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Brand Experience Essentials: Brand values

13th June 2018 | Darren Coleman

Brand values can be dismissed as brand management jargon and treated with suspicion or, worse still, disdain.


This extract from Building Brand Experiences by Darren Coleman is ©2018 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.

What are brand values?

Brand values can be dismissed as brand management jargon and treated with suspicion or, worse still, disdain. This is problematic because it means a key Brand Experience Essential could be overlooked. To address this it’s useful to discuss brand values using practical everyday English. You can achieve this by asking, ‘How would you describe your brand in four or five words?’ This is a straightforward question most people can answer. Responses tend to provide good approximations for values such as ‘active’, ‘ambitious’, ‘fun’ and ‘diligent’. You can then refine these into your final brand values.

Why give a brand values?

Values influence behaviour

Values influence our beliefs and beliefs influence our behaviour.1 Whether you like it or not, the ultimate aim of brand experiences is to influence behaviour. Buy, pay, recommend, travel, eat, drink or give are examples of things they encourage us to do more (or, sometimes, less) of. This means that if you want to influence behaviour you have to connect with stakeholders at a values level to compel behavioural change. Under Armour’s campaign, ‘I Will What I Will’, embodies values of being active, confident and competitive. The campaign encourages customers to use willpower to do things that help them accomplish their goals. It’s the customer connecting with the brand values that, ultimately, triggers a particular behavioural response.

Values can make your brand magnetic

If your brand values resonate with stakeholders they will identify with, and be drawn to your brand. Toyota Prius consumers (not Uber drivers!) are drawn to the brand because they buy into its values of being progressive, tech-savvy, prudent and globally aware.2 Prospective employees will be drawn to your brand if they can identify with your values. Building this type of ‘employer brand’ is particularly important for many of the Millennial generation who seek to work for organizations with a clear moral compass. Online influencers are also becoming an increasingly important stakeholder group. Research3 outlines how 42 per cent of influencers feel that alignment with a brand’s core values is the most important factor when approached with a brand partnership opportunity.

Just like a magnet, values have the potential to push someone away. If someone doesn’t identify with your values this could deter them from engaging with the experiences you build. Versace customers will be drawn to extrovert, gregarious and bold brand values but Armani customers won’t, given that they tend to be drawn to more refined, timeless and understated values.

I highlighted the importance of identifying stakeholders’ values when I explained stakeholder profiling in Chapter 3. This helps you assess whether your brand values will resonate with, and so have relevance for a given stakeholder group. This is important because research has shown that aligning brand and consumer values drives customer satisfaction, trust, affective commitment, and loyalty.4 The key point is to define brand values that you feel realistically reflect your business now or ideally, then assess how aligned this is with your respective existing and/or ideal stakeholders.

At Wavelength we helped build the UK Sepsis Trust brand. Part of the project entailed assessing which brand values were more or less relevant to certain stakeholder groups. Understanding how the values acted as a common denominator provided the basis for subsequent brand communication and experiential events that were tailored with segments’ values in mind. For example, ‘Roger’ is drawn to a brand that is expert and influential. Establishing himself as a thought leader and building his personal brand were key ‘jobs’ Roger wanted to get done, so these values appealed. As a result, Roger received technical papers and thought leadership content that would resonate with those values. This contrasts with Rihan, who is drawn to the values of being expert, passionate and fresh, which means she’s keen to learn more about Sepsis and help others do the same. The brand values co-exist, but certain facets of the brand, through its values, were exposed more prominently when the brand engaged with certain stakeholder groups in order to amplify appeal and increase relevance.

In her Expert Insight, Gemma Saunders outlines the role defining and developing brand values played in helping Gleeson Recruitment retain and attract relevant talent. This is particularly relevant for service sector SMEs who can struggle to articulate then use their values as a platform for subsequent growth.

Much has been said about the Millennial generation and their unique characteristics. I do wonder if these differences have been exaggerated. Values can span generations and act as a powerful force which brings people together. Some time ago Wavelength worked with an active outdoor lifestyle brand. We held focus groups with people ranging from their teens through to their late 60s who shared a love of winter sports, running, fitness and cycling in extreme conditions. It was noticeable how the younger people in the groups looked up to and admired the more senior participants. The ethnographic study that comprised part of the same research delivered the same insight: their values, which the brand aligned with, acted as a common denominator for the group.

