In my opinion, a mission statement is a practical description of a company’s purpose and its present state. It’s what the company does today and why it exists.
This contrasts with the vision, which is not practical but idealistic and aspirational, and not the current state but a desired future state. The mission is focused on a verb or action and the vision is focused on a noun or thing. In my view, the easiest way to distinguish the two is that the mission is “what we do” and the vision is “what we will be.” Ideally, a mission statement is 1-2 sentences that describes in very practical terms what the company does, who the company does it for, and perhaps a few words on how the company does it.
Google – Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
eBay – Provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world.
Warby Parker – Offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price while leading the way for socially-conscious businesses.
Facebook – Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
The Junto Institute – Make companies and their teams infinitely better, smarter, and healthier.
Note how they all begin with a verb/action item, are fairly practical and concise, and are focused on what the companies do in the present. Some include a reference or allusion to their market and/or include the “how” of what they do. And all of them are statements that can be used for marketing purposes, and are likely to appeal to target customers.
One question that comes up regularly about mission statements is whether they should change over time. From my experience, during the early- and growth-stage years of a company, its core product or service, target market segment, and how they do business all change to varying extents. Therefore, I believe that the mission statement should be reviewed and possibly revised every 1-3 years until all three factors stabilize.
In contrast, the vision statement for an early-stage startup is likely to be revised periodically but once it begins to sustain its growth, I believe the vision should remain intact because, from my experience, what the company wants to be doesn’t change much. Also, unlike the vision, which is about the company’s long-term ambition and mostly used internally, I believe the mission can be used for marketing purposes since it speaks to the market. Therefore, it’s worth including in proposals, on a website, on business cards, etc.