Tag Archive for: brand values

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” 
-Roy Disney

Brand values are a set of guiding principles that shape every aspect of your business. They’re at the very core of your brand and dictate your brand message, identity and personality. They affect every single aspect of your business: the people you hire, your company culture, the business decisions you make, the way in which you grow your business, the customers you decide to engage with and the customers you decide to fire. And yes, values are the main reason customers will connect with you over the competition. In other words: getting your values right is vital not only to your brand but to your business as well.

But we often overlook this exercise in favor of focusing on ‘success’ and generating revenues. Mistake. Growing your business with a revenue focus instead of a values focus may yield revenues in the short term, but sooner or later there will be plenty of struggle and dilemmas and no peace of mind. Let’s avoid this for your business and your brand and set you up to grow with intention. 

When I work with clients to identify their values, I rely on a number of inputs; most of them come from the “brand’s DNA” – those qualities that distinctly make up the brand, that are authentic to that brand and, if removed, would fundamentally alter the brand for the worse.  Today I’m sharing with you how I map out brand values for my clients; hopefully this can be a guide for you to gain clarity about your values so you can grow your business in a way that fully supports your goals and vision. Side effects include having a clearly defined brand identity, personality and brand tone & voice and knowing your brand boundaries. 

Start With Why

One of the first things I uncover with my clients is why they decided to start their business. As I point out to them, “You could literally do anything with your life. Why did you forego the other myriad possibilities and choose this option? What was the driver? What was so clearly missing in the market, or what was so compelling about your idea or approach that you felt you had to start your business?”

Reflect on your business and take your time. This answer should carry a foundational brand truth: how you saw an opportunity to do things differently, or approached the same market from a new perspective, or changed things up in an innovative way such that the customer experience became distinctly different and better from what was being offered. From this answer, you should be able to glean a few core value words. Write those down. 

The Behavior Behind the Brand

Next, I ask my clients to talk through the behavior that exemplifies who they are at their natural best. You know… when the whole team is firing on all cylinders, everyone’s in sync and knows their mission, and there’s a true rhythm and joy in the company. I ask,  what behaviors are visceral to creating that type of environment? 

My goal is to uncover the 4-5 behaviors that are inherent in best performers and so genuine to the business that if the team were to suddenly stop doing those behaviors, the business would be fundamentally different and no longer your business. You’ll want to do this with your brand, considering the behaviors you feel exemplify the best version of your company. 

Finally, I turn to customer insights to uncover the behavior and characteristics that customers gravitate towards. Often, there are qualities overlooked by a client who takes for granted that expertise is everywhere (it’s not) or that everyone offers exceptional customer service (they don’t) or that people will tell you what you need to hear (if only). What comments do you hear on repeat about your team and how they have handled the work? What do your customers deeply value about the way in which you conduct yourselves and do your work? Note these words. 

At this point, you should have a decent list of words, you’re aiming for between 10-15. Begin by systematically reviewing them and noting which ones more strongly resonate with you. Avoid words that are too close to one another; each value should be distinctive. As you narrow down your list, aim for 3-5 values.  

Verbs, Not Nouns

I avoid nouns when defining values. Particularly in the case of brand values, nouns tend to be conceptual ideas and these get distanced and removed from actions and behaviors that we want to manifest in our company. If I say “integrity” or “innovation” there’s a gap. What exactly am I supposed to do to be innovative? Of course I have integrity, but I’m not entirely sure how I show it at work. Which means there’s room for mis- or -interpretation. 

But if I say “do the right thing, even if – and especially when – it’s easier to do the wrong thing,” or “see the problem from a different perspective” there’s no question. Every employee will instantly know what to do if a customer asks for services they really don’t need. Every employee will immediately know that conventional thinking isn’t going to cut it at this place, they need to dig deeper.

As you think through your brand values, push yourself to use verbs and don’t hesitate to define your values in clear terms, so everyone knows precisely what you mean.  Define the behavior you want from your team – internally and maybe even externally.  For one of my clients, an accounting firm focused on doing accounting and also teaching financial literacy as a means to develop stronger business leaders, I chose “Hold Yourself Accountable for Your Success” as one of their values for the employees and their customers alike. They loved it so much that it ultimately became the tagline for Monarch CPA.

Your Values are Not Aspirational

Finally, as you come up with your list of values, please note that your brand values shouldn’t be a stretch for you and your team. They shouldn’t be the company you want to evolve into, in five years.Your values need to reflect the best version of your business today, and the behaviors that make that possible. Be honest with yourself and your team about the behaviors that make up your values.

Still need some inspiration for your brand values? I like brand strategist Lisa Furze’s list of brand values that I’ve included, below. This might spur some creative thinking for you. 

