With more competition than ever before, customer buying habits changing and a lot of brands suffering an identity crisis, how can brands today stand out, make an impact and build a loyal following?This article is part of a series we will be publishing addressing these issues – The previous article in the series was What is brand purpose and how can it help your business.
With a great deal of choice available to your audience no matter what niche you’re in it is becoming harder to stick in the mind of your audience, carve out a place in their hearts as a brand they love, will recommend to others and keep coming back to. And with the growing importance of reviews, rating systems and the immediacy of social media, consumers can broadcast praise or condemnation of a brand equally as quickly and with great reach.
This has seen a greater push for excellent customer service and enjoyable interactions with brands creating memorable experiences, delightful packaging and friendly or funny customer interactions even when faced with complaints.
There has also been an increase in customers seeking more from a brand than product updates and new models. They want to feel a connection to a brand as something they can relate to, this can be seen in a recent statistic from the Harvard Business Review that found 64% of consumers say that sharing the same values with a brand is the primary reason they have a relationship in the first place.
64% of consumers say that sharing the same values with a brand is the primary reason they have a relationship in the first place.
— Harvard Business Review
With consistency being a crucial part in becoming memorable to your audience, nurturing loyalty and creating repeat business. How do you deliver your brand consistently? How do you and your team know when to draw the line? How do you represent the brand in both good and difficult situations? What are the principles that your brand adheres to?
These are important questions which if handled incorrectly or not defined can lead to a brand that is inconsistent (in an identity crisis), has customer service issues, sales issues, marketing issues and internal confusion as to how to represent the brand daily. If this is untreated it can also cause a disconnect with your audience.
But don’t worry I’m going to introduce you to Brand Values.
What are brand values?
Brand values are the guiding principles that drive your brand’s internal culture and external connection. Marking how you act, what you stand for and against and how you communicate to your customers, brand values are an integral part to a properly Unified Brand – (what is a unified brand? Download the guide here).
When people think of a brand they often think of a logo, colours and fonts or the Face of the brand (Identity), they may think of the messaging and tone of voice or the Voice of the brand (Personality) some may even think of the strategy, positioning and business plan or Brain of the brand (Logic) but few will ever think of the Heart of the brand (Core or soul). It’s in this Element of the brand that you will find Brand Values.
We too are built with these 4 Elements making up our Identity. Our Face is not the sum total of who we are but a way for others to recognise us quickly and tie us to the memory they have of our other 3 Elements. Our Voice provides the vehicle or a way for us to communicate our Heart, beliefs, values and what we stand for and our brain acts as a strategic filter to differentiate ourselves, interact with others and present to the world.
For us, our values are what guide us to be who we are, act how we act, draw the line when we feel something has gone too far and influence our thoughts and actions continually.
This is no different for your brand, these core guiding principles are how you and your team should be when representing your brand, they should act as pillars that help you in the way to act when working on your brand’s mission, towards your brand’s vision and tie in directly to your brand’s purpose.
They are directives for you and your team to follow daily that help to communicate the heart or internal part of your brand to your audience, giving them a more memorable, consistent and meaningful experience with your brand, which leads to greater success, repeat custom and brand loyalty. They are also the foundation for a strong company culture creating an environment primed for growth, teamwork and togetherness.
It is this mix of internal principles, thriving brand culture and aligned messaging that help toward building you a differentiated approach in the marketplace that cannot be copied (authentically) by your competition, you can’t fake true brand values or the culture and relationships they authentically build.
Why should you care about brand values.
‘If people believe they have share values with a company they will stay loyal to the brand’
– Howard Schultz
Your Brand’s values along with your brand vision are the WHAT of your brand (see diagram below) and they serve to outline WHAT your brand stands for as well as how it behaves.
‘WHY’ your brand purpose – Why you exist
‘WHAT’ your brand vision – What we aim to achieve
‘HOW’ your brand mission – How we plan to achieve our vision
‘WHAT’ your brand values – what we stand for and how we behave
‘HOW’ your brand positioning – How we differentiate from our competition
With an increase in brands championing causes, in some cases with examples of brand activism (see Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign) and with consumers buying into brands they have shared values with, understanding what your brand stands for and how it behaves is paramount to creating memorability and loyalty.
Brands that don’t abide by a defined set of values seem empty when you interact with them especially over multiple interactions and can also seem like every other brand in the niche.
Whereas brands that embrace and live by their values through every channel and interaction have a depth to them that makes interacting with them feel like a genuine and memorable experience.
Brand Values not only have an impact on your customers but also your internal team, a study by the CIM (Chatered institute of Marketing) found that only 35% of respondents believe they understand their role in delivering a branded customer experience.
This means that the other 65% didn’t understand the role they play in building their brand daily. The majority of internal teams whether its a brand, club, organisation or non-profit don’t understand they are all brand builders every day and everything they do goes towards building what the brand is and stands for in the mind of their audience.
