How to define brand values (and make them valuable)
Mention company values and most people think of the framed pictures stuck up on walls in the break out area. You know, the ones showing mountain climbers summiting snow capped peaks, with the word “teamwork” emblazoned across the sky in bold capital letters. And that, for the most part, is as far as most company values go. But to leave them hanging there is a massive missed opportunity. Because, defined and used well, brand values can create a strong culture and a high-performance organisation. So, here’s how to define brand values and use them to great effect.
But first, what are brand values?
Simply put, brand values are the things a brand cares most about – what it values. They are important because they codify the leadership’s approach to doing business, so that as it grows, and the leaders are less personally involved with every employee, their “way” continues to run throughout the organisation. And even after they’re no longer part of it. Think of brands like Cadbury’s which was started in 1824. It was built on Quaker values, which stood for well over a century, until it merged with Schweppes in the 1969.
So, brand values are there to guide the behaviour and actions of the people in the business, from top to bottom. When used properly, values help them to make the “right” decisions independently, creating a consistent experience of the brand over time, and helping to build its reputation. Values are part of the “how” in Simon Sinek’s golden circles, working alongside the “why” which is communicated through the brand’s purpose and vision.
Define your brand values and you’ve taken the first step to building the sort of culture you want to see in the business. But how do you go about defining a set of values that you can use?
How to define your brand values
The first rule of defining brand values is… don’t think about brand values. Brand values don’t come from the brand. They come from its key people, those who are influential in the business, who are part of its future. Focus on what they value personally. The values they share are the brand’s values. Here’s how we do it.
1. Set up a 2-hour workshop with key people
You will need a group of influential people from your business – up to 12 people in a session. Invite people who really get it. Not just board members, but those who are fully on-board. Bring along one black Sharpie, five coloured ones, a flip chart and you’re good to go.
2. Get them speaking about the things they like
When people talk about the things they like and, more importantly, why they like them, they reveal the things that they value, without over thinking it. This is the most natural way to uncovering values that will ring true. There are a number of questions you can ask to stimulate this, for example: the brands or experiences they would choose, or the traits they admire in specific people. Get the bottom of what it is about those things that they appreciate or admire. If they use generic words like service, or clichés like disruption, drill deeper.
3. Cluster your values into five themes
You’ll find there is quite a bit of overlap between what people say. Sometimes they’ll use the same, or similar words over and again. Find the most common five themes that emerge, and using the five different coloured pens mark each of the words on the flip chart for inclusion into one of the themes.
4. Promote one value to the top of each theme
Re-list the values into their themes and ask the group to pick the word in each list that best represents each theme. Those words become the five values for your brand. Keep all the words that fall beneath them, as they will be useful when translating the values into behaviours, which we touch on at the end.
5. Now you’ve defined your values, put them in their place
There will be one value among the five that more completely represents your brand than the others. That is your core value. Put it in the centre of the values model below.
See which of the remaining values best fits each of the four quadrants of the model. They represent how people experience the brand – the company (made up of its employees and processes), its attitude (which comes across in its culture and communications), its products and services, and the benefits they deliver. Find a home for each value.
Stand back and see if the model feels right to you. Do you need to shift anything around? If you’re happy, congratulations! You now have a brand values model which is immediately useful as a sounding board. By understanding what qualities you’re looking for across the business, people can use the values to evaluate their decisions and help keep them on track.
In a completed living brand framework, this model will reinforce your archetype, purpose, vision, mission and proposition.
Now, how do you use them?
It’s no good just defining the values, sticking them up on a wall, maybe sending an email around, and hoping they start working for you all by themselves. They need to be incorporated them into the everyday. To do that, and reap the rewards of having brand values, two things must happen:
- They must be connected to the jobs people do every day
- They must be discussed, formally, between managers and their team
In short, values will only make a difference if they matter to the business leaders. Because if they matter to the leaders, they will filter all their business decisions through them. When they talk and write about what the company is doing, they will frame it in the context of the values. And when they’re hiring, they will not only hire on values ahead of skills, but will ensure that every job description includes actions and behaviours that exemplify them.
And that’s how to define brand values and use them so that they are integral to everything the business does. It’s a commitment that will pay you back with a strong, lasting, productive culture.
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