ESTABLISHING BRAND VALUES THAT GIVE YOU A FOUNDATION FOR GROWTH

BRANDING

rock tower

CONTENTS

23 min read

Brand values are one of the first things you need to get right when creating your brand.

They underpin a lot of the further decisions you’ll make when creating your brand and growing your business and factor heavily into the creation of your brand strategy.

They’re the guiding light that can help you take your business further than you thought possible.

Without them, you’ll struggle for a “frame of reference” or set of guidelines when you’re faced with important business questions.

In today’s post, we’re going to break brand values down further, explore what they are, what benefit they can bring to your business, what they should be, and how to define your core values.

Let’s dive in.

What are Brand Values?

We’ve talked a lot about brand values on the Canny blog already.
We talked about it in our What is Brand Strategy? Post, as well as in The Ultimate Small Business Branding Guide.

But we’ve never given that one line, easy to understand sentence that answers the question “what are brand values?”

So, here we go…

Brand values are the things that your business holds closest to it’s heart.

They’re a core set of beliefs that you can use to build your business activity around. They’ll also help you make key operating decisions.

At Canny, we have three key brand values.

  1. Partnership over profit
  2. Being small but mighty
  3. Awesome design always

These are the three things we hold ourselves accountable too.

No design is shipped, if we don’t believe it’s awesome. A client will never lay eyes on something that we’re not 100% confident in.

We do everything we can to let clients into our mindset and branding process. We show them figures, facts, breakdowns, project hours, anything they like.

This also helps us live our first brand value, which is building partnerships with clients.

If our clients don’t see us as equal partners, or a trusted resource partner, then we’re handling that relationship wrong.

We want to be in a position of absolute trust and honesty, to provide our outstanding design and drive the maximum return for our clients.

These brand values, drive key decisions in our business:

“Should we send this round of design work to our client?”

Stop. Think. Is it awesome?

No? Back to the drawing board.
Yes? Send away friend.

“Ryan wants to know more about the project breakdown.”

Sure, let’s bring Ryan in for a meeting and run him through how his project breaks down, so he can understand how the process works.

In turn, we’re building a relationship with Ryan that positions us as a trusted resource partner for his business.

Afterall, building a great client/agency relationship is key.

What Are the Benefits of Defining Your Brand Values?

So what are the benefits of defining your business’ brand values?

There are a number of different benefits, so let’s take a look.

Brand Values Help You Make Better Business Decisions

When making a key business decision, you can rely on your brand values.

Ask yourself;

“Is this decision in alignment with my brand values?”

We’ve had our three values outlined for quite a while at Canny. And we’ve not always had a team of people working here.

When it started, it was just me.

I was nervous about hiring for the first time. So why was I doing it?

Well… our customers weren’t becoming partners, I was servicing, but not building anything meaningful, because I was too busy.

I was also falling short on providing outstanding design, and the transparency. I was hard to contact.

Not through malice, but because I was rushed off my feet.

When it came to hiring for the first time, I was scared. What happens if it doesn’t work out? Do we have the money to pay? Why? What if? Who?

So many questions.

But then when I looked back at my values, and saw that I was falling short, I knew a hire had to be made.

And hiring was the best decision I ever made. Within two or three months, we had steadied the ship and restored the quality of work and service that our clients had become accustomed to.

And that’s reason number one a good set of brand values are important;

They make decision making easy.

They Help You to Assess New Partnership Opportunities

Your brand values will help you to assess new brand partnership opportunities that arise within your business.

When faced with the decision of something like a business merger, or the start of a referral scheme, you can assess what the other party values, and whether that’s in alignment with your own brand values.

This helps to assess compatibility, and if you both share similar values, it will drive your business relationship forward.

And again, with hiring, brand values are a godsend.

You can make sure that your potential new employees are on the same page as you, by bringing out your brand values in the interview, and discussing them.

Ask them what that means to them.