Finally, if your brand needs some help and you’d like to work with me to help define your brand values, please reach out. I’d be so delighted to help make your brand magnetic to success. 

A list of Lisa Furze's brand values. Magnetic Brand Strategy, Northern Virginia

Magnetic Brand Strategy, located in Northern Virginia, serves a global market seeking a methodical approach to branding

Magnetic Brand Strategy, located in Northern Virginia, serves a global market seeking a methodical approach to branding. Learn more about us.

How well is your business positioned for resiliency and growth? The silver lining is that one day (soon, hopefully) this all will pass, and we will make it through. When we emerge, there will be companies standing strong and ready for growth. How can you ensure your business is one of those?

Earlier this month I was a guest lecturer for Washington Building Congress and gave a lecture on how brand can drive resiliency and growth in these times. Here are my notes.

Reality, Today

With unemployment skyrocketing and a record number of businesses and schools shuttered, our economy is awash in great uncertainty, stress and anxiety. People are switching from proactive to reactive mode, and progress and momentum is stalled.

This uncertainty is causing many of us to retreat and avoid customer relations. Maybe we don’t have a clear message to convey, or we feel like we don’t have anything optimistic to say, so we don’t communicate. 

But this causes important relationships – like the ones with our best customers – to become distanced, when what we need is actually to come together. Our collective power can help us more quickly achieve a common goal, insulate our business from future crises, and position our brand for resiliency & growth.

You can build for resiliency & growth in your business by doing three things:
1. Go within and align on your brand;
2. Engage your best customers; and
3. Innovate to fix your business’ and your customers’ new pain points. 


Go Within

Brand strategy is your business strategy seen through the lens of your customers. It is not how you look; it’s how you act. So you’ll want to plan for resiliency and growth by first underscoring what you unwaveringly stand for, to your customers. Ask:

  • What is the value you bring them?
  • How do you distinguish your business from other competitors?
  • What do you promise every customer with every interaction?

These question will reorient you on your core offering and values, keeping you aligned while you innovate.

You will also want to study what your customers deeply value that you offer that no one else can deliver. This is your unique differentiator and the backbone of your brand (for more on how to craft your unique differentiator, see this post). Articulate this clearly in order to build on it. We’ll get to innovating in a bit, and you’ll want to innovate with new business ideas that enhance and deepen the value you already bring your best customers, instead of offering them something that’s shiny and new, but irrelevant to their needs. 


Engage Your Best Customers 

Next, you’ll want to reach out to discover how your customers are coping and how their needs have shifted. Most likely their problems have changed, so you’ll seek to understand what matters to them today in this changed landscape.   

Begin by connecting with empathy. Truly connect for the sake of connecting; this is not the time for a sale. This is the time to be honest. It’s a scary time for all, and none of us know how or when this will end. So be genuine in your concern for them, their welfare and wellbeing.

Listen and resist the urge to solve their problem right away. Often, in our haste to provide value, we jump right to problem solving. But if we don’t have the right problem, we’re retrofitting an existing solution instead of listening for a new potential opportunity. So listen to find the problem first; listen to hear their pain points. Approach this exercise with humility and openness and seek to understand instead of being understood.  


Innovate & Pressure-Test

Channel these learnings into innovation sessions. From your brand vantage point, begin by interrogating your reality and discussing the new challenges facing you and your customers today. Be honest. Global supply chains are broken. Many of your customers may be shut down; millions of consumers are out of work. Some core aspects of your current business model may be upended. Discuss what you’re struggling with, and discuss what your customers are struggling with. What needs to change within your model for you to succeed? What needs to change in order to address your customer’s new problems?

Then start exploring new ideas for innovation. Challenge orthodoxies like “we’ve always done it this way.” Consider wild constraints like ‘how could we operate with only half our staff?” Today, more than ever, people are open to new approaches and new ways of doing things. 

As you and your team come up with ideas, begin to pressure-test them. Evaluate how these ideas solve customer pain points and shape the value equation for your customers. Run ideas by a core close group of partners and trusted customers for feedback and refinement. Give yourself the freedom to fine-tune your ideas as you go.


Outcome

This strategy exercise is time-consuming and demanding, but the outcome is that your brand is resilient and poised for growth. Your relationships with your best customers are strengthened, and they see you as an empathetic partner in a difficult time. You’ve identified opportunities for innovation that will add to the value you already bring, positioning you and your business for resiliency and growth, even in the face of a crisis.

If this all sound helpful but also daunting… we can help. We guide brand positioning and innovation sessions as part of our brand building efforts with clients. Please connect with us; we’d love to help make your business magnetic to success.

You’re busy running your business and not always thinking about branding. In this piece, we’re highlighting some brand fundamentals and how to use them, so you can become a better brand steward for your business. It can also help you communicate the value you bring customers more clearly so you can drive your business forward.

