It’s really easy to come up with some brand values, am I right? Just pick a few random words – authenticity is a good one, ooh, and respect. Maybe communicate? Slap them in your annual report, if you’re really onboard, paint them on your board room wall, your clients will love that.
And then? Then carry on, as you did before.
It frustrates me so much to read news reports and articles about brand values. Mostly because I can see that those at the top are just paying lip service. Someone told them it was important to have these. Create a mission statement, and a vision statement. Oh, and don’t forget the brand values.
But if you really want to connect with your audience, work to create content that draws your audience in and doesn’t just echo your competitors, and refuse to compete in a race to the bottom on pricing, you need to start with your WHY.
Your Why is your Differentiator
I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek and his idea of the Golden Circle. It is based around the idea that at the center is your WHY, and that informs your HOW and also your WHAT. For me this is not dissimilar to identifying your UVP (unique value proposition) or differentiator. What makes you different from the others in your industry is directly related to your WHY and your values.
Your HOW is how you do business – the processes and frameworks you use as you create your products and services. Your WHAT is your product or service – the end result of working with you.
If you work to use your WHY as you find your values, you’ll discover a remarkably easy way to connect with your audience and find things to talk about in your content.
Business values aren’t morals
It would be really easy to pick ‘honesty’ for example, as a value, or ‘respect’. But would you actually want to work with a business that was dishonest? Or who didn’t respect others?
If you pick a moral as a value, then it isn’t really telling your audience anything about you expect that you are a decent set of human beings. And your values should definitely go above and beyond that.
You want to find a value that is relevant to you but not others in your industry, without suggesting that they are doing it wrong. The opposite of your value should not be distasteful.
Luxury v Budget, for example, is a perfect example of values that are relevant and useful to understand. If your brand is luxury, and your competitor’s is budget, then neither of you are in the wrong.
Your values attract your audience
Using the luxury v budget values as an example, we can see that these really just attract different audiences. From this perspective, it is a good thing that our competitor has picked the opposite value from us. For those who are conscious of how much they spend, the budget brand will be attractive. For others, the luxury brand may be more appropriate.
Focusing on your why first – why you serve the audience you do within your industry – will help you niche into the specifics of your audience. That will allow you to focus on talking to exactly the right people – attracting them into your brand and what you offer. And it will also allow you to ignore those people who probably aren’t a right fit for your brand anyway and were never going to work with you.
Your values can determine HOW you work
This doesn’t work for every business or organization, but if you spend time thinking about your why, it often leads you to a better understanding of the particular way you work and why that’s different to others in your industry. For example, as a copywriter who focuses on brand voice, I often encourage clients to send me voice memos rather than written outlines. I attract clients who struggle to write about their business – for good reason. I find it incredibly easy to write in any voice – and so can listen to and really hear a business owner and recreate how they want to sound as they talk passionately about what they do. My why – really seeing and hearing you and what you’re trying to put out into the world – helps determine how I work and the processes I put in place to be sure that all my clients feel heard and represented.
Your values can determine WHAT you produce for your audience
I have a client who is a photographer. Part of her why includes the importance of children seeing themselves on the walls of their home – understanding the intrinsic value that they have within their family unit. As a result, it is important to her that her WHAT is not just digital files, but artwork that will stand the test of time and have center stage in a home.
Spending time thinking about the values that your organization holds dear can lead to an epiphany about WHAT you want to produce, especially if you feel caught in a race to do things the same as everyone else in your industry. Understanding your why can lead you to streamline your offers down to just a few options, ones you feel passionate about. Or possible to starting fresh with new offers that feel more relevant to your organization.
You need to live your values
This is a big one that I think a lot of larger organizations miss. You need to live your values – they need to be part of your day-to-day business life or else what is the point? If you wouldn’t hire or fire employees, contractors, or clients, on the basis of your values, why have them at all? Enron included the following values in their 2000 annual report: Respect Integrity. Communication. [ ]. By the end of 2001 they were bankrupt and we were all aware that they had not lived any of those values. The culture in the organization was clear about how they should operate, but that culture wasn’t connected to the values at all.
If you are a one-person organization, understanding your values can help you make decisions about all kind of things in your business – from making your content creation easier, to deciding what to offer next or how to engage your audience. As you start to add employees, your values will help them to understand how to recreate your business without you always being involved in every aspect of it. If your brand as you scale to add employees and contractors is your legacy for your business, then you need to be certain everyone involved in it understands what you are passing on. Without values, it will be a compass without a north star.
Your values need consequences
Which leads me back to the first point. Your values need consequences. It’s not enough to say that you are a budget brand. What does that mean? What consequence does that have for your business? Does it mean you spend less on marketing than your competitors to keep your price low? Does that mean that as a photographer you only offer digital files and not wall art? Does it mean as a copywriter that you don’t do customer research and therefore risk the copy not converting as well?
What values does your organization have? And what consequences does that involve, both for you and for any employees or contractors?
If you’d like to delve deeper into this, but aren’t sure how to go about using it to create maximum impact in your brand, I’d love to help. Contact me to arrange a Brand Builder Session, where we can spend a half day identifying your brand values, vision, and voice, so that you can allow others to keep your brand strong in your business even as you scale and grow.