What the founder of Apple can teach franchisors about mission statements

Franchisors are well-advised to take a note out of Steve Jobs' handbook and sharpen up their mission statements

What the founder of Apple can teach franchisors about mission statements

Steve Jobs must have been shocked upon returning to Apple in 1997; this was not the same company he’d left. What had been a tech startup devoted to elevating mankind prior to his losing an internal power struggle in 1985 had disintegrated into producing substandard computers like the highly criticised low-cost Performa series. Instead of devoting themselves to producing top-of-the-line desktops, Apple’s diversified product line – which included a range of digital cameras, speakers, TV appliances and portable CD players – was hardly making a dent in Microsoft’s profits. “Apple was doing so many things that weren’t on message, which diluted the brand value,” says Ken Segall, former creative director at TBWAChiatDay, the agency behind Apple’s Think Different campaign, and author of Think Simple – How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity.

Eager to get the company back on track, Jobs slashed the complex product line. Apple devoted itself to producing a small number of technological marvels easily counted on your fingers, instead of uncountable shoddy products. And, to keep Apple from losing its way again, Jobs presented the company with a new mission statement: “Provide relevant, compelling solutions that customers can only get from Apple.”

While the mission statement has changed since then, in 1997 it laid the foundation that enabled Apple to become the world’s most valuable company. “Jobs’ vision gave everybody a focus,” says Segall. For franchisors, the story highlights the importance of having a clear mission statement. “It’s a company’s reason for being,” he continues. “A mission statement is like guard rails; it makes it more difficult to steer off the road.”

However, a mission statement doesn’t exist in isolation: it is intimately linked to company culture and brand and is the cumulation of everything the business is. “The mission statement is a company’s DNA,” says Paul Thompson, co-founder of Water Babies, the national toddler swimming-lesson franchise. “It is everything from what it believes to who its clients are.”

Few companies highlight the intimate relationship between values and mission statements like Ben & Jerry’s, the American ice-cream manufacturer and scoop shop franchisor. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield formalised the franchise’s mission statement in 1988, based on the values and culture they’d established within the business. That meant they didn’t just stop at saying it would make delicious frozen desserts. Instead they outlined that it would be used in “innovative ways to make the world a better place”.

That phrase has guided Ben & Jerry’s to take a stance against genetically modified crops, use only Fairtrade products and minimise its carbon footprint. Additionally, the mission statement and the values drive how Ben & Jerry’s select its franchisees. “We only seek franchisees who are passionate about our mission and values, including making a positive change in the world,” says Eric Thomas, franchise development manager at Ben & Jerry’s. “We look for a commitment from our candidates to operate in a socially responsible manner, including active participation in making their communities a better place.”

Closer to home, Water Babies has taken the relationship between the mission statement and the attraction of its franchisees one step further. The franchise’s vision is to become the leading provider of world-class aquatic teaching programmes for babies, children, pregnant women and new mothers. Recognising the key role franchisees and teachers play in achieving that goal, the mission statement is almost solely devoted to finding the right talent. “The culture of us being a people business has been there from the beginning,” says Thompson. But it wasn’t until six years after the swimming school’s launch that the franchise officially formalised its mission statement. “As we grew, we realised that we needed to have it spelled out in black and white,” he continues.

And other business leaders are advised to follow Water Babies’ example, as it looks like the mission statement will become even more important to recruiting the right staff in the future. In fact, 38% of millennials say that companies’ vision and mission statements would be the deciding factor when selecting one employer over another, according to a survey Korn Ferry Futurestep released in July.

By investing time and energy in its mission statement, Water Babies has helped defend consumer trust in its brand. And it isn’t the only company that has seen better engagement as a result of clearly defining its mission, with Ben & Jerry’s also reaping the rewards of communicating its mission inside and out. “There is no question in our minds that our mission statement and values-led business decisions create a deeper sense of loyalty with our customers,” says Rob Michalak, global director of social mission at Ben & Jerry’s. “We have data that tells us that our fans are 2.5 times more loyal to us than they are to other brands due to our mission and values.”

But if a mission statement is to attract customers, it must be clear. For instance, Apple’s mission statement devoted the company to creating elegant tools only it could produce. And if a franchise is aiming to gain that kind of clarity in a mission statement, it’s important to remember that less is often more. “The strongest mission statements are usually just a sentence or a phrase that is extremely easy to comprehend,” says Segall. “Put in too many things and people won’t remember any of them.”

However, many companies don’t get that right. One revealing example can be found in Think Simple. While Jobs was aligning Apple to the company’s new mission and slashed the product line, Dell went the other way. The company offered 53 different computers at one point, with the result that as Apple climbed to the top of the corporate world, Dell suffered continuous losses. “I don’t want to be simplistic and say that the lack of a clear mission statement is the source of all its problems but it certainly doesn’t help,” says Segall.
A clear mission statement enabled Jobs to turn Apple into a tech giant, Thompson to set up franchises in China and Ben & Jerry’s to be a force for good. But, most importantly, it can offer your franchise something to navigate by. “Without it, you’re just working at a place that does stuff,” concludes Segall.

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson