Why read this? : We explore how to define your brand values and how to use them. Learn from our examples of brands that excel at bringing their values to life. Read this to learn the value of brand values.
Defining your brand values is part of creating your brand identity.
These intangible brand assets set out what your brand stands for. They drive what your brand will (and won’t) do. Customers usually choose brands whose values they agree with.
Sounds important, right?
However, most brands spend a surprisingly short time creating their values.
If you’re lucky, you might spend an hour in the middle of a brand identity workshop talking about them. That’s not much time to agree on what you stand for.
And often, it’s just power-dotting a list of brand values someone at the agency found online. Because you’ve also to fit in brand essence, brand purpose and the rest of your identity into the workshop. You end up with shallow box-ticking thinking. Rather than deep thinking about what your values really mean.
Then, some poor junior marketer writes them up in the brand book. There they linger, gathering dust. They might make occasional appearances in briefs or creative review meetings. But mostly, nobody gives them much thought.
Why thinking about brand values is hard
So why are brand values so hard to think about? Well, think about your personal values for a moment.
You’ve got some, right?
Don’t worry if that question mildly panicked you. Because many people don’t think about their values at all. If they do, it’s usually because something triggers the thought.
An interview. An article. Or, maybe one of those thought-leadership haiku LinkedIn posters. Values seem to be a favourite with them.
You know the type we mean.
“If you don’t know your values, you’re not adding value” and nonsense like that. If that’s you, please stop. They don’t add value.
It’s hard as it’s not always clear what we mean by values. They’re intangible. That makes them hard to explain. You know what they are. But you can’t see or touch them. They shape your decisions. But they only really become clear when you put them to the test.
A quick example. Let’s say you get a great new job offer. But it’s on the other side of the world. If you value adventure, you take the job. But if you value being close to your family, and they’re not moving with you, you don’t take the job. See how values shape decisions.
The same goes for brand values.
Brand values are slightly easier than personal values.
They’re not part of you. It’s easier to talk about something separate from your own identity. It’s less personal. More objective.
But, they can still be hard to describe. And there’s the added challenge that it’s easy to slip into blandness and cliche. So many brand values sound the same. Like quality. Or innovation. Yawn.
Still, the brand identity process at least forces you to write the brand values down. That’s a good start.
Tangible words, written down. That at least moves you past the first challenge of values being hard to see. You can see words on a page. But you still need to express the meaning of these words. To make them distinctive and unique to your brand.
It’s the shared understanding of this meaning that makes the difference. Shared meaning helps you apply your brand values to your marketing decision-making.
Example decisions based on brand values
For example, we worked with a healthcare brand which had expertise as a value. Its products were more advanced than competitors.
It considered launching an organic version of its product. However, the expert view was the organic version had no extra benefits over the existing product. (The quality standards were already higher than those set for organic).
So, to be true to their expertise value, they didn’t launch an organic version despite the very high demand for it.
That’s living up to your brand values.
For example, their advertising imagery always showed far-away, glamorous locations. They never showed the distillery itself because it wasn’t exotic, easy-going or fun. The models in their adverts always wore colourful clothing, were always smiling and having a great time. They were exotic, easy-going and fun.
That was the opposite of stereotypical drinks advertising. No arty black and white photos of lone drinkers sitting in leather armchairs. No models staring into the distance, looking sombre and smelling the product. They were all about good times as that fitted their brand values.
How to build brand values
We joked earlier about looking online for a list of values and then power-dotting to pick some.
That’s not a bad way to start. But you’ll probably need to spend more than an hour on it.
It helps if you’ve already defined the brand essence, a succinct statement that’s central to everything your brand does. The essence needs to be short, memorable, relevant, distinctive and unifying.
That’s a tough job for a short phrase.
Brand values help you build on the essence to tell a richer brand story.
You normally decide on 3 values, though you can go up to 5. These connect the essence to the other parts of your brand identity. They need to be consistent with your overall identity.
So, for example, “quality” and “innovation” are consistent (though cliched) values. It’s clear how they connect. They make sense together.
“Efficiency” and “value for money” also make sense. A focus on efficiency can lead to cost savings which help deliver better prices.
But, “quality” and “value for money”? Those would feel inconsistent. They clash. You can’t be both of those things at the same time.
The Values Compass
During our research on brand values, we came across The Values Compass by Dr. Mandeep Rai.
It’s not a marketing book. It covers personal and societal values, but these can also work for brands.
It’s structured around the many countries she visited as a journalist and venture capitalist.
For each country, she takes one defining value that goes to the heart of that country’s identity. She shares stories and experiences to bring the value to life. In total, she covers 101 countries and values.
Check out her website, or buy the book if you want to go into all of them.
We found it a great source book to better understand values. It helped us reflect on how to organise and apply them.
We particularly like the model she uses to group value areas. You can use this model to narrow down your choices on your brand values. The 5 groups are :-
Example change values : pragmatism, exploration, dynamism
Change is a constant in all our lives. We can choose to be the drivers of change, or let it happen to us.
But either way, change happens.
Your brand has to deal with change. Customer needs change. Competitor activities change. There are always changes in how products are made and services delivered to customers.
Example - change values
He was the CEO between 2005 and 2020, and as an example talks about the vote that made him CEO.
In his pitch to the board, he made a point of talking about the future. Disney was a company with a lot of tradition and heritage, but he realised it needed to change. Change means thinking about the future.
Part of that change included the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Buying these content powerhouses brought new life to Disney. It helped them expand on their existing animation, TV and theme park portfolio.
They’re now one of the world’s leading content creators and owners. His leadership principles from his time there included courage and curiosity, both values strongly related to change.
