How to Define and Communicate Your Core Brand Values
Written by Dayana Mayfield
Brand values bring everyone in a company together around a set of core beliefs. This allows the brand to operate as one cohesive entity across all key decisions, from naming products to hiring new staff. Of course, brand guidelines and product strategy will guide those decisions as well, but everything begins with very clear brand values.
Although brand values are critically important, they’re also hard to pinpoint exactly—meaning that too many brands fail to achieve that cohesion and clarity.
If you don’t have your brand values clearly defined and readily available for employees and customers, you run the risk of creating disjointed experiences and failing to engage customers in deeper relationships.
The good news?
Honing in on your values provides an incredible opportunity for rapid growth as a brand.
In this guide, we dive into what brand values are, how to apply them, and how to define your own.
Brand values are the set of non-negotiable principles and beliefs that guide everything your brand does and the experiences you create for your customers. The impact of your brand values affects everything from employee training to product development to marketing and beyond.
“Every person has values, they have a belief system that drives every decision they make, the way they operate, the way they act in the world. You have them. If you have kids, or just your loved ones, and at the end of your days you can only share with them 5 to 10 beliefs or values, what would they be? That is powerful stuff. Because when you can get down to the core of what makes you operate or how you tick or the kinds of things that you’ve learned in your life, that is going to change everything. Getting to that foundational level of values is step number one. You can’t build a brand without that. I don’t believe you can manufacture a brand. It is extracted from the soul of an entrepreneur.”
That’s why brand values should originate from the business owners and leadership team (not just the marketing team), so that these values can connect all departments.
Your brand values couldn’t matter more.
Want proof? Here’s what brand values can offer:
- Loyalty – 89% of consumers stay loyal to brands that share their values.
- Consistency – When you present your brand consistently across all channels, you can experience a 23% increase in revenue.
- Memorability – The human brain takes just 7 seconds to make a first impression. Your brand values can help you craft a more interesting brand presence.
- Profitability – Conscious consumers are willing to pay 30 – 50% more for products that have a positive impact on the world.
- Trustworthiness – 91% of consumers say they’re more likely to buy from an authentic brand than a dishonest brand, so make sure you’re upholding your promises to customers.
Data aside, brand values make sense intrinsically. Think about it: when it comes to your romantic relationships and friends, you probably have core values in common. You and your best friend might both value adventure, for example. It only makes sense that people want to seek relationships with brands that value the same things they do.
7 steps for defining and communicating your brand values
Forget the fluff. Here are 7 tactical steps for truly understanding and utilizing your brand values.
Step 1. Consider the customer you truly want
It all begins with your customers. Your company values need to resonate with them. Consider who you want to serve and get as specific as possible.
“Who’s your core customer? Who would love to do business with? I always ask, who is a customer that you’ve had over the last few months that you adore, that you absolutely love, that if you had thousands of those people, you would just be pumped to go to work everyday, Business is about solving a problem that you’re passionate about, but the truth is, you also have to choose your customers. Because if you don’t work for the right kind of customer, or you know they’re stingy or they’re rude or whatever they are, you’re gonna hate your day.”
Too often, business and marketing execs rely on old-school demographic data to define their target customers (age, gender, income, etc.). Those criteria are only useful to a point.
You should also identify:
- What your customer wants to achieve – You can use the Jobs to Be Done theory to understand the job they want to get done, such as saving money on skincare products or creating a cozy, comfortable living room.
- What they believe in – What do your customers care about more than anything? The environment? Their family? Their pets? What are their beliefs about the world? Such as believing that corporations should be responsible for their actions or believing that taking care of one’s appearance can have a positive effect on every aspect of their lives.
- Who they admire and why – Marketers often talk about humanizing a brand. What better way to do this than to include the values of a real person your target audience admires? Who do they look up to and why? Is it an influencer, an activist, an artist, an athlete, or an actress? What does that person embody and what impact do they have on the world? What values does that person talk about during interviews?
When you get a deeper sense of your customers, it’ll be much easier to select brand values that not only inspire your customers but also help them live in line with their own values, simply by purchasing your products.
