Adam Irwin
Adam Irwin

Sherbet Lemons, Tweed Chinos and Brand Values

Brand values are really important. Yet so many businesses fail to appreciate their importance. Many simply don’t understand what good brand values are or why it’s beneficial to get them right. I also suspect that many still believe that brand values are fluffy statements that appear on boardroom walls and corporate screensavers. So let me set the record straight; I’ll also give you some tips for coining your own brand values (or reviewing your existing ones).

Your brand values can be a single word or several (though it’s better to have one good value than several half-baked ideas). They can be phrases or statements. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that they are both on-brand (conducive to the brand as it stands and its future ambitions) and relevant to the consumer. Get them right and consumers will thank you for it. In my mind, there are two key benefits to having good, relevant brand values:

  1. Done correctly, they have the ability to affect behaviour internally. If people in the business get behind the values, and they will if you get them right, they will change the way they go about their work. Imagine how the value ‘Modern interpretation of luxury’, impacts the design team at Jaguar Land Rover.
  2. Brands have values, like people have values. When a consumer finds a brand that acts in a way that reflects their own values, they find this endearing and relevant to them. This emotive connection with a brand can be extremely potent. Consider the brand Harley Davidson. Their approach to manufacturing and marketing motorbikes in America got consumers tattooing the brand’s logo onto their bodies.

There is one golden rule you should remember above everything else. You must never compromise the values you choose. Consumers feel betrayed by brands that undermine their values and they will vote with their wallets. My guide to good brand values will provide examples of just how wrong you could get it and the damage it could do.

Don’t be boring. Be distinctive.

A pet hate of mine is generic brand values that could apply to any organisation. Words like, innovative, professional, honest, quality or phrases like ‘great customer service’. Clearly none of these things are bad. But, values like ‘honest’ make me think…’well yeah, I should jolly well think so!’ Consumers won’t jump for joy because they haven’t been defrauded by your brand; they expect you to be honest and professional.

If you do find yourself needing to talk about something generic like quality, think specifically about what the brand does that makes your quality better than others. When you buy a car, generally, you expect the wheels to stay on. So, instead of ‘quality’ Skoda might say their cars are reliable or they get excellent MPG. Aston Martin’s cars, on the other hand, are expected to breakdown now and again. So instead of quality, they say words like ‘performance’.  

Does the consumer really care? Be honest.

On the whole, the consumer will take as many functional and emotional benefits from your brand as you can give them. But values are fundamental and sit near the core of your brand. So make sure you choose the things that really matter. If you find yourself scrambling for things that the consumer might take or leave, you’re probably scraping the barrel.

I came across an example of this recently. I ordered a skip to clear some refuse from my driveway. The website I ordered from stated proudly, ‘make each client feel like the only client’. Why? All I really wanted was an affordable skip, of the size I needed, which was delivered promptly and was removed just as quickly. (At the point of writing, the damn thing is still on the driveway waiting to be collected.)

Think about what matters most to your consumers and focus on that.

Be realistic.

Can you actually deliver what your value suggests? Phrases like ‘world-class service’ or the ‘nation’s favourite’ are not things you can control or guarantee forever. It’s good to have big ambitions for your brand, but your values need to be more fundamental than this. Phrases like ‘market-leading’ usually receive a raised eyebrow from consumers. If you find yourself wanting a value like this, try to think of what will help you reach your ambition. This is more likely to be taken seriously by your consumer.

Make them future-proof.

Make sure you’re not going to scupper yourself in years to come. Think ahead. Is your product range likely to expand? Might you need to diversify in ten years’ time? Will technology force change upon you, making an approach or philosophy in the business defunct? Many businesses on the high-street suffered in the recession because the values that drove those companies had no relevance to consumers. Tie Rack’s values set them at odds with the evolving high-street and their insistence on bright, bold colours and silk, meant they couldn’t adapt with fashion. (And now the UK’s train stations don’t look as colourful.)

Make it on-brand.

Imagine you own a clothing label. You can’t have ‘ethical trading’ as a brand value if you pay children in a third world country with sherbet lemons to make your new range of tweed chinos. Equally, if you were an automotive company making hybrid cars, I wouldn’t suggest starting a Formula 1 team any time soon. These are extreme examples, of course. But appreciate how brand values guide and govern key business decisions; from new product development, to brand extensions, to changes in process or the supply chain. The values can help to protect your brand from decisions that threaten to undermine it.

So that’s it, follow this simple guide to brand values and you won’t go wrong. And if you skimmed the last few paragraphs, if nothing else, remember these three things:

  1. Your values must be distinct and specific to your brand, not boring or generic.
  2. They must be relevant to your consumer – appeal to their needs, concerns and/or desires.
  3. Live by them and never undermine them.

At Ponderosa we put brand planning at the heart of everything we do. If you want your brand to work harder, drop us a line or pop in for a chinwag and a cuppa.

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