So in our case, it was;

“What does providing awesome design mean to you?”

“How do you think we can build good partnerships with our clients?”

And so on…

This helps you make sure new staff members share your values, or are at least the right fit for the business, and willing to take your values on board.

If they’re not, they’re not right.

If they are, welcome them to the team.

Brand Values Help to Improve Morale

Sounds strange doesn’t it?

But brand values can be a great yardstick to measure progress within the team, and allow team members to check their progress.

When team members all share the same set of core values as the company, and everyone walks the walk and talks the talk, morale can be boosted.

When morale is high, productivity increases, and staff stick around for longer.

When I worked stacking shelves at Morrisons, I didn’t know what the brand values were. They were never outlined. And frankly, I didn’t care.

Eventually, I left.

However, if someone had taken the time to outline what it is that Morrisons believe in, why we should be proud to work there, and how we can help the customers, that would’ve made things a lot better.

I’d have had a set of guiding lights (so to speak.)

That would’ve made the job a lot easier when you were asked to move the same display five times in one night.

It would’ve helped the staff understand what the company was trying to achieve, and that probably would’ve boosted morale.

Stacking shelves is no fun, and morale is normally quite low. However, with the right brand values in place, it could’ve been palatable.

Brand Values Can Help You to Build Stronger Relationships

Building strong relationships is one of Canny’s brand values.

But having a set of brand values in the first place, allows us to do that.

When consumers can easily identify brand values and how they align with their own, they are able to make a faster connection and build a stronger relationship with your brand. – Jennifer Bourn

Understanding how your brand’s values aligns with your customers’ values, can really cement you as the “go to brand” in their mind for the thing you sell.

Consumers don’t want to feel like just another cog in the wheel of a money making machine.

Strong brand values build empathy, and brands who showcase these will always make a stronger connection with their target market, maximising the chance of brand loyalty from a customer.

I align with Apple, because I like slick, modern, design that works. I also like companies that push the mould and break boundaries.

And as a result, I don’t mind paying a premium for the product, and now I own a lot of iDevices.

I also invest into the company when buying hardware for the Canny Creative team.

As a result of aligning with their brand values, I’ve spent a lot of money on Apple products.

This can also help to shorten the sales cycle.

When I need new hardware for work, I don’t go to Curry’s PC World to look at alternatives.

I drive straight to Apple, and pick up the new computer I need.

Sales cycle shortened.

What Should Your Brand Values Be?

Without digging into your business and hiring us to provide branding services, we’re not in a position to tell you exactly what your brand values should be.

But, just like effective logo design, there are a set of guides that you can follow to make your brand values as strong as possible.

We’ve created Brand Strategy Made Simple to help with just that. Make sure to download your free copy if you’re struggling.

Or, keep reading to find out more about creating brand values.

Memorable

Your brand values must be memorable. You need to be able to remember them, whenever you need them.

Making a key decision, but don’t have time to flip open your phone to refer to your brand strategy document?

You’ve got to have memorable brand values.

You need to remember them, your staff team need to remember them, and your customers need to remember them when they think of you or the products you sell.

And to make them memorable, they must be genuine and important. It’s no good having brand values that look good on paper.

You have to want to live and breathe them. You shouldn’t be “having to remember” – it should come naturally to you.

Unique

How many brands have the values “honest and professional”?

All of them. That’s what all businesses should be.

But that’s not unique to you.

Your brand values are also a way to position your brand in the mind of your customers and clients.

Why you, why not a competitor?

“Well, because we actively try to reduce our carbon footprint, where our competitors are all driving round in 10L Diesel Trucks.”

In a world where markets are saturated, customers actively seek out and choose brands whose values align with their own.

Be unique. There’s nothing to be gained from being the same as everyone else.

Actionable

Here’s something to think about:

What’s the point in having brand values, if you’re not going to do anything with them?

At Canny, we’re actively pushing our values through in everything we do.

