How to identify if your brand values are still guiding your business and how to recalibrate if they’re not.
This article originally featured on Entrepreneur, October 2020.
If the events of 2020 alone have taught us anything, it’s that businesses can no longer ignore their greater impact on the world and the role they play in shaping the bigger picture. So if you aren’t already, now would be a really good time to reflect on your brand values and evaluate how they’re guiding your daily actions and decisions as a business.
Brand values cannot simply be words that appear on the strategy document that gathers dust in some corner of the cloud. They cannot be plastered on the walls of the office in the hope that the words alone inspire employees and customers. They need to be a living, breathing part of the way you do business. They also need to incorporate true corporate social responsibility, by having a measurable, positive impact on the world socially and environmentally.
Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because consumers are seeking out brands that do.
Why brand values are important
They’re part of your brand’s DNA and act as the moral compass for each and every decision made within the business. They link your purpose and personality together, forming how your brand “sounds” and looks. They are the core of what differentiates your brand in the minds of your key stakeholder — customers, employees, stakeholders.
Responsible values can have a measurable impact on your business performance.
In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Management exploring the connection between CEO greed, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and the ability to withstand systemic shocks, it was found that brands with genuine affinity with CSR are more resilient to economic crises.
Consumers are also increasingly looking to spend their money with brands that stand for something more than profit. A study conducted by Accenture found that 62 percent of consumers want companies to actively demonstrate social and environmental responsibility.
Patagonia has long been a leader in this, communicating its brand values through environmental campaigns and activism. More recently, pulling its advertising from Facebook as part of the Stop Hate For-Profit boycott in protest of Facebook’s ambiguous policies around hate speech.
Being a company with a foundation of strong brand values has never been more important, necessary, and profitable. But it’s sometimes easy to forget that until there’s an issue that challenges those values.
Here are four signs that your brand values are no longer doing their job to guide your business:
You can’t actually recall what they are
Oof, this is a big one. If you and your employees cannot state clearly what your brand values are, that is a red flag that they’re not resonating. Communicate these values in an engaging and relevant way and help everyone in the business understand their role in delivering each value. Having everyone on board is also proven to improve employee engagement and performance, providing them with a sense of meaning that motivates them intrinsically
Employees at King Arthur Baking Company are not only engaged and rally around the company values — they own them. With 100 percent employee ownership, a focus on ethical and sustainable sourcing, B Corp certified, and One Percent For The Planet member, this brand is a true example of a values-based organization. Oh, and they’ve been around for over 270 years. So, a focus on values is certainly a longevity play.
You can’t articulate what they mean
There’s a difference between stating the values and actually knowing what they mean. If you’re unable to see how each value connects with every part of your business, then they’re not working. For every value, ask: “so what?” So what does this mean for supplier relationships? So what does this mean for customer service? So what does this mean for acknowledging social justice issues on social media? This will help connect the dots for how they impact everyday business activities. Sharing that widely and often helps to embed them so they feel natural.
Your brand values no longer feel true
Sometimes they no longer resonate, and that’s ok. This can be a function of having outgrown them as you’ve evolved as a business. It can also be that they need to be reframed to reflect where you’re really heading. If this is the case, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and refresh them.
Your customers aren’t mirroring these values back to you
Customers are the barometer for how your brand values are connecting with your actions. If throughout every interaction they have with your brand they’re not seeing the influence of your core brand values, then there’s a gap in the way they’re being communicated or acted upon. You can gather this up through feedback (direct or indirect). Ask your customers.
Lush’s brand values are widely communicated and guide fundamental decisions about the way the company operates. You know with Lush that “handmade” actually means it, and is reinforced with a picture of the person who made each product on every product you buy.
There’s no green-washing to be found here (unless you count their divine, multi-colored bath bombs, of course). From the ethical sourcing of ingredients to being an actual activist (not just a social media activist) against animal testing, Lush’s mission to shake up the beauty and cosmetics industry based on its core values is visible in everything it does. And its customers know it and love it.
If you’ve identified there’s a need for some recalibration with your brand values, here’s how you might take the steps to get back in alignment:
Reconnect with your brand purpose.
What is your brand’s raison d’être? What is that higher-order reason for being that goes beyond “sell the things, make the money”? Get clear on this purpose, share it, and openly refer back to it, always ensuring that all of your activities are actually driving you towards it.
Craft values that help you towards your purpose.
Identifying the foundational values that help your business get closer to achieving your greater purpose will not only help keep you aligned and on track, but will make decision making simpler. Make sure they are easily communicated, memorable, and most importantly, true.
Act on your values. Every. Single. Day.
Build your values into every part of your business and every interaction with your customers. Transparency is key. Share when things are going right and equally when things are going wrong is the key to being truly values-driven. If you’re asked to course-correct like many brands have been pressured to do especially recently, then listen, learn, and take stock of how your brand can become better. You don’t have to wait until boycotts happen to make necessary changes.
There is no better time than now to reevaluate your brand’s moral compass and start to make a genuine, positive impact in the world. Brands that don’t will undoubtedly be left behind. The evidence for this has been staring us in the face for many years now: when brand values are linked to socially and environmentally responsible behaviors, your employees become inspired and more engaged, your customers become loyal and advocates for your brand and your overall performance improves. Win win-win.
Now go and get reacquainted with yours.