people with real character are unwavering in their values. in times of triumph and times of struggle, they are who they are because of what they believe. and by being authentic, they earn respect.
it’s no different with brands.
brand values help a brand connect with its key audience and make decisions—from creating partnerships to sourcing supplies to responding to press. but if a brand commits to values half-heartedly, it risks raising a big red flag of inauthenticity.
it’s tricky business for anyone tasked with heading a brand. so where do you start?
where brand values come from
values are part and parcel of your business, your product, and the decisions you make every day. they can’t be contrived, or tacked on with this month’s trends or cultural moments.
“some people call it your purpose,” says our founding partner Paul McDowall. “we also call it the ‘why’ – why do you do what you do? what drives you as an organization or a brand? what human truth or tension are you trying to solve for? why are you relevant?”
some build out their brand with altruistic values: protecting the planet through sustainable practices, or serving the community through local sourcing. but not every value—and not every brand—can be defined through altruism. for some, values will be guided by the product: its purpose and the needs it satisfies.
identifying the cultural tensions you’re addressing is an ideal way to begin defining values for a new brand.
enter Stubborn Soda, a drink made with fair trade sugar and better ingredients that piqued the interests of millennial makers, from garage bands to baristas, people who create things because they love to. Stubborn’s key messaging is a match with their mindset: if you really love something it’s ok to be stubborn about it. and by using only the best ingredients, Stubborn Soda stays true to its values.
check out the full Stubborn Soda case study here.
a brand’s inception is the ideal time to get it right. it’s a crucial moment to consider why you’re doing what you’re doing. wishy-washy ideals won’t serve you well here: define what your product achieves in practical terms, and let that drive your thinking.
for those who are inheriting a brand, value-mapping is a different process. think about the meaningful tension your product is solving. consider your most loyal customers—or the audience whose loyalty you’re seeking—and your role in making their lives better.
your brand as an ecosystem
in the past, brands were egocentric. they found their roots by thinking about what they stood for, what they wanted to impact, and what they believed.
“the inverse is happening now,” says Paul. “brands that are successfully building strong relationships are starting with people first and addressing their needs. they’re thinking about how they fit into someone’s life with meaning and relevance.”
our work with Snooze Eatery helped this local jewel become a national phenomena…
a brand is a relationship—one that’s predicated on purpose, values, and product. every chance a consumer has to engage with your brand is a chance to convey that your purpose is meaningful to them, your values align with theirs, and your product solves their problem.
and while a product might sit on a shelf, a brand doesn’t. you can’t pick up a brand and touch it. a brand is a manifestation, not a tangible thing in itself.that’s why your values need to shine through in every interaction you have with your audience: in what you say, how you say it, and where you say it. smart brands choose carefully.
brand values in motion
the journey doesn’t just start with your audience—it circles back to them, too. your key audience—or tribe—is who you look to when defining your values, and they’re also who you lean on to help activate them.
“empathy is a buzzword, but it’s also critical” says Paul. “successful brands have learned to be empathetic to their tribes’ needs—and how to actually support and serve them.”
if you truly understand your tribe and get to grips with them in a nuanced way, you can connect the dots between your purpose and values and the things they care about.
take REI, a brand whose most loyal and engaged followers take the outdoors seriously. their authenticity comes from their dedication to making nature accessible for all. every black Friday, REI fulfills their values by closing down to encourage their employees and customers to get outdoors.
image source: rei.com
and in return for this calculated financial hit? they receive massive loyalty, press, and support. it’s an illustration of the full life cycle of successful brand values: they’re defined by the purpose they serve, influence the decisions the business makes, resonate with the people they consider their tribe, and reflect back on the brand to amplify its authenticity.
refractions of your brand narrative
we’ll acknowledge it: for the results-driven among us, having a conversation about your brand’s purpose and meaning might feel a bit…philosophical. but having that conversation is a critical part of your brand’s journey—and having it with the right partner is equally crucial.
you’re in the thick of your brand every day—determining its audience, making its decisions, putting out its fires, and finding its opportunities. you know it best, but the right partner can help you see it differently.
“it’s all about bringing the right combination of minds to the table,” says Paul.
who’s sitting at yours?