What is brand, anyway? The word “brand” gets thrown around a lot and seems to be a catchall for all manner of things. For instance, I’ve heard brand described as:

  • The logo for your company (“The Tesla brand is so sleek.”);
  • Colors & font (“I love your brand, it just pops off your business card.”);
  • Website and copy (“Your brand is so smart”);
  • Advertising (“Every time I see that brand it cracks me up,”);
  • SEO / AdWords (“We totally do branding! We do SEO and AdWords”);
  • Packaging (Wow, that skin care line has great branding”), and even 
  • Product or offering (“OMG I can’t live without that brand!”). 

Friends, I’m here to tell you: brand is all this and so much more. Logo is part of your brand, as are your colors and fonts. Website? Yep. Packaging, product? Check. What about your customer experience, SEO tactics, advertising, font, tagline, your business’s personality, and even the color of your employee’s uniforms? All part of brand. 

Brand: A Working Definition

Brand is the interconnected web of what your business means and how you deliver that meaning. It is the expectation of an experience that you create in the minds of your customers, and all these touchpoints work together to deliver that experience. Brand is everything you say about your business, but also your actions behind your words to back up your words. Jeff Bezos famously said brand is your business’ reputation, and what people think, say and feel about you / your business when you’re not in the room. 

There are many parts to brand, and all of them play an important role in what, when, how and why you communicate to your customers. We won’t cover all of them but let’s explore some key brand tenets. 
 

Brand Promise

A core brand fundamental is your brand promise. When you sell a product or service, your business makes a promise to your customers. You deliver on that promise with every single interaction and at every single customer touchpoint. It’s not just what you say; it’s what you do, how you do it and why. 

How to use Brand Promise: 

Your brand promise should always be in your / your team’s mind when interacting with customers. It’s your North Star, and you should always be focused on communicating your promise and making good on it. Domino’s brand promise is hot pizza within 30 minutes. Every employee – from the CEO down to the store managers, kitchen staff and drivers – knows the brand promise, and that every one of their jobs is synced to live up to that customer promise.

We’re all familiar with this brand’s promise.

Nordstrom’s brand promise is to deliver exceptional customer service. Volvo’s brand promise is to make cars that are reliable and safe. When you create a promise that’s meaningful to your customers – and then deliver on that promise consistently and robustly – you earn loyal customers who are willing to pay and return time and again for your services. 

Brand Mission

Another key brand fundamental? Your brand mission. The brand mission sees your brand promise through. It’s how what your brand stands for & promises comes to life. In the Domino’s example, their mission is delivering on their brand promise of “hot delicious food within 30 minutes…or it’s free.” If you look under the lid at Domino’s you’ll discover they’re as much about food as they are about logistics and ensuring they can deliver hot delicious food to your door within 30 minutes. Their extensive supply, manufacturing and distribution chain is built around delivering logistically on their brand promise.


How to use Brand Mission:

Once you know your brand promise, your brand mission is reverse-engineering how to bring your brand promise to life. It’s thinking through the steps you and your employees need to take to live into your brand promise and writing them down as a roadmap for how to achieve your promise every time.

Brand Values

Brand values are fundamental to bringing your brand to life; they are the principles and qualities you stand for that help you live into your brand promise and brand mission. What behavior and qualities do you stress to your employees to act on that helps live into your brand promise? And what characteristics are central to your brand promise coming to life? At Nordstroms, one of their brand values is exceptional customer service, no matter what. This value led a salesperson to once famously accept used car tires that a customer brought in to return (and Nordstroms does not sell car tires). It’s a legendary example that shows the extent to which Nordstrom empowers its staff to deliver exceptional customer service. 


How to use Brand Values:

Values are the qualities that define your brand and help you deliver on your promise. Spend some time thinking through your brand’s values and what your qualities are that enable you to deliver on your brand promise. Imagine you are hiring a new employee; what qualities must they have in order to carry out your brand promise? What guidelines do you want to instill in them? Remember your employees are your front line and represent your brand; they manifest your brand promise to life. So what must they embue?

Brand Positioning

Brand positioning is another fundamental element of branding. Positioning is how you position your brand against your competition, in the process targeting your ideal, or target, customer. If you are Volvo, your brand positioning is that you make vehicles that are reliable and safe. Your ideal customer is someone who values reliable and safe cars. You’ll position your brand far away from sleek sports cars (BMW, Porsche), muscle cars (Ford Mustang), trucks (F150), luxury sedans (Mercedes, Lexus), economy cars (Kia, Hyundai), family minivans and SUVs, and other vehicles. 

A Volvo, with its seat-belt looking logo, reinforcing its brand promise of safety and reliability.

