In today’s world, we’re almost constantly bombarded with infinite choices of where to spend our hard-earned dollars. What makes a brand exceptional and worthy of our decision?
Well, the ongoing success of a brand can very often rest on the values at its heart and how authentically they are expressed and communicated in the marketplace. Brand values play indeed a significant role in building deeper connections that turn one-time customers into loyal ones.
Let’s dive into what brand values and guiding principles are, why they’re critical to any brand strategy, and how you can define them for your brand. We also included a few examples of brand values from big companies to help you find those unique to your brand.
What are brand values?
Brand values can be defined as the foundational beliefs that a company stands for. They refer to the “ideals” guiding the brand’s actions, such as environmental protection, diversity, solidarity, or transparency. Brand values give meaning to the existence and actions of the brand and form an essential part of the brand’s core identity.
Brand values should always reflect what is truly important to the company behind the brand. They must be honest and implemented throughout every part of the brand strategy, from any communication with employees and consumers to strategic decision-making.
What is the difference between brand values and guiding principles?
As mentioned above, a brand’s values are, in effect, a set of guiding beliefs that an organization inherently follows and upholds in pursuit of its mission. They define what the brand stands for.
A brand’s guiding principles are the ‘how’ the brand should act and behave to meet these values and achieve its goals.
Examples of brand values and guiding principles
Brand value: Transparency
Guiding principle: Communicating to customers about the origin and manufacture of our products. To be transparent by showing our publishing our pricing strategy in detail.
Brand value: Freedom
Guiding principle: Promoting a remote-first work culture that allows employees to work from anywhere in the world.
Brand value: Simplicity
Guiding principle: We ensure that our brand communications are clear, easy to understand, and aren’t overloaded with too much information for the customer.
Why are brand values important?
An organization should never leave the house without its brand values fully understood and intact, with clear guidance provided on how to demonstrate and display these in the day-to-day.
With competition constantly increasing, standing out from the crowd through representing these core values can often separate the meek from the mighty.
A brand’s values are very often communicated and negotiated through the subconscious, a place where, as Gerald Zaltman notes, 95% of our consumer choices are made.
This helps us understand that values are central to branding; these values and subconscious presuppositions really drive our choices, whether we know it or not!
The benefits of brand values
1. Strong values can lead to loyal customers and business growth
A brand’s core values are the primary vehicle through which a brand can genuinely connect with its audience beyond the shimmer and glow of advertising.
A brand’s values serve as a way to express identity and personality in the marketplace, a way to identify with the consumer.
“One of the ultimate goals of corporate marketing is to establish a strong relationship bond between consumers and brands, and the core value of brand is the basis for the establishment of the relationship between consumers and the brand, a direct impact on the success of the brand.”
2. Brand values can help a company attract the right talent
Brands with clear values can easily attract potential employees whose personal values align with the brand’s values. This can lead to more motivated, passionate, and efficient employees.
Without a strong set of values, things can start to crumble quickly.
3. Brand values serve as a guide for day-to-day actions and long-term decision-making
On a day-to-day level, a brand requires strong core values as part of its DNA to ensure people are reminded of what the brand stands for and what the people steering the brand really work for. Companies can get closer to their goals when employees align their behavior and decision-making to organizational values.
Values also inform the direction of long-term decision-making and business activities in alignment with the brand’s purpose.
Examples and case studies of brand values in action
Let’s dive into a handful of real-life examples to illustrate and learn more about this sometimes abstract concept of brand values and how they fit into the overall brand schematic.
This global purveyor of whooping-good, flame-grilled burgers is an excellent case study of how a brand’s values are applied in the everyday. A bit of research uncovers that Burger King’s core brand values rest on the concepts of:
- Teamwork and family
- Excellence, and
These core brand values are ideally exemplified at every level of the business and the brand’s operations. From creating an environment where all team members work together and creating a sense of family.
We can also begin to see that these values begin to unify their global team as well under this common banner: an organization of people who are excellent in their respective fields, working together towards Burger King’s common goal and vision of being, “the world’s favorite, innovative burger restaurant.”
Tech-disruptor, Tesla, is at the forefront of innovation, design, and pretty much whatever initiative its founder, Elon Musk, applies his mind to on any given day.
In reviewing their core brand values of “doing the best, taking risks, respect, constant learning, and environmental consciousness”, we can see that Tesla is about driving growth and change fueled by bold, powerful ideas without harming the planet.
