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Over the course of my 30-year advertising career, I’ve worked with brands big and small to help them define their positioning, their “reason for being” and why someone should care — essentially, the brand story. One of the most important pillars to your brand story is understanding your brand values. Many established brands have gone through the rigor of defining this although they don’t always live up to it. But I have found that for startups, it’s a different story.
Many startup founders are more focused on their product than their brand. Many are tech founders or engineers who don’t really understand the importance of the brand values. And sometimes, it just falls by the wayside as there are other priorities in the business. I can relate. As an entrepreneur and co-founder of two brands (MASAMI, clean premium haircare and Isle de Nature, luxury bee-powered home fragrance), there are so many “hot” priorities vying for my attention daily that working on anything “non-urgent” at times just isn’t going to happen.
Your brand values should be integral to your company, vision and philosophy
But what I have learned over the years after working with countless brands is that your brand values matter more than you think. They are not just a few words to put on a conference room wall or on your website. Your brand values should be integral to your company, vision and philosophy — and really shouldn’t ever change. In fact, those values should drive much of your business in the future. If you have clearly articulated brand values, these can inform your hiring decisions, innovation pipeline and go-to-market strategy.
For example, if “collaborate with generosity” is a brand value, then you will hire people who understand that the ultimate goal is the success of the team and the business, not necessarily making themselves look good. You will also bring in people who are natural connectors who look for ways to boost up partners, whether they are other brands, platforms or marketplaces.
And if one of your values is “replenish what we take,” then your sustainability efforts are not only going to entail recycling or changing your packaging. You might find ways to offset your carbon, plastic, water or energy footprints (we work with Impact Collective to do this for MASAMI). Or you might partner with a local team to replenish the ingredients you are using. For Isle de Nature, we build hives in Dominica, where we get our beeswax. The point is that you should view your values as a lens through which you make decisions. If something is clearly “off” your values, then it might make sense on a tactical level, but is likely not a solid long-term strategy.
Define your brand values in a way that is both clear and unique to your brand
So, how do you craft clear and compelling brand values? First, don’t make a long list. I always find that sticking with three to five is best. Too few, and it doesn’t feel bespoke enough. Too many, and you risk not living up to them.
Ideally, you want to define your values in a way that is both clear and unique to your brand. I’ve found that a few words tend to work better than just one word or a sentence. There is a disipline to culling them down to succinct, ownable values that anyone can understand. The idea is that anyone new coming to work on your business should be able to clearly articulate back the values — not just because he or she was told what they were in the onboarding session, but because those values are apparent in the way the company operates and behaves.
Rather than just saying “diversity,” for example, your value might be to “embrace our differences.” The implication is that you will be celebrating and promoting diverse people, imagery and products, not just using what has become a marketing buzzword to define yourself without implementing real action.
Once you have your values set, it’s important to socialize them — first with your team to make sure everyone understands them, and then with your customers, partners and even potential investors. These can also act as a filter for VCs; if “embrace our differences” is a key value of yours, you probably wouldn’t want to partner with a VC who primarily invests in companies owned by white men. And yes, you can even put your brand values on your website. There’s no harm in making them transparent as a way to keep you focused and “on point.”
The more people know and understand your point of view and perspective, the easier it will be to tell your brand story. So, don’t forget your brand values as you embark on your entrepreneurial journey. Getting these sorted will be one of the most beneficial steps you can take for your business.