Values - the search for brand meaning

Values - the search for brand meaning

It’s difficult to avoid the ‘values’ word – it’s peppered liberally through news bulletins, business journals and current event programmes. Values, or the lack of values, are often held responsible for the economic crises, corporate corruption and scandalous behaviour. When things are going well we seldom hear that it’s down to a good ethos, but bad news travels faster and lingers longer. Being clear on what we stand for and believe in should be instinctive and sincere, but are you certain the organisation you work for has a clear ethos that is shared by your colleagues and external audiences?

A brand’s values should be evident in every brand touch point and communication. Brand values should influence the way organisations interact through websites and social media, the quality of corporate literature, the design and packaging of products, and the nature of promotions and sales activities so that every outward communication resonates with a clearly defined values framework. Clearly defined core values are at the centre of a healthy corporate culture. Strong values provide an ethical code of behaviour that influences staff, suppliers and customers. When employees share a brand’s core values they are more likely to feel content, empowered and fulfilled. Shared values can shape a behavioural framework that enables an organisation to realise its brand’s vision and achieve its true purpose. Values may originally derive from an organisation’s founders and evolve over time as a business flourishes. If you do not clarify and communicate these values, they may become diluted and compromise the qualities that made the organisation successful in the first place.

Why do we need values?

The most valuable brands are also the most attractive to work for. A comparison between Interbrand and BrandZ’s current performance tables of the most valuable global brands has strong similarities. Both organisations rank the world’s most valuable brands and they publish their lists annually. Apple, Google, IBM and Microsoft all appear in the top five for both lists. LinkedIn and Universum have analysed the preferences of the global workforce and have published annual lists of the most in-demand brands to work for. Google appears at the top of both lists, with Apple and Microsoft in the top five according to LinkedIn’s ranking. At the intersection between the customer brand and the employer brand sits the core values that drive meaning and understanding. Clarifying brand meaning makes it easier to comprehend what a brand stands for and the proposition it poses to its various audiences.

At the top of Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2014 index is Apple. 18 years ago, when Steve Jobs returned to the company he founded, he said:

To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world and we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is, and so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.

The benefits of clearly defined values:

  • Engagement Understand what the brand stands for and the part we play
  • Motivation Inspired and conscientious team
  • Differentiation Customers and Employees can discern an ethical difference
  • Loyalty A shared belief attracts loyal customers and employees
  • Understanding Clarity and communication of a clear promise
  • Behaviour All brand communication and touch points are instinctive

Dr Philip Kotler, marketing consultant, professor and author, wrote in his book ‘Marketing 3.0’ of the values-driven era where consumer and employee will be searching for deeper meaning in their brand relationships:

In a world full of confusion, they search for companies that address their deepest needs for social, economic and environmental justice in their mission, vision and values.

What are values?

Values represent our fundamental beliefs and are the principles by which we define what is right and just. They provide guidance as we determine right versus wrong and good versus bad, as well as provide society with standards.

The Socratic Dialogue of ‘The Republic’ is Plato’s most famous work and was authored at around 380BC. It was originally known by the name ‘On Justice’ and concerns the character of the city-state, examining if the just man is happier than the unjust man. The four cardinal virtues, or values, are identified in Book IV as: Justice, Courage, Moderation and Wisdom. Since Plato, the great faiths of the world have expanded on these four values to form the building blocks of modern society and culture. Brands today need to find personality in their values and use them as principles to decide right from wrong and on-brand from off-brand.

Values systems

  • Abraham Maslow, the American psychologist famous for his hierarchy of needs, wrote in ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ (1943):
  • A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualisation.
  • Self-Actualisation crowns his hierarchy of needs, positioned at the pyramids peak above esteem, love or belonging, safety and at the pyramids base, physiological needs as our ultimate motivation. Actualisation of a brand is full engagement with the brand, for example: I love my Job and I understand the part I play in the effectiveness of my organization.

Industry sector and country values

Christine Lagarde, MD of the International Monetary Fund, tweeted on 27 May 2014: “We need investors and financial leaders taking values as seriously as valuation, and culture as seriously as capital.” The MD of the IMF was speaking at the Conference on Inclusive Capitalism and addressed the fact that, “capitalism has been characterized by ‘excess’ in risk-taking, leverage, opacity, complexity”, and that, “One of the main casualties has been trust”.