This statement of values establishes right off the bat that Tesla and its people are unafraid of taking risks when they are taken conscientiously in the name of progress and innovation.
However, Tesla is an interesting example, as it demonstrates the tension between a brand and its founder. Founder Musk has often found himself in the midst of a maelstrom due to his equally disruptive Twitter game.
While a brand (and its personality extensions) should represent its core values, it’s crucial to balance these with the brand’s core values in the marketplace, which are often broader and go beyond the larger-than-life personality of the founder.
Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world, moving the world forward through the power of sport. Their values include inspiration, innovation, every athlete in the world, authentic, connected, and distinctive.
Nike’s brand values are an example of how organizations can build foundational beliefs that guide their interactions with the world around them, becoming an important voice within the wider social narrative.
We can see how Nike’s brand values play out differently through multiple channels and touchpoints. From innovative product design to its increasingly inclusive and community-driven marketing strategies like its wildly popular global running clubs, we can reliably find a mix of these brand values to convey the brand’s ultimate message.
Starbucks is a little more detailed in the way they articulate their brand values:
- With our partners, our coffee, and our customers at our core, we live these values:
- Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
- Acting with courage, challenging the status quo, and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
- Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity, and respect.
- Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
- We are performance-driven, through the lens of humanity.
In his book, It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sums it up perfectly:
“At Starbucks, I’ve always said we’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business serving coffee.”
We can see that all of Starbucks’ brand values are intrinsically linked to the social codes they uphold and promote as part of not only their service but the wider company culture, as well.
Lego is another brand whose core values extend through its company culture and into its product/service. The company’s core values – fun, creativity, imagination, learning, caring, and quality – relate to the concept of play. Lego sees these values as the foundational elements of its company culture.
Demonstration of their brand values can be found in every nook and cranny of the brand experience, from its fun and creative products for children to its positive, people-first company culture. While their articulation of the brand values is kept clear and straightforward versus Starbucks’ elongated value statements, we can also see the power of more concise expressions.
Simple and easy-to-understand values guarantee they can proliferate through the brand and all of its experiences.
How to develop and use your brand’s core values
Naturally, there are several ways you can work towards defining your brand’s core values.
- Brainstorm with your team. Ask, what does the brand stand for? What are the standards of behavior that it upholds? What are the common links or threads in your thinking? This could indicate that you’re starting to think about concepts that can bring people together – the right track to be on!
- Survey your customers. Again, are there pre-existing themes or concepts that your existing customer base strongly identifies with? Try to articulate these simply and easily to understand; no words wasted!
- Analyze your competition for an opportunity. Try to identify whether or not your direct competitors operate according to established brand values. Is there something they’re doing that offers an opportunity or space for you to establish a more dominant set of values? For example, if your main competitor’s Google reviews are negative due to poor customer service, focus on how you can strengthen your offering and values in this space to build a more attractive proposition.
Once you’ve defined your list of brand values, make sure to:
- Narrow the list down to 3-to 5 main brand values. Of course, an organization or brand can stand for many values and guiding principles. Yet we recommend identifying three to five central brand values. This will help you stay focused and more precise in your strategy.
- Choose 1-2 guiding principles per brand value. This will help you stay consistent and ensure the brand values are well implemented across your business.
- Include the values and guiding principles in your brand guidelines. It’s important to communicate them internally so that your employees know them. We suggest adding them to your brand guidelines where your team can visit them regularly to ensure their day-to-day work is aligned with these values.
- Keep your promise and stay consistent: Just defining and communicating your brand values isn’t enough! It’s essential to implement them across all the brand’s assets. You must ensure your customer experiences will be aligned with those values. Any action that isn’t aligned with your main brand values can significantly negatively impact your brand’s image and reputation.
A brand’s core values are an organization’s most basic and lasting beliefs. They can be understood as qualities or characteristics that truly power organizations to achieve their mission and vision, creating a blueprint for how things should be done.
We’ve briefly examined five remarkably different global brands and how they articulate and apply their brand values to achieve standout success in the marketplace.
Through these case studies, we can see a brand’s set of core values provide the tenets that people can identify on a subconscious level, whether that be its employees or customers.
By amplifying the volume of these messages, a brand can have the ability to step into wider social narratives (Nike), lead the world in innovative thought (Lego, Tesla), or develop loyalty beyond reason by building intimate relationships with its customers (Starbucks).
With a strong, well-articulated set of brand values, an organization can transform from being a mere business to something far greater and more meaningful.