It’s no good having “We value Planet Earth” as a brand value, if you don’t actually do anything about that.

Putting it on your website, or on a billboard design is all well and good, but you need to follow through on your brand values.

Brand values give you a chance to create real success in your business, but to do that, they need to be actionable.

Here’s a great example of a company bringing actionable brand values to life through their larger brand strategy:

Ben and Jerry’s are a great example of practising what they preach in terms of brand values.

Their brand values are so important and ingrained into their business model and entire customer journey, that they even have a page on their website dedicated to them. just in case anyone wants to read up on them.

Ben and Jerry’s brand strategy clearly works. I’d never looked into their brand values before now, but when I started this post I realised I already had a pretty clear idea about them, simply from their advertising and marketing strategies, and buying the odd tub of Caramel Chew Chew every month or so.

When I buy a tub, I’m happy that my ice cream is 10/10, not only in taste factor, I also feel good about supporting a brand that stands up for issues I care about. This is down to their concrete core brand values.

“Our Product Mission drives us to make fantastic ice cream – for its own sake.”

Product mission – make great ice cream. They promise to deliver the “finest quality ice cream and euphoric concoctions”.

I think everyone will agree they do exactly that. (Phish food is my personal fave, one of the originals and still the best!)

“Our Social Mission compels us to use our Company in innovative ways to make the world a better place.”

The social mission is to make the world a better place with their influence.

They are totally committed to creating social change, and to make a genuine difference to people’s lives, not just their customers.

They use their influence to highlight important issues and lend their voice to amplify those that don’t have one. They stand up for issues such as inequality (amongst many more) and have created fairtrade, sustainable and safe food production methods. They don’t just talk the talk, they back it up with proof and walk the walk.

“Our Economic Mission asks us to manage our Company for sustainable financial growth.”

Ben and Jerry’s try hard to create equal opportunities for people in an economical climate that has seen the biggest wealth divide for 100 years.

They aren’t just trying to make the people at the top stay rich, they plough money into areas to benefit the whole workforce who contribute to the process of making their product from start to finish.

How do they prove it?

They choose to support rural and family farms. They aren’t afraid to shout their brand values from the rooftops, they’ve been known to directly call out political leaders for injustice around the globe. They make a point of using their advertising to highlight world issues that affect underrepresented communities.

ben & jerrys campervan

You know that feeling when your favourite brand is hit with a scandal, outed for doing something shady, and the thought of buying from them again leaves a bad taste in your mouth? Even though you think their product is the best on the market?

This is down to them not making sure that they align their brand values with their customers, implementing them throughout the company, and sticking to them.

It highlights why these values are so important to get right, and remain faithful to.

Meaningful

Like I said at the very start of this post, your brand values are what your business holds the closest to it’s heart.

If the core values you set out are meaningless, you’re not going to action them. They probably won’t be unique, and nobody will care if they’re memorable.

Your brand values should resonate with people. With you, with your team, with your customers.

Clear and Defined

Something we’ve noticed is people often say they have their brand values in place.

Then when we ask to see them, they say “ahhhh, well, we’re disruptors, erm, I’ll have to dig them out.”

This is bad for two reasons.

  1. I don’t think these people actually have their brand values defined, and if they do, they’re not clear.
  2. If they do have their values set out, they’re clearly not very memorable.

Your values are the foundation of your business. They should be present in everything you do.

You should never have to search for them, or “dig them out.”

Timeless

Don’t get me wrong, brand values change, because companies change.

But from the outset, your brand should be timeless.

Your values should never age, expire, or go out of date.

Sure, you might change your direction, and therefore, change your values, which is when you can utilise the power of a rebrand.

However, time shouldn’t force your brand values to become obsolete.

And most importantly, honest

This is the most obvious brand value guiding light of all.

Your brand values should be entirely honest.

Nothing will harm your business more than trying to pretend that you’re something you’re not.

