Quick Thoughts: Mission and Brand


These concepts are distinct though connected, but they may be confused in some people’s minds. More specifically, many people use logo and brand interchangeably. The two are linked, but a brand is an attribute that organizations nurture, while a logo is a mere visual representation used to evoke the brand rapidly.

And even though a mission is, ostensibly, what they should place at the center of their work, many organizations spend significant time and money constructing, promoting, and protecting their brand.

Brands can be largely divorced from the mission or only nominally connected to it. Though most organizations would say they are focused on their mission, many are more focused on their brand. So it is essential to understand what brands are.

Brands are about allegiance. 

Missions are about ends. Organizations can use missions to construct brands, but brands are not necessarily connected to the actual accomplishment of an organization’s mission. 

See this page for some interesting thoughts on brands: https://www.ignytebrands.com/what-is-a-brand/

“(B)rands live in the mind. They live in the minds of everyone who experiences them: employees, investors, the media, and, perhaps most importantly, customers.

Simply put, brands are perceptions.”

Brands are not logos, products, goods, or services. Organizations design and nurture brands to encourage people to feel a certain way about the organization; perceive it in a certain way; to grow attached to it as an extension of an individual’s identity. A good brand will add itself to a person’s identity (“I am an Apple user,” “Patagonia is my kind of company,” “The ACLU represents what I stand for”).

Two additional thoughts on brands:

1. Marketing and communications departments focus much of their attention on brand mobilization, promotion, and protection. Communication is rarely merely neutral “fact provision.” Instead, communication strategies use facts (hopefully) and narratives about those facts to support and promote the brand. The facts are subservient to the story, which in turn supports brand identification, leading to allegiance to the brand and organization. 

2. CEOs or Executive Directors are melded with the brand and may function as a kind of logo of their own. The careful curation of a leader’s image can be an essential additive element of an organizational brand. So, a university may promote its president/chancellor as a scientist with appropriate gravitas AND endearing father-like qualities. A non-profit might portray its leader as driven to achieve results with many images of them “in the field” with those the organization seeks to serve. 

These two things result in organizations spending significant resources “telling their story” in the most compelling and favorable light possible. Descriptions of the challenges to achieving the mission, the limits of an organization’s effectiveness, or the complexity of the issues give way to stories of success and changed lives. Images of or meaningful quotes from the leader–whose depth of understanding of the issues and challenges–accompany the stories and prove the seriousness of the organization’s attention to achieving its mission.

There is nothing inherently wrong with these efforts. Still, they can and do lead away from an attention to the actual work of achieving the mission and consume significant staff and financial resources. In addition, when the proper “ends” of the organization become the creation of allegiance to the organization, the organization can go astray. It can dissemble, fail to assess progress towards its mission (especially if evidence of impact is difficult to obtain or evidence of change is lacking), promote the leader rather than the organization’s ends, and end up misleading its supporters about what it is doing.

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