It takes courage to drive change. It takes curiosity to explore the potential of change. If these sound like values your brand aspires to, then look deeper at change values.
Example continuity values : tradition, stability, care
Continuity is the flip side of change. It gives us strong roots through tradition and heritage. As Rai puts it in her book, continuity “connects the past to the present”.
The past matters to all of us. It’s unsettling when it’s ignored or forgotten. Change too much, or too often, and you feel untethered and insecure.
There’s much value in sticking at something and reinforcing your values over time. It’s the repetition design principle applied to values. Repetition makes it easier for people to remember what you stand for.
It’s not about doing the same thing all the time, but about being consistent in how you apply your past values. You apply them consistently in the present and into the future.
You preserve and protect what matters to your brand. This reassures customers. There are no surprises. They know exactly what they’re going to get from you, and they like it.
Example - continuity values
Jack Daniel’s is one of our favourite continuity-driven brands. Recent campaigns like “Make it Count” seem to be trying to modernise their image and appeal. But for a long time, nothing much changed on this brand. It had continuity.
Jack Daniel’s shows the value in sticking with what you’ve got.
Their brand story is founded on continuity. The way they make the product, for example. The care and attention to making fine Tennessee Whiskey. Methods handed down through the generations dating back to the original Gentleman Jack.
Continuity brand values work best when your brand has a strong positioning, and is clear and consistent in what it stands for.
Example connection values : friendship, helpfulness, trust
Connection values focus on how we engage with each other. We all have some need to connect with those around us.
Whether that’s a quiet dinner with your partner or a wild party with friends, connection creates emotional ties. It supports us through tough times.
Connection focuses on relationships.
You build relationships by helping your customers. Brands with a high service focus like your local coffee shop or hairdresser thrive on one-to-one relationships. They have connection brand values, even if they’re not written down as such.
Alternatively, you help customers connect with each other. Connection sits at the heart of most big social media businesses, for example. That’s where we find our example of a brand with connection values.
Example - connection values
It’s clear connection is a big thing for Facebook. It’s right there in their mission statement :-
“to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
Despite some dubious content and (in our opinion) too much advertising, people still use Facebook because it helps them connect.
That connection comes in content posts, video calls and instant messaging. Through them, we connect with friends and family online.
Facebook delivers its connection values by being the platform that helps you connect. It costs you nothing to share and read content, to send messages and to reach out to people. Yes, Facebook makes money from selling advertising and your data. But it still delivers its brand value with the core service of free connection.
Example communal values : openness, respect, togetherness
Connections also underpin the group known as communal values. But here it’s less about one-to-one connections and more about connecting with the wider community.
Brands that focus on communal values aim to bring groups of people together.
This is often to support a specific vision or purpose.
Communal values focus on how communities behave, and how we support each other in everyday life. If you’re part of a community, you’re expected to contribute and support the values of that community.
Communal values often drive broader changes at a national or global level. They’re about improving humanity and the way we live together. They’re about creating a better future for the next generation.
Example - communal values
Ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz once said “Customers must recognise that you stand for something”, and he made it very clear what Starbucks stands for.
Starbuck’s mission talks about “inspiring and nurturing the human spirit”. One of its core values is to “create a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome”.
You see this in how they set up their coffee shops, support their staff and source their products.
For example, they’re big on inclusion and diversity. They’ve clear goals to reduce their environmental footprint, and their coffee is 99% ethically sourced. They work hard to link to the communities around their store locations, with lots of community service activities and support for food recycling. All good examples of communal values in action.
Core values driven
Example core values : goodness, humour, health
The final group of values go deep into the heart of who we are as human beings.
They’re core values that describe the type of people we are, and the types of lives we want to lead.
These can be universal values that tie into our beliefs and our culture. They’re usually about making the world a better place and having a positive view of how the world is, and how it should be.
Example - core values
The Red Cross is a great example of a brand that taps into core values.
The international aid organisation has a clear set of principles which run deep into what makes us decent human beings.
It talks about the value of humanity for example, and its aim to to prevent and alleviate human suffering. It promotes “mutual understanding, friendship, co-operation and lasting peace amongst all people”. Its values talk about acting impartially and neutrally, with no discrimination and no desire for gain.
Those are strong emotional words. But look at the actions those words inspire, especially with what’s going on in the world right now. Brands that focus on core values can drive life-changing great causes.
Your brand values
Think about what all this means for your brand values. It should now be clear why you need them.
First, make sure your values are unique to your brand. Many businesses claim values like quality and innovation, for example. You won’t stand out with those. What makes what you do and how you do it different from anyone else?
The more specific you are, the more distinctive and memorable your brand values will be. Use them to help you stand out from the crowd.
Put them at the heart of everything your brand does. Put them in your brand book. Include them in your briefs. Use brand stories to make the meaning of those values clear. Make sure your decisions on what you do and how you do it are true to those values.
Conclusion - the value of brand values
Your brand values tell people what you stand for. This makes your brand very relevant for customers who support those values. That relevance makes them more likely to choose your brand.
Brand values should feel more emotional than transactional. For example, compare the emotional connection you feel between :-
- a brand that’s “10% cheaper than everyone else”. (See our competitive strategy article for an example)
- a brand that stands for “lasting peace amongst all people”. (The Red Cross example above)
The Red Cross one really grabs you, doesn’t it?
Don’t get us wrong, low prices can also work as a value. There’s nothing wrong with pragmatic and practical values. It all comes down to what connects best with customers. What’s relevant to them and to you.
Look for brand values that authentically show people who you are, and what you stand for. Get them right and you set yourself up for a valuable future.
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