Honesty always wins out.

Don’t say you’re something you’re not. Don’t pretend. Live your truth.

Brand values are hard to get right, but using these guidelines, you should be in a better position to start creating the brand values for your business.

The Five Step Process to Establishing Your Core Brand Values

Now you understand the framework for creating successful brand values, let’s look at the actual process of creating your own.

Discover What Matters To You

Getting started with defining your brand values is the hardest part.

First things first, you need to move past “honest, reliable, and trustworthy.”

Put them straight in the bin.

They sound positive but they say nothing about you and your business. They’re a dime-a-dozen, seen it all before.

If you really want to create brand values that give you a foundation for growth, then you need to be different to all the other companies.

Perhaps you’re sick of seeing the same thing in your industry so you’re really going to disrupt the market.

Or maybe, you’re a true pioneer in the way you use technology in an antiquated field.

They’re much better starts to creating unique brand values than “being honest.”

Know What Your Customers Believe In

There’s rarely success in a business without an income stream.

So it’s important that you know your customers, and what they value.

If they value “keeping earth as pollution free as possible” and your CEO is driving around in a 10L Hummvee, and saying he values keeping earth pollution free too, then you’re going to have a problem.

You need to align the value of your target audience to the value your business provides.

The most powerful brand values align to existing problems in a marketplace. Rather than trying to storytell to your customers to change their minds, find out what they already believe, and work backwards from there.

Just like with small business advertising, you want to be more pulling than pushing!

You might even find that your target audience and your business aren’t a good match.

That seems like a big problem. But it allows you to kick on, and reposition yourself, or redefine your target audience.

Know What Your Competitors Are Offering Up

Your competitors can play a key role when it comes to defining your brand values.

You don’t want your brand values to be the same as your competitors. Otherwise, you could end up driving your customers towards them.

Differentiation is a key benefit of unique brand values.

By analysing your competitors, you might find a gap in the market that you can move into.

Or, you might find the marketplace is saturated for what you were planning to do.

Again, sounds disastrous, but you should be able to quickly reposition and use a unique set of brand values that offers something different.

Make Sure You Can Live and Breathe Your Brand Values

You need to live up to your brand values. You need to stand for something.

You can do this one of two ways.

  1. Identify what it is you firmly believe in, and go “all in” on that
  2. Find out what your customers already think about you, and “double down” on that

For example:

If your customers appreciate your “direct, getting to the point” approach to conversations, then your brand value could be:

  • Straight shooting, always direct
  • …or if your brand is slightly bolder, “no bullshit”

Then you need to live and breathe that.

In this situation, you wouldn’t sugar coat anything. You’ll always tell it how it is.

If you can’t stand behind your brand values proudly, then they’re not right.

Stay Consistent

While your brand identity may change, and your brand might go through a whole rebranding process, your values should stay as consistent as possible.

To do this, you need to simplify everything you can. You don’t want sweeping statements. You want short punchy sentences.

From the way you communicate, to your website, to your social media channels, all content should be aligned with your brand values.

Your brand values need to be clear and easy to understand, giving your team the best possible chance of rolling them out across your associated media.

These are the key steps you need to follow when setting out your brand values.

Follow this process, and you should be left with a set of 3-5 brand values that you can use as a building brick for your brand strategy.

How to Choose Your Brand Values

Here’s an easy exercise to help you come up with a set of core brand values.

Firstly, grab a few relevant team members, and a pack of post-it notes.

Ask them the questions “what is important about our company and what’s unique about working here?” and give them 10 minutes to answer it.

Try to bring together a mix of new and longstanding members of the workforce, from managerial positions right down to interns. They will all provide a useful view and insights into what your brand is, where it’s been and where it’s going.

Encourage them to think about;

  1. Why did they join the business
  2. What appealed to them about your brand over others in the industry
  3. Why they they join the business
  4. Why have they stayed?
  5. Once you’re done, spread the notes around the table and discuss it.