Step 2. Research how customers currently feel about your brand
Getting a sense for how customers feel about your brand and products will later help you craft your core brand values. Because brand values are non-negotiable beliefs that will guide every aspect of your business, you should hear what customers have to say about what sets you apart.
That’s why the next step is to understand the current state of your brand. You can send a customer research survey or interview a select group of customers one-on-one.
Here are some questions you might want to ask:
- Why did you choose to purchase from our brand over other options?
- What do you like the most about purchasing from us?
- Where can we improve?
- How do our products make you feel?
- How do they improve your life?
- What sort of impact do you think companies should have on social and environmental causes?
- What are some of your favorite brands?
- Why do you like those brands?
These questions will help you understand what your customers truly expect from you.
Step 3. Understand the impact of your products
What impact do your products have on customers, their communities, and the planet? Let’s look at Nike as an example. By providing high-quality sportswear that makes people feel comfortable and confident, the company brands inspiration and innovation to everyone who uses their products.
Nike illustrates that any type of brand—even one that makes something as simple and practical as shoes—can create a bigger, more meaningful story that is chock full of human values.
And then of course there are products that have a direct and positive impact on the environment. For example, Blueland, a company that makes re-fillable soap products, eliminates single-use plastics.
It’s time to ask yourself…what impact do your products have?
Your products might improve people’s health, emit less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, improve young women’s body confidence, or any number of things.
Dig deep and generate a list of all the positive impacts your brand has. Later you can narrow down the core impacts, but to start, go broad.
Step 4. Research the brand values of your competitors
As with anything in business, it doesn’t hurt to have a watchful eye on what your competitors are up to.
Because your brand values have such a major trickle-down effect on your company, you need to be sure that you are using them as a way to differentiate yourself from competitors.
For example, if your competitors are focused on just helping women improve the way they look, you might decide that your values are to help women improve the way they feel in their bodies and about themselves. This sort of value-based differentiation is what’s paving the way for the growth of microbrands across every consumer-goods category—thus taking more and more market share from traditional big players.
Step 5. Choose a few brand values
You might be thinking that brand values are nothing more than a basic list of adjectives like “innovative,” “forward-thinking,” or “fun.” However, a list of values isn’t useful to you, your employees, or your customers.
Here’s how Simon Sinek explains it:
“Values should be written down as verbs. They’re things you do. ‘Innovation’ is not a value. ‘Honesty’ is not a value. They’re not actionable. You can’t walk into someone’s office and ‘Be more honest’ or ‘Be more innovative’. But if we write, ‘Always tell the truth’ or ‘Look at the problem from a different angle,’ those are values because values have to be doable and actionable.”
And make sure you don’t create too many brand values, either. Three is the ideal number to shoot for. Here’s why:
“Why is it that none of your team members know what your core values are? You took so much time, you took a corporate retreat and took the whole c-suite up into the mountains and you got down by a fire and listed the 17 core values of your company and you printed them on your wall and put them in the handbook that you give to your employees, and here’s the problem: not a single team member knows what those core values are. You should only have 3. No one is going to remember more than 3.”
Lucky Brand, a popular source of vintage-inspired denim, showcases their core brand values on their Our Story page.
Their core brand values are:
- “Creating the best quality jeans at the best price”
- Making jeans for “the free thinkers, the thrill seekers, the go-getters, the daydreamers, those who have their own look and make their own luck.”
- Celebrating “creativity and community, individual expression and inclusion.”
How Lucky Brand applies these brand values:
As you can see, these brand values are a whole lot more useful than a list of words. These brand values can be used to remind the entire company to always balance quality with price and keep their products in the mid-range (not cheap and not luxury); to always design products that offer a sense of freedom, rebellion, and self-expression; and to always be inclusive with product and marketing campaigns.
Step 6. Create a plan for infusing your values throughout your business
After you choose your own set of brand values and discuss them with your leadership team, it’s time to craft a plan for implementing them. Of course, your brand values are something that guides you continuously, but when you first update them, there might be some initial housekeeping to do. Some of the tweaks might be small and simple, such as updating your About Us and Mission pages on your website.
Other changes could be far more involved, such as shooting new marketing campaigns, rebranding your visual brand style, or even developing new products.
Prioritize what needs to change and create a roadmap for the next several months. (In the next section after these steps, we show examples of real implementation.)
Step 7. Measure your results
The final step is to measure the results you’ve achieved by updating and acting upon your brand values. Keep in mind that not everything is measurable quantitatively, so use both quantitative and qualitative data.
- Quantitative results – See whether or not your new, value-informed products are selling better and whether your new campaigns are converting higher. For example, if do a product photoshoot that is more energetic and inclusive than your other campaigns, you’ll want to track the response to this in terms of social media engagement and product page conversion rates.
- Qualitative results – Interview customers to see how their perception of your brand has changed. Do they feel even more connected to your brand than before you implemented your values?
Practical examples for utilizing your brand values
Successful brands don’t just write their values on the wall. They use these standards of integrity to craft a clear commitment to customers, generate a solid customer base, and make hiring decisions.
So how do you actually use your brand values in the real world? Let’s take at some essential applications of your brand values.
Defining your brand style and voice
With clear brand values in place, you can actually create a cohesive brand across all channels. For example, River Island seeks to bring stylish and affordable pieces to the high street. The company seeks to be a reliable brand for everyday wear and occasionwear. With their focus on quality, trendiness, and affordability, the brand has put in place a sleek but elevated style across their entire digital and retail presence.
Differentiating your products
At the end of the day, people might connect with your brand values, but what they buy is your products.
Tarte Cosmetics defines their makeup and skincare products as “high performance naturals™” that are “good for you” but “never boring.” The brand believes in “breaking down beauty boundaries” and “shattering stereotypes.”
When they launched, there was a big gap in the market to create more natural makeup products without just your basic, run-of-the-mill shades and packaging.
The brand is known for continuously launching new, fun products with sometimes silly names and always interesting packaging.
When you have strong brand values, it’s much easier to vet product ideas. Tarte constantly has to break down barriers and launch desirable beauty products with a unique spin that no other brand can offer.
Your brand values can also help when it’s time to hire strategic roles in your team, such as marketing managers, ecommerce marketplace managers, product designers, etc.
Sure, new hires need to believe in your mission, but they also need to share the same values. This ensures that they’ll fit into seamlessly into your company culture and be able to contribute.
“A values based approach to hiring increases performance, enhances collaboration, reduces turnover, improves morale, and creates a stable culture. I strongly suggest that whomever is doing the hiring within your organization utilize a values based recruiting model. This doesn’t just mean hire a top producer, or the candidate who graduated from the best business school, but rather hire a quality individual who is a person of integrity and character, whose values are in alignment with the organization's core values and vision, and who also happens to be talented.”
“When employees put effort into work and find their organizational values aligned with principles and values, this environment helps employees to connect deeply. It encourages employees to honestly analyze the culture, evaluate if they fit the values and expectations of the company, and then decide whether they want to commit to that culture or not. This has the added advantage of building trust. Candidates know what is expected of them and what behaviors they need to display in order to support the culture, values, and aspirations in a new organization.”
Offering donation incentives
Donation incentives can be used instead of discounts to encourage customers to purchase a product from your company. Donation incentives, meaning that you offer customers the ability to donate to a charity of their choice after purchase, can increase your average order value. For
You can align your brand values to a cause by selecting charities that uphold your brand values. This alignment could be direct—for example, an eco brand might choose an environmental charity—or it can be more indirect—like a women’s clothing brand supporting female empowerment via access to education or healthcare for girls and women.
Hangtime, the creator of the Koala super grip phone harness, offers a 20% donation incentive for any purchase over $30.
Creating content for social media
Nike, one of the most recognizable brands in the world, “believes in the power of sports to move the world” and impact communities positively, according to the company’s mission page. Their “Just do it” slogan is also well known for inspiring athletes at every level to push themselves harder and not overthink things.
The company also has a new social media series called Never Done, which is about how athletes around the world are inspiring future generations, improving access, and innovating their sports. This campaign highlights their belief in the power of sports to bring meaningful change to people’s lives.
The most successful brands have unique and clear brand values that customers can connect with. To create your own brand values, you should use customer and competitor research. Brand values need to be highly descriptive and actionable so that they can be used to guide hiring decisions, new product ideas, customer service standards, marketing campaigns, and tons more actions.