How to use Brand Positioning:

Brand positioning is the foundation of your brand because it not only distinguishes you from your competitors, it also appeals to a target market that deeply values the benefit you bring (that others do not). You can read at length about UVP and brand positioning here. 

Target Market

Your target market is a critical brand fundamental; it’s about determining that market segment that derives extreme value from your offering. In the case of Volvo, their target market is anyone concerned about safety and reliability; for instance, parents with small children; those who live in climates with poor driving conditions; and other demographic segments who value safety and reliability over other car qualities like mileage, handling, acceleration, and so on. 


How to use your Target Market:

You’ll want to consider your customers and zero in on those who deeply love your offering. You’ll want to probe: Why do they love our brand? What is it about our service or offering that makes them choose us? In Domino’s case, it’s the people who value convenience, not the artisanal pizza lovers who will travel great distances and wait for hours to get amazing pizza. For Nordstroms, the target customer is the person who loves getting what they want and is willing to pay extra for it. Think through your offering and who disproportionately values you, and why. For more on discovering your target, this article can help. 
 

Functional & Emotional Benefits

Both of these types of benefits are fundamental in branding but they serve different roles. A functional benefit articulates the problem your offering solves and the benefit your customer gets from using it. For Domino’s, it’s hot food within 30 minutes. Nordstrom? Their functional benefit is satisfying the customer’s needs and wants. For Tide with Bleach, it’s getting your laundry clean and your whites whiter.


The emotional benefit is an extension of your functional benefit: what customers get as a result of that benefit. For Domino’s, the emotional benefit is being able to spend your time doing what you love (not focused on food prep).  Nordstroms’ emotional benefit is feeling surprised & delighted. Tide’s emotional benefit of clean clothes and whiter whites means you look your best. Functional benefits reinforce emotional benefits, and emotional benefits are the real reason people choose your product. Yes, people want their laundry clean, but lots of detergents promise that. People choose Tide because Tide makes them look their best.  

Domino’s emotional benefit: never miss a moment of the game.

How to use these benefits:

Think about the immediate, tangible benefit your brand provides to your customers. What problem do you fix? Then think about the bigger emotional territory that you play in, as a result of fixing that problem. What emotion does through your customer feel when they’ve interacted with your brand? Knowing what functional and emotional benefits your brand provides gives you a smart platform to talk about why you are different and why offering matters to your target customer. 

What are Reasons to Believe? 

For your promise to really take root in your customer’s mind, it has to be credible. Give customers reasons to believe in your brand promise. These reasons should be specific attributes and features that allow your business to deliver on your promise. For example, LensCrafter’s brand promise is that it helps people see better. Their reasons to believe include: 

  • Optometrists on site to administer eye exams & update your prescription;
  • Lens labs so they can cut and fit your glasses within an hour;
  • Convenient store hours, including late evenings and weekends;
  • Knowledgeable staff to assist in finding the ideal lenses for your needs.

These reasons to believe instantly support LensCrafters’ brand promise and makes it resonate in customers’ minds. 

A LensCrafters advertisement


How to use Reasons to Believe:

Spend a moment to think through the attributes that helps support your business’s brand promise. What do you deliver that supports your brand promise? You’ll want to talk to these points frequently as support for your brand promise, and help your customers fully understand and integrate the value you bring.

Brand Archetypes 

Archetypes are another fundamental part of branding that brings your brand its distinctiveness. A brand archetype is a persona that embodies your brand, kind of like if it were a person come to life. Nike, for example, is the Hero archetype who asks you to give it your all, never give up, and just do it. Coca-Cola is the Innocent, encouraging you to leave your troubles behind, relax for a minute, take a break from your troubles and just… open happiness. And Harley Davidson is the Rebel, helping you fulfill your dreams of personal freedom while bucking the status quo and being utterly, unapologetically in-your-face independent. 

While nothing is typical with Harley, here we have a typical Harley ad.

How to use Archetypes:

Archetypes can come to define your brand (as in the case of Harley Davidson and Nike). Consider your brand: does it have a strong personality? Is it humorous and self-deprecating (Geico, the Joker), or is it more authoritative and in control (AmericanExpress, the Ruler)? How about: approachable, friendly and good-natured (Bud Light; the Guy-Next-Door)? Archetypes can enhance your brand’s relatability and likeability factors, particularly with regards to tone and how you communicate your value proposition to your customers. For more on archetypes, you can read this article.


Wow, that’s a lot! What do I do with all this? 

All these various parts build together to form your brand. They help your stakeholders better understand what your company is all about, the value you bring, and how you are different from the rest. If you really want to develop your brand more fully, consider how you can bring these elements to life for your business. And if you have any questions and/or want to turn this over to someone who knows this stuff inside & out: let’s connect. We’re here for you and happy to help.