    Group your cards together into categories if they hit similar points. For example, if one features “teamwork” and the other features “working together” – then group these together.

    By identifying underlying relationships, you’ll find patterns of thought surrounding your brand, which will lead to the creation of your Brand Values.

    If there are any duplicates, it might be worth discussing them first.

    If they’re negative, these could highlight some real problems within your organisation that need tackling, or better yet if they’re on the positive side, can showcase true Brand Values.

    Once everything is grouped together and you’ve trimmed the fat, the key word concept or from each group becomes one of your Brand Values.

    You’re aiming for a list of between 3 and 5 core Brand Values.

    Now, try and put together a sentence that encapsulates these brand values.

    Think, if you had to say it all in one sentence, how would you phrase it? In other words, what does your brand stand for?

    Once you have your 3 to 5 core Brand Values and your sentence summary, consider how you’re going to create a way of displaying your values in your workplace.

    Things to Remember!

    There’s a few key things to remember when it comes to your brand values.

    You Must Revisit Your Brand Values

    Brand values are not “set and forget” type things.

    You should revisit them at least once a year to make sure that your brand values are still working in the best interest of your business.

    Have you moved away or changed direction? Make sure you bring your brand values fall in line.

    Little tweaks over time will help ensure your brand stays on point.

    Let’s take a look at an example of where a brand missed the mark on this, so you don’t make the same mistake.

    Kleenex, everyones heard of them, you’ve probably blown your nose on them (or cried too much watching Bridget Jones’ Diary.)

    Their brand values were built upon trust and value, and rely on building an emotional connection through their marketing to sell.

    Kleenex are the brand that’s there for you when you have the dreaded lurgy, or when you’re watching a sad film on your own.

    But in 2018, the market leader in tissues suffered a huge blow when they were called out on twitter for using the phrase ‘man size’ on their large tissues.

    In a world where women are still having to fight for equality, and people suffer as a result of gender stereotyping, many brands have amplified messages of empowerment.

    A company of this size, continuing to brand their packaging with the outdated caveman logic of man = big and strong, woman = small and frail, was a PR nightmare for them.

    Word spread like wildfire and twitter was awash with people voicing their opinions on the tone deaf marketing. This one oversight forced Kleenex into a full rebrand from man size to ‘extra large’.

    The situation would have been avoided if Kleenex had thought back to their brand values again and again, and measured where they lined up with modern day values.

    You Have to Live and Breathe Your Core Values

    Brand values are great, and you absolutely should have them.

    But you should also ensure that you live and breathe your core values.

    If you’re not doing that, what’s the point in having them?

    Usually, the brand values are set by the C-suite or Owners of a company, and usually they’re the first ones to drop the ball.

    Remember, your brand values are there to help, and act as a guiding light for your business.

    Use them. We all need all the help we can get.

    Everyone Needs Brought Onboard

    Defining your brand values for the very first time?

    Then you need to get everyone in the company on board. No matter how big or small you are.

    Team meetings, presentations, and one-to-one sessions are great ways to roll your brand values out across your organisation.

    If you don’t do this, you run the risk of having a vital piece of your brand strategy ignored.

    Conclusion: Establishing Brand Values That Give You a Foundation for Growth

    Your brand values are a true foundation for growth.

    They’re the core values that your company holds the most dear.

    They form the basis for your brand strategy, and breathe life into your brand.

    Your company values should never be ignored. In fact, ignoring your company values is gross misconduct and could lead to a serious issue within your organisation.

    If you work to define your brand values, you need to ensure that your new company ethos is carried throughout the company, from top to bottom.

    Brand values should filter through every area of your business, from the office atmosphere and how you run your team, to the images you put out on your social media.

    Your brand values are a key tool that can help guide many decisions across your business.

    Create and use them properly, and they’ll help you to take your business to the next level.

    What are your brand values? How do they work for your business?