American Eagle has a clearly defined set of "corporate values" which guides the actions of employees at all levels of the AE organization:
The vitality of our company resides in our people. We collaborate, we engage, we achieve.
We hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards. In the face of difficulties and challenges, we don't compromise.
Our passion infuses our actions and purpose. It transforms stores into places of energy and customer delight
We operate in a dynamic and competitive industry. We continually refine the unique processes that drive our business, and we use insightful research and analysis to balance our instinct and to guide our decisions. Our associates embody entrepreneurial spirit, develop creative solutions, and initiate change.
We work together - listening to one another, reaching consensus and supporting group decisions. We celebrate achievements. Because we respect and trust one another and commit ourselves to our company goals, our teamwork succeeds.
Additionally American Eagle has a service goal that guides employees in their everyday retailing tasks:
"We respond to the needs of our customer and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done."
I'm underwhelmed. You guys knew I would be, right? Admittedly, this isn't a mission statement, but a set of values. And that is the problem—there is no definable mission statement, and hence no one big idea, passion, or goal to drive the business.
So what we have to work with are these corporate values. Let's bypass people, integrity, and teamwork, because those belong in every company's corporate values, and focus instead on passion and innovation, because they are where this company could set itself apart.
Passion - what is American Eagle passionate about? If I had to define it, I'd say that this should read something like "We are passionate about providing on-trend, highly desirable clothes, accessories and personal care items at affordable prices to teens, millennials, and kids." This brand proposition could then become their mission statement, because it's this passion that becomes the mission that drives their business.
Innovation - this I see as the implementation of the mission statement I've just defined. Consider this statement: Our associates embody entrepreneurial spirit, develop creative solutions, and initiate change. Great! Why do they do this? To provide on-trend, highly desirable products to their audience. See how that works?
The whole point I'm trying to make here is that everything needs to flow from one, big, easily graspable idea that everyone who works there can get passionate about and commit to. American Eagle Outfitters isn't doing so hot compared to other brands that have a more defined brand and strategy, like Urban Outfitters. In 2009, UO had a 5.6% increase in revenue, as compared to AE's 0.5%, and same store sales growth was up 7.8% for UO vs. -4%. That's problematic.
I don't know how quantifiable having a strong mission statement vs. not having one is, in terms of success, but if it works for wars and elections, it probably has a strong correlation in commerce. What drives us are the causes we can get behind, the battle cries we remember, the mantras that become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that they're nearly pre-cognitive. This isn't that. It should be.