They may seem just a fluffy concept when you start up. And there is a danger of them eroding as you grow. But strong values lead to entrepreneurial success.
When a leader is a strong face of a brand, then it becomes even more essential that both are in synergy.
Someone who has always done this well is Sir Richard Branson. A multitude of companies, but all with strong brand values underpinning them. And, like the man himself, the values that underpin the brands include themes of ethics, customer focus, and standing out from the crowd, being ahead of the game.
Branson broke all the rules at the start with Virgin Records.
But if you look at Virgin Airlines, the principles still remain the same. They are leading the way and making a difference. Translated into visible branding, which of us wouldn’t recognize the scarlet they use to stand out from the crowd?
No one doubts that Branson aims to be a market leader. But it is done with the style and panache that stood him head and shoulders above the crowd in his skyrocketing career.
Branding is the picture of the personality’s values
If your values are unclear and wishy-washy, people are unclear about who you are as a company, and how they should react to you. And they aren’t sure, they will not develop a relationship with you.
Equally, the more defined your values are, the more their gut will tell them loud and clear that they love you (or hate you), want to be associated with you (or not).
Like people, company values are multi-faceted
Ben and Jerry’s are always much-quoted regarding their mission and values. A company that says “ice cream can save the world” is not one anyone forgets in a hurry!
Whereas Virgin might be aiming to be a market leader, Ben and Jerry’s have different missions; to make delicious ice cream, to achieve sustainable growth, and to use their company in innovative ways to make the world a better place.
By inter-weaving what they are aiming to achieve with their brand values, they underline what matters to them, making it even clearer for people to identify with them.
What you want to achieve, tells us a lot about you as a person. And so it is with a company.
The colossally successful CRM company, Salesforce, is focused on both customer and employees’ experiences. They keep it simple and memorable, with innovation and customer success on the one hand and equality and trust underpinning it all.
Not all values chosen are earnest, noble, and worthy, in the same way as few people are. A very different picture comes with the clothing giant Zappos, who uses words like Wow, fun, and weirdness among their values.
There are two ways this can fall down.
I had pretty whacky Zappos-like values when I started my last business. Fun was indeed a value of ours.
Then with growth, advisors came along and told me that values and mission should be all about excelling. I changed the values.
What happened, was fast and lethal. Customers and team alike no longer found it fun to be around us. Team members melted away under the pressure to excel. Whereas they had used to be passionate about the company doing well too so that they could continue having fun, excellence for excellence’s sake had no appeal.
Quality suffered with staff turnover – and customers were very fast to be derisory about our efforts to excel.
And the problem underpinning it all? The values weren’t true to the founder or the people that worked there. Values have to be authentic and come from the key people in the business.
When you start off, the chances are either you the founders, or you plus very early members of your team will chose the values. Those early members tend to be people very much on the same page as you. Therefore the result is values that are very true to the people involved.
Assuming, that is, that you all rate values as important as they are and have taken the time to value them that they deserve.
As you grow, original team members may have diluted, marketing teams, branding teams and advisors will all be vocal on what you should be portraying. Listen at your peril. They are for leaders and key people to select and should be strong enough and accurate enough to stay with your complete business journey.
Customers and teams alike have to be 100% convinced that the personality of a brand is a real thing.
You have to be seen to be living in line with that personality you are claiming to have.
Of course, failing to deliver excellence, when you claim that is what you are all about, is going to make people doubly angry. They feel betrayed and misled.
They cannot be just a handful of token words. You have to follow through on the words that describe your company.
Salesforce, for example, has an Office of Equality, focussing on equality both within and externally. Disney has safety as its number one value and their track record underlines that they follow through on this. What Ben and Jerry’s do socially is as big a part of their personality as their ice cream, supporting diverse issues from climate change, human rights, and marginalized communities.
Branding is essential
All the companies mentioned have incredibly strong brands. Branding is hugely important. The very first person I interviewed for this site a few years ago was branding specialist Sidney Evans, who outlined 3 secrets of successful branding. Brand engagement came out as one of the year’s top tips in an article I did with a group of top marketing experts.
But branding is just the art of bringing the personality of the brand to life and that personality is all about its values. These are the glue that binds all customers and teams together, which must be clearly defined, totally authentic and 100% lived.