In June 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron started a debate concerning British Values following the 799th anniversary of Magna Carta. In an article published by The Mail on Sunday, he defined British Values as: “a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law”. David Cameron admitted that these values are equally vital to people living in other countries, but explained that, “what sets Britain apart are the traditions and history that anchors them and allows them to continue to flourish and develop”. The relevance of this explanation of British values to brands and businesses is underlined by his identification of two essential reasons for promoting values; the first is to deliver economic success and the second is to unite an eclectic group of people under a common purpose. British values are now a required feature of the national curriculum. Understanding an organisations brand values should form part of an employee induction and continue throughout their working relationship.

Company values health check

Do you have clear consensus on your organisations brand values? Take an audit of the virtues that you hold dear and analyse them for effectiveness. Appoint a Values workforce team to review these values and ask yourself some soul searching questions:

  1. Are the values sincere and memorable?
  2. Do these values differentiate the brand?
  3. Do the values provoke measurable behaviours that will enhance or transform the brands performance?
  4. Are the values relevant to the brand experience?
  5. Can employees realistically live up to these values?

Whittle these values down and identify which group they fall into. In Patrick Lencioni’s book ‘The Advantage’, he identifies four groups of values:

1. Core Values: Immutable virtues at the heart of everything you do.

2. Aspirational Values: The values you may not practice, but will need to work towards in order to achieve your brands vision.

3. Accidental Values: The subliminal values that are not formalised, but explain why everyone is the same age, speaks the same way, has the same lifestyle or lives within a short radius of the office.

4. Permission to play Values: These are the values that any professional organization should have: Trust, Communication, Respect, Integrity and Excellence. They are the values that, on the face of it, do not individually have great personality.

Having organised and preferenced your values, it’s time to give them personality. Give the value a name and attribute a behaviour to it. The Jamie Oliver brand is a superb example of the Brand Personality shining through its Values:

Jamie Oliver and Values

The success of Jamie Oliver and his many enterprises may be traced to a confident sense of ‘Real Purpose’. The Kitchen Crusaders website and careers section clearly states ‘there’s a real purpose to working here compared to slaving away to make massive profits for some faceless corporation!’ And who would doubt that? Oliver’s Values are so authentic you can hear his voice loud and clear when you read them -

  • Keep it simple
  • Give it your all
  • Enjoy yourself
  • Think fresh
  • Spread the love
  • Grow with us

Richard Barrett is an internationally recognised thought leader on Values in business and society. A published author and speaker, he has the following to say on modern leadership:

Leaders build trust when they live authentically in alignment with their most deeply held human values. If you want to succeed in the twenty-first century, you will need to become a values-driven leader.

The Jamie Oliver brand is a great example of Barrett’s philosophy. It’s a brand that undoubtedly benefits from a very visible and passionate brand champion - and Oliver wears his heart on his sleeve. His enthusiasm for life is contagious and he is always inspiring or helping people – whether it’s a new recipe, his Fifteen Foundation, Jamie’s School Dinners or his successful food festival ‘Feastival’. He is extremely constructive – using his talent to help others, offering jobs to unemployed youths and helping to change people’s perceptions about food. He has the confidence and courage to make a change for the good of all. You can tell that he really wants to help people and he ranks in the ‘Giving List of Charitable Donors’ published by The Sunday Times ‘Rich List’. The Jamie Oliver brand is focused on caring and he is a passionate campaigner. He clearly cares deeply about people and food and is often referred to in the media as ‘The Kitchen Crusader ’.

Evidence from the survey ‘Understanding a misunderstood generation’ by employer branding specialists Universum suggests that the millennial generation expect private businesses to be more influential in society today. Only brands that know what they stand for can do this effectively.

How values can support your brand

  • Brand Personality - Values define us and give character to our personality.
  • Guidance - A clearly defined set of values provide natural guidelines to grow a brand.
  • Emotion - Employees and consumers are attracted to brands they can relate to, and which confirm their own beliefs and identity.
  • Do the right thing - Values are beliefs that give people a moral conviction in their behaviour.

Core Values are the lifeblood that flows through the heart of healthy brands, delivering vitality and strength. They permeate every activity and manifestation of the brand, providing direction and distinction. These values should be clear and relevant to everyone’s understanding of the brand. The more work you put into defining what your organisation stands for, the more your brand will grow in stature and performance.

Paul Hitchens Course Director CIM
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