Today, I want to chat about brand values. Ok, so it’s probably not the first time you’ve heard me talk about brand values, and it won’t be the last. But today, I specifically want to talk about a trap I see so many brands and businesses fall into: the perceived safety of bland before brand. Playing it safe with generic values that could belong to pretty much any other brand out there. And another mistake: slapping on a few extra brand values just because it will “look good on our website!”
If that’s you: here’s a slap in the face for you (two slaps, actually):
- When you try to make your brand stand for everything and the kitchen sink, it ends up standing for nothing.
- And when you try to make your brand stand for the same things “all the other” brands stand for, you will never be able to stand out.
I want to dig into what you can do to make sure your brand is more than just bland (omg, that was way cheesy – sorry!) and how you can ensure your brand values are more than just fancy words on a corporate poster.
Brand values may seem insignificant – and if you’ve just randomly picked a selection of generic and positive words without giving it much thought at all, or because they’re the kind of values you expect will resonate with your audience, they will be insignificant. Because they’re just empty promises. Did you as a child ever get one of those HUGE, hollow chocolate easter eggs, wrapped in fancy, colourful foil? And then you cracked it open, eager to discover (and devour) the contents, only to reveal a measly little plastic bag with like seven chocolate buttons inside. And crappy, cheap chocolate too. I still remember the disappointment.
Don’t let your brand be that easter egg. Be the luxury Belgian chocolate one that delivers what it promises, dammit!
If your brand values are not distinct enough, they’re meaningless – and the more generic the values, the more difficult it is for employees to know how to represent your company. When done right on the other hand; brand values can be such a valuable asset for your brand. They act as guidelines for how your brand will behave, internally and externally – and can help you cultivate a healthy work culture, attract and retain the right employees and clients. Core values help leaders in a company (you, if you’re a one person brand) make tough decisions. They help your employees to better understand how to act on behalf of your brand – which is super important, as the people who work for you are your brand ambassadors, whether you like it or not. Your brand values should be there to guide you when you find yourself in situations where you’re uncertain of what is the right or wrong path to take.
And talking of those situations… I want to give you an example. I’m recording this just days after a female celebrity entrepreneur (I bloody hate that term btw… but yeah, a female celebrity entrepreneur whose name shall not be mentioned but if you know you know. Anyways, she really put her foot in her mouth on Instagram. Shit hit the fan, big time.
This is a really really good example of when it’s good to lead with your values. Or even to just have well established brand values in place to guide you in what to do next. And maybe you’re thinking “but could it be that this person does have brand values in place, and you just don’t agree with them?” Yeah, it’s possible. And I want to make it clear that it’s totally OK to have brand values that aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But how the whole situation was handled makes me think that wasn’t the case here, and I strongly doubt that any brand will ever choose “ignorant af” as a core value.
So first, there was silence. A looooong awkward silence. Then some pretty ugly shit went down in the comments. Then an attempt at an apology. Then another shitstorm. Then another apology and deleting of posts and comments and blocking of people… (I think that’s where we’re at today, I’ve kinda muted that whole thing for my own sanity’s sake.) Here’s how I think (and again, these are just assumptions) things might have looked behind the scenes:
- Celeb entrepreneur posts an IG live that upsets a whole lot of people
- Celeb entrepreneur was not prepared for how upset people would be
- Celeb entrepreneur then sticks her head in the sand, hoping it will all go away
- It doesn’t go away, in fact… it snowballs
- Celeb entrepreneur then realises this is probably damaging to her brand
- Celeb entrepreneur puts out an attempt at an apology, but without really taking full responsibility for her actions, instead blaming it on others
- Snowball just gets bigger because people see through it all
- Celeb entrepreneur *panic mode on* gets help writing a better apology
- People are still not buying it
- The shitstorm continues
That’s how I just pictured it in my head. Now here’s how it could have gone down if there were some solid and authentic brand values in place:
- Celeb entrepreneur posts video that upsets a whole lot of people. With core values in place, avoiding this situation altogether would be easier, but: we all make mistakes, it’s bound to happen – and this person is only human too!
- Celeb entrepreneur was not prepared for how upset people would be. Again, sometimes we’re hit by a shitstorm. We’re still only human! So up until now, the scenario is the same as before.
The secret to avoiding the snowballing effect, and avoiding what happened next, lies in knowing how to best navigate these shitstorms – in a way that feels in line with how we want our brand to be, and how we want it to be perceived. That’s where the brand values come in. They’re your compass.
So imagine these alternative next steps for our celeb entrepreneur:
- Celeb entrepreneur realises she’s fucked up royally
- Celeb entrepreneur refers back to her brand values, so they can guide her in her next steps
- Celeb entrepreneur takes her time to respond to the crowd of upset people according to her brand’s core values, owning her mistakes
- Some people are still upset, but the people that really matter will still respect her, and as people see the brand moving forward in a constructive and consistent way, the shitstorm will eventually subside
Again, this is my brand strategist head running wild with “what ifs” – I just wanted to give you an example, and this was top of mind because it happened so recently (still ongoing at the time of recording this). If any celeb entrepreneurs are listening to this and feel like they could use some help working on their brand values, let’s talk.