Your brand values empower your team to understand what your brand stands for and how they should act on behalf of it and it’s this consistent delivery of the brand that allows people to feel connected to your brand in a way that is hard to describe and shapes your internal brand culture.
Externally Values should flow from the core of your brand an out to your audience. You can, for instance, have your brand’s values on a page on your website but the real power comes when you communicate these values without stating them explicitly. They should inform your brand’s design, website, brand story, marketing campaigns, social media and even content marketing.
Taken from one of the examples below. Two of Vans core brand values are ‘fun’ and ‘expressive’ and you can see both of these values in the design of their products and how they are marketed.
They also cite ‘determination’ as one of their core values this not only epitomises every hardcore skater but also can be seen as a constant theme in their social media feeds (see below).
Its this use of your core brand values that creates a powerful bond between your brand and customer and allows them in to a deeper relationship with the brand.
Brand Values Examples
(Sport and Fitness Brands)
Performance, passion, integrity and diversity. Four strong values that give you clear markers of how to be when representing the brand and are easily memorable.
- Performance: Sport is the foundation for all we do and excellence is a core value of our Group.
- Passion: Passion is at the heart of our company. We are continuously moving forward, innovating, and improving.
- Integrity: We are honest, open, ethical, and fair. People trust us to adhere to our word.
- Diversity: We know it takes people with different ideas, strengths, interests, and cultural backgrounds to make our company succeed. We encourage healthy debate and differences of opinion.
Inspiration, innovation, Every athlete in the world, Authentic, Connected and distinctive. Nike wants to keep its employees inspired to ensure they design and produce distinctive, innovation-driven products that are authentic and meet the needs of every athlete in the world. They also focus on building relationships (connected).
- Every athlete in the world
Connectedness, determination, inclusivity, expressive, and fun. These values are perfect for the Vans brand that prides itself on building constructive relationships and championing inclusivity. Expressive, fun and dertimination tie into the DNA on skateboarding and match up with Vans vision statement “designed for the creative pursuit of being you”.
Love athletes, stand for equality, fight on together, create fearlessly, always connect, stay true, think beyond and celebrate the wins.
- Love athletes
- Stand for equality
- Fight on together
- Create fearlessly
- Always connect
- Stay true
- Think beyond
- Celebrate the wins
How to define your brand values
Some things to remember when creating your brand values is they should be:
Easily actionable – As your brand values are directives internally to help guide your team and brand culture they need to be defined in clear, actionable language as though they are written to be read and followed. For instance “Creativity” instead use “We approach every situation with a creative mindset”.
Individual – Your brand values should be unique to your brand, tie into your brand purpose and help you and your team achieve your mission. This isn’t an exercise in copycatting other brands or worse your competition it is about authentically defining how you want your brand to show up in the world.
Easy to remember – You want everyone member of your team to remember your values so they can consistently act on them. For this to happen they need to be easy to remember and a way to do this is to take the Adidas approach above – outline the value name e.g Passion and then back that up with the full easily actionable value. This allows ‘Passion’ to act as the memory hook for the full value.
Have heart – Cookie cutter templated values and copied values from other brands are a quick way to alienate and confuse your team and audience. Your values should come from the heart of the brand, be things you stand up for and mean something. They also need to stand the test of time and shouldn’t be changed, this is another reason to
make sure they are true to the brand. This way no matter how you grow the values should remain relevant to the brand.
1. Word Association Brainstorm
Ask your team the following questions in rounds and get them to write down the answer to each question either on a new sticky note, piece of paper or whiteboard . If using sticky notes organise the answers into 3 columns one for each question. For larger companies invite just the leadership team for this process and gather data from other employees through a survey if necessary.
- What do we stand for + against?
- What do we value most?
- What do we believe as a company?
Similar to the previous step but this time think about your audience what do they value and stand for. Again if using sticky notes this time organise the answers into two columns.
- What causes or ideals do our audience get behind and stand for?
- What do our audience value most?
3. Organise into themes
By this point you should have five columns full of interesting ideas. Start by ignoring the last two columns to do with the customer and begin sorting the other three columns into themes, keep it to 6 themes maximum at this point but ideally 4-5 broad themes and give each theme a name or heading to describe it. Now take the last two columns (audience) and add sort these to the relevant themes you just created but slightly away from the business answers, be it underneath or to the side of the theme (see download for example). You want to see which are answers from the business and which are from the audience.
4. Define your values
For each theme heading look at the answers and think about how these relate internally to your culture and then externally to your customer. Decide on and refine the name for this theme with your team think of each theme as a directive for your internal team to meet the customers expectations (see the Adidas example above strong value name and description to back it up) making sure it’s easily actionable, individual, easy to remember and has heart (as above) . Under each new Value heading write a short description of what this value is and how it works as a guide for your internal team to meet your customer expectations.