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Core Values: Branding from the Inside Out.

by Nathan Fleming

Being a brand goes well beyond having a logo and a catchy slogan. It’s making and keeping promises. It’s about being relatable and, above all, meaningful.

Why? Because decision-making begins in the unconscious mind. The place where emotions are stirred and behavior is activated. And if you want people to choose your brand, it’s important to be clear about “who you are” as a brand so that others can be, too.

Being a brand, ultimately, is about owning a piece of real estate in the hearts and minds of a group of human beings.

One of the primary challenges of creating a brand is achieving crystal clarity around how it should present itself to the world. How does it look? How does it sound? How does it behave in good times and bad? Why does it even exist in the first place? These and other important questions are easily answered once you have decoded the “DNA” of your brand. The trick is knowing where to look for it and how to define it in terms that everyone within the organization can understand and then translate to customers along every touchpoint.

One of the most important places to bring meaning to a brand is with a well-defined set of core values.

Core values say a lot about “who” a company is. And let’s be clear. A list of words may or may not qualify as true core values. Take the following list, for example:

  • Customer Service
  • Quality
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Teamwork

Any company in any category could call this list of words their core values. In fact, these are the actual core values of a certain book retailer that will go unnamed. And here’s what a five-year view of their stock price looks like as of this writing.

Values are, by definition, standards of behavior; judgment of what is important in life.

Core Values, then, should be ever-present within the company culture; and consistently guide and influence behavior across the entire organization.

One of the finer examples of a set of core values is Google. Not only does each core value have meaning. Each one is enriched with further meaning and definition. They even “check in on them from time to time” to make sure they still hold true.

  • Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  • It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  • Fast is better than slow.
  • Democracy on the web works.
  • You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  • You can make money without doing evil.
  • There’s always more information out there.
  • The need for information crosses all borders.
  • You can be serious without a suit.
  • Great just isn’t good enough.

For fun, here’s what Google’s stock price looks like today.

Maybe it’s not fair to compare Google to a book store. So, let’s look at the core values of another player in the same space.

  • Excellence
  • Innovation
  • Customer Fixation
  • Teamwork
  • Community
  • Fun

And its five-year stock price… (Notice the recent jump after a long, tumultuous period. That’s when it sold most of its assets to a giant holding company back in the summer of 2017.)

Can you guess the brand? If you guessed, Yahoo, you would be correct. And prior to selling off most of its assets to an investment company (whose core values are all about making money) its stock price was extremely volatile.

By no means does this post aim to prove that a company’s stock price is a direct reflection of the quality of its core values. In business, there are plenty of other factors to consider, no doubt. To dismiss the corollary as insignificant, however, would be naive.

The point is, if a brand is to withstand the changing dynamics of the marketplace and continually create economic and market value in the long term, it would do well to establish a set of core values that are inspiring enough to create a culture. One that is clear on what attitudes and behaviors are “the norm” within the culture. And, more importantly, one that fosters a sense of purpose to which everyone at all levels can aspire daily.

Brand building is easier when your brand has a heart that pumps rich, life-affirming blood through its veins. If that core is weak, however, brand-building can be a difficult, unnecessarily expensive, and often fruitless exercise in futility.

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