Anyways… time to move on to the rest of the episode!
Let’s talk about generic brand values for a sec. What does generic mean? I looked it up in a couple of dictionaries for you so you don’t have to:
- lacking imagination or individuality; predictable and unoriginal
- having no particularly distinctive quality or application
Errr… maybe not quite what you had in mind for your brand? The reason why so many brands have defined such generic and “safe” values is that they are easy to claim. There’s no risk involved, there are no feathers to ruffle. No one will be upset. It’s safe. And booooriiiiing. How many times have you seen a brand claim to be or stand for:
These are values that could apply to pretty much any brand in the world. They’re values we kinda take for granted – I mean, if a brand has to state that it’s professional, should I be worried that they’re not?
To get away from the generic, we need to get away from this notion that values are either good or bad. Values are who you are and how you relate to the world around you. A value that resonates with one person might piss someone else off big time – and that’s just how it is. You are never going to be able to please everyone, so you may as well just really own who you are! The key here is that you want to find and connect with the people who share your values, because they are the ones that will become your raving fans and brand ambassadors. And those who don’t share your values will go elsewhere.
When you work on your brand values, a handy tip to keep in mind is to ask yourself if the values you are considering could work just as well for any other company. If the answer is yes: they’re too generic.
Instead of choosing the easy options, ask yourself what you truly believe in. How do you do things differently to everyone else? How do you want to impact the world? What makes you unique? If you’re quirky – own it. If you’re a badass, if you’re graceful, if you want to empower female farmers, if you’re feminist af, if you’re fiery, if you’re mindful, if you’re chirpy… I’m just coming up with stuff off the top of my head here. It doesn’t matter. Just own it! Because as my podcast guest Beth Farris said in episode 9: Now more than ever, people want to buy from people and companies that stand for something beyond just their own success.
I know that this is hard work. But trust me when I say it’s worth spending some time on.
However, none of this makes a real difference unless you actually live by your values. Plonking them on your about page or sprinkling them liberally throughout a powerpoint presentation is not living by your values. Adding them to your brand guidelines and leaving them to gather dust in a folder on the top shelf is not living by your values.
When you use them right, brand values are a powerful tool that will help you make decisions and guide your action for your brand. For your brand values to become a useful business tool, you need to put them to work. You must turn your values into actions. Or to use a cliché: put your money where your mouth is. That means incorporating them into every little nook and cranny of your brand; from how you show up in your social media channels, the messages you put out there, where you choose to spend your money (this is a big one, money is power!), how you recruit, how you deal with complaints, how you onboard new clients, how you navigate (or even better: avoid) shitstorms like the one I mentioned in the beginning.
On the other hand; if your brand values are left to gather dust, then the time you spent getting them juuust right was pretty much wasted. And that would be a real shame!
You know I want each of my episodes to give you actionable advice that you can start to implement without too much faff. So as I round off today I want to challenge you to take a closer look at your brand values. Arm yourself with lots of sticky notes or blank sheets of paper, and just start to write things down. This can mean just words, adjectives that describe your brand for instance, but also sentences. Ask yourself “some of those big scary questions:
- What do I really stand for?
- What mark do I want to leave behind?
- Who am I?
- Who am I really, if I let go of other people’s expectations?
- What are some important causes that I care about?
- What lights the fire in my belly?
- What pisses me off?
- What makes me happy?
- How do I want people to feel when they encounter my brand?
- What’s my brand personality?
After this brainstorming, or journaling or whatever you want to call it, see if you can narrow it down to your 3-5 core values. First off, get rid of any of the more generic values – they might be right for your brand, but if they’re also right for thousands of other brands, then they’re not going to be what truly sets you apart.
Once you’ve landed on the values that feel good, start to think about how you can incorporate these into the day-to-day logistics of your brand. This doesn’t have to be a huge and complex thing to do, it could be as simple as deciding to do a certain thing every time you onboard a new client for example. Maybe you send them a postcard. Or maybe you send them a video message. Look at how you communicate with people in your social media channels, make sure that all ties in with your core values. Make a plan for how to lead with your values, how to handle things if something goes wrong. How can you express your values in your visual branding? Maybe with your choice of images or your tone of voice? If you have a team, make sure they are on board with and understand your values. Refer to your values during the recruitment process, look at how to attract the right people, look at how your values can be used to nurture a good work environment…
How you turn your values into action will look different for each brand, because each brand will have a different set of values. The important thing is that you do it. And that you do it in a way that feels good to you and the people you impact with your brand.
I hope this has inspired you to take a closer look at what really defines your brand. I’d loooove to have a sneak peek behind your curtain if you decide to do some work on your brand values after this episode, so snap a photo of your process, it doesn’t matter if it’s messy, share it on Instagram and tag me (@petchy.co) so I can give you a thumbs up and reshare!
Until next time,
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