Brand values are what you and your organisation believe in and stand for, and the manner in which you seek to achieve your vision and mission. Going further, your values become the catalyst for how you conduct yourself personally and professionally on all occasions.
It’s also what others (i.e. your customers) buy into and at least some of the reasoning behind why they’ve invested time, money and resources into you.
Falling short of your own brand values is catastrophic.
There may be no greater evidence to back up my claim than Julia Gillard’s time as Prime Minister.
I don’t want to get overly political and I make no judgments on her as a person, but she failed to stand for a value she’s previously set.
Back in 2010, as reported by many Australian media and journalists, Gillard made the bold statement “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” after ousting Kevin Rudd to take the country's top job.
Not long into her reign the election was called and to sum up a vast political event in a few short words - neither of the two major parties won enough public support to form government. Gillard and Tony Abbott (the other leader) went into ‘conversations’ with minor parties in order to gain their backing.
Gillard won out and would go on to form government, but at great cost to her personal reputation and that of the party she led.
In order to govern, Gillard entered into political agreement with the Greens (among others) and for their support, Australia was going to get a carbon tax.
In short, Gillard sacrificed her values (or previously made public statements) in order to become Prime Minister legitimately.
While this example doesn’t mention every event or circumstance that happened during this time, it highlights the point that if a person (or business) doesn’t stand for their values it becomes terminal the moment it’s publicly noticed.
As much as Gillard tried to push forward in her role, the rot set in and eventually her own party removed her as leader before the following election.
Although said many years before, Gandhi’s quote on values offer insight into the demise of Gillard and any leader who doesn’t stand for or have values.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”
Why brand values are important
As referenced by Gandhi above, values inform thoughts, words and actions.
It’s suggested that as humans we have up to 80,000 thoughts per day and many of them are actioned. That means we’re making consistent decisions throughout the day.
Bad decisions are easy to make. So, to make the correct decisions our thought process must be underpinned by a set of agreed values.
In previous blogs I’ve written about the need to have a vision and work towards it through a mission. Brand values supplement your vision and mission - you won’t achieve your vision if your mission is not accountable to your values.
Your values are what supports the vision you have for your business. Values will also shape the culture in which staff operate and how you deal with your customers.
Values help companies in the decision-making processes and values educate clients and potential customers about what the company is about and clarify the identity of that company.
How to find the right values for you
As evidenced by the political example earlier, values are often different for each individual or organisation - a pronograhic film maker will have different values to that of a religious group.
You can Google “brand values” and it will give you thousands of answers but what it doesn’t do is make them meaningful or relevant to your situation.
To identify your brand values, here’s what you’ve got to do:
Step 1: Discover what matters
Firstly, you must commit to deep diving into what your brand values are. Terminology like “we’re truthful” or “our friendly approach” is shallow and won’t stand up when your staff are under pressure - furthermore these terms have been done to death.
Like everything in business, you need to stand out to cut through and this is true of your values. The more unique (yet still understandable) you can be the better.
Instead of blindly repeating thoughtless words, start to think about what really matters to you:
Developing a deeper level of values will permeate across your organisation and customers (and potential customers) will come to understand and rely on you for it.
Step 2: Know your customers and competitors
No doubt you have a customer avatar in place and have conducted a competitor analysis, but where are they referenced against the values you want and they have?
The most powerful brand values are those that respond to an existing need in the marketplace. Rather than trying to tell your customers that they should feel the same way as you about a particular concept, find out what your customers already believe, and what they want to see from their favourite brands.
It’s a good idea to know the values your customers have and how you can improve upon what your competitors have in place to address more accurately what your customers need. But don’t create your values simply out of what your market wants - to be different you need to develop your own.
Step 3: Stand for something
A common saying is “If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything” and it’s very true when it comes to your values.
As Gillard found out, if you’re not prepared to stand for what you believe (or say) when pressure hits you’ll flip-flop between decisions or directions. As customers, seeing this inability to be decisive doesn’t give confidence in your business.
Standing for something and articulating it to your market is a great way to offer your point of difference but it’s only of meaning if your customers understand and agree with it. That’s not to say you have to be everything to everyone. You’re not going to please everyone (and you don’t want to).
Identify what’s important to you, work out why it’s relevant to your customers and then stand for it. And use it in your collateral so it’s well-known.
Step 4: Stay consistent
Values fade when you or your staff don’t consistently work towards them. A few slips up and soon your values are written down in a nice document but don’t get actioned by your organisation, and that’s what happens in many workplaces.
In fact, if this happens it will become an in-house joke among staff that “we stand for xyz” but actually fail to do it and nobody cares...except your customers.
Half the battle in business is staying consistent in the things you do and consistently meeting your values is no different.
What values look like
It takes time and many iterations but once developed, your values are what ultimately help you succeed in business. While there’s no rule, most businesses should have between three and six values that underpin what they do.
What your values are is up to you, as long as they resonate with you, your market and are different to your competitors.
As an example, here’s what ours are at Evolve to Grow:
Having these in place has been revolutionary for us. Given my staff were fundamental in helping to create these (and I believe staff should always be involved), they’ve now started to grow in their role which has allowed me to be able to focus on other aspects of the business.
Having values is not just some concept that corporates pay loads of money to a consultancy to come in and do a workshop around. When done correctly, it’s much deeper than that.
If you stick to them, values are what drive you forward and what others remember you for.
Values become your legacy and the legacy you leave will never be forgotten - just ask Julia Gillard.
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