Brand values help stakeholders express their values

For example, ‘I drive a Toyota Prius to show I’m progressive, tech-savvy, prudent and globally aware.’ In this sense, the brand, or more specifically, the values that underpin the brand, become a means of self-expression that help Prius drivers make a statement to the world about their values. This is powerful because when this happens the brand (underpinned by its values) acts as a cue which signals the communities an individual belongs or aspires to belong to. Burton and Billabong have utilized this knowledge to great effect with snowboard and surf communities.

Values guide the use of Brand Experiences Enablers

If a brand is shaped around values of being refreshing, bold and funky, then it needs to express these values through relevant employee behaviour, communications and design, ie Brand Experience Enablers. In practical terms, this means this brand would locate an experiential event in the heart of pop-up shops with a cool DJ spinning funky vinyl on Technics 1200 turntables. The backdrop would use bold and vibrant colours, and the employees would ‘hipsters’ or ‘fashionistas’. Collectively, these combine to enable the brand values.

By clearly defining your brand values, you’ll have guiding principles in place to guide your use of the Brand Experience Enablers that facilitate the delivery of more consistent and cohesive experiences, at scale. We’ll cover this point in more depth in Part 3 of the book.

The Expert Insight provided by Dr Ron Daniels details how the UK Sepsis Trust’s values guide and contribute to the life-saving work it does.

Values give a brand an opinion

According to Edelman:5

  • 67 per cent of respondents bought a brand for the first time because they agreed with its position on a controversial topic;
  • 23 per cent of respondents will pay at least a 25 per cent premium for a brand that supports their position;
  • 48 per cent of respondents will advocate for your brand, defend it and criticize its competition if it speaks up compared to staying silent;
  • 57 per cent of respondents buy or boycott brands based on a brand’s position on a social or political issue.

Brands who voice a credible, authentic and authoritative opinion are powerful because when people agree with, or are intrigued by their point of view, they are drawn in.

During Ramadan 2016, Coca-Cola tackled the prickly topic of stereotyping and labelling people based on appearance in the Middle East. They invited six strangers to an Iftar (Ramadan meal where people break their fast at dusk) in a pitch-black room, and encouraged them to speak about their life and interests. When the lights were turned on each participant received a box with two cans, absent of Coca-Cola branding, with the words ‘Labels are for cans, not people’. This became Coca-Cola’s second-most-viewed video, delivering over US $30 million in earned media with a $50,000 spend.6

Kenco uses its ‘Coffee vs Gangs’ to express an opinion on how a career in coffee provides an alternative to gang life. Salesforce made its opinion clear on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) legislation via #WelcomesAll. In India, Brooke Bond Red Label tea positioned itself as an ally of the transgender cause by partnering with the transgender community to launch Six Pack, India’s first transgender band. Their videos generated over 7.5 million YouTube views and contributed to a 1 per cent increase in the brand’s market share in urban India.7 Unilever uses brands like Axe/Lynx and Knorr to express opinions that challenge gender stereotypes by using hashtags like #loveatfirsttaste and #unstereotype. Its sustainable living brands, including Dove and Hellman’s, have grown twice as fast as others in the company’s portfolio.8 Dove’s opinion is that natural beauty should be a source of confidence and inspiration, not anxiety for women. Always, the producer of feminine hygiene products, confronts degrading gender stereotypes head-on and promotes teenage confidence and self-esteem via it’s #LikeaGirl hashtag.

The opinions these brands share on issues they feel are important to them are shaped by their values. Customers and other stakeholders can then make an informed decision on whether the brand is relevant to them.

How to create great brand values

Managers and senior executives that do a great job of creating brand values articulate values that are unique, specific, active, deliberate and balanced.

Unique values

Unique values facilitate the delivery of unique brand experiences. Some time ago Wavelength worked with a large government-backed savings bank in Southeast Asia. During our work, a value of being ‘humble’ emerged as being important. This struck me as refreshingly different in comparison to most financial services brands that have a strong commercial edge. Being ‘humble’ was tested locally and resonated deeply with local market sensitivities. Similarly, we worked with a healthcare brand who understood the importance of being ‘attentive’. I felt this got to the heart of what you’d want a healthcare brand to be. In a subtle way, it also goes further than the usual values of being ‘patient-focused’ or ‘caring’ which can sound a little clichéd at times.

Contrast these examples with values such as ‘quality’, ‘innovation’ and ‘professional’. These kinds of values are depressingