Make Us Sing Along


Successful pop songs make listeners sing along. That’s the ultimate function of a chorus. No one can resist a chorus line like “My loneliness is killing me (and I) ...” (Britney Spears), “All you need is love” (Beatles) or “Because you know I’m all about that bass” (Meghan Trainor).

Does your business mission make anyone sing along?

In German there is a saying:  “Wes’ Brot ich ess’, dess’ Lied ich sing”. It literally means: “Whose bread I eat, whose song I sing”, more properly translated to "never quarrel with your bread and butter".

Employees and customers want to relate to a story, that’s why Apple, Facebook, or Porsche are such attractive companies. They have exciting products and stories to tell. However, the majority of products in the world can’t compete in terms of excitement or coolness. Most things are quite ordinary; think of cables, health insurances, shower heads or anti-piracy software. But what we strive for as an organization can be exceptional. Even more than relating to a product or service, clients and employees are ready to sing along a strong mission: The Body Shop, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or the German drugstore chain DM are great examples (to name a few), and people can even care about microprocessors (Intel), clearly not the most obvious candidate for an exciting product (in the eye of an average customer).

We sing (work) along because of a story, purpose and mission behind a product or service (the prerequisite for great products and services). Here are some mission statement examples of the aforementioned companies:

... to dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change." (The Body Shop),
... selling the highest quality natural and organic products available." (Whole Foods) 
... we provide these ... delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, fun, individual pride, and company spirit." (Trader Joe's). 
... delight our customers, employees, and shareholders by relentlessly delivering the platform and technology advancements that become essential to the way we work and live. (Intel)

Clients can even get excited about buying shoes online and write raving reviews when they receive excellent customer service (Zappos). Here's an excerpt of a blog by the company's CEO, talking about Zappos' endeavors of living up to the values, and about the situation that happens in many companies: 

Many companies have core values, but they don’t really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you’d read in a press release. Maybe you learn about them on day 1 of orientation, but after that it’s just a meaningless plaque on the wall of the lobby.

Anything but indifferent

In the business world, we focus on singing along positive stories. In music, it’s more complex and different. Music psychology shows that we love positive and negative valence in music: anything is better than being indifferent (boring).

In fact, most songs are not about peaches, cream or honey. Looking at the Spotify Top 50 US Charts from June 8th, 2015, almost half of the tunes (21 of 50) have explicit song lyrics, from No.1: Trap Queen by Fetty Wap to Nasty Freestyle, to B**** Better Have My Money (Rihanna) to No. 50: I Don't F*** With You by Big Sean and E-40. We enjoy negative emotions in arts and music, from Romeo & Juliet to Sweeney Todd. Anything is preferable to not relating at all. Anything is better than not having a story, even emotions we wouldn't want to choose in real (business) life.

In corporate environment, such a non-story would be an “integrated technology group” (the mission of Daimler Benz in the 80s and 90s). Who cares about something like that? Or Volvo’s vague mission statement disclaimer that “by creating value for our customers, we create value for our shareholders...”. 

What do we relate to?

When we listen to hit songs, there are several common topics that invite us to sing along to the music. Songs we relate to are inspirational or give empowerment (Katy Perry's RoarGloria Gaynor I Will Survive). They're dedicated to introspection (Coldplay’s Viva La Vida) or a specific lifestyle (In Da Club from the album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ by 50 Cent). They are about relationships (too many to count), about hooking up (top songs are Magic by ColdplayFrom Eden by Hozier), biographical topics (Stole The Show), personal issues (Family Portrait by Pink) or boasting (Eminem's Rap God).

The overwhelming number of mission statements for companies clearly falls into the inspirational and empowerment section (remember: positive valence is preferred for businesses). Here are some examples:

Inspirational & Empowering Mission Statements:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. (Patagonia)
To inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities. (New York Public Library)
To be Earth's most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online. (Amazon)
To provide a free world-class education to anyone anywhere. (Kahn Academy)
To connect the world’s professionals and make them more productive and successful.” (LinkedIn)

Anchor vs. daily activities

In great songs, each lyric line relates to the chorus, each verse leads to the chorus and gives it a different perspective, each verse questions, challenges or supports the chorus. 

When a chorus is the anchor of the song, we can look at the mission as the anchor for a company. It gives us stability when things and daily tasks move on, when customers are complaining, when suppliers go out of business and so on. The verses and the bridge highlight the development, the daily tasks and changes. The chorus gives us stability and is our home amid the turbulences. It gives us the reason for still be loyal to the company, to live up to the standards we set and to remember why we're doing all of this (look again at the article about the first songwriting hack and the parts of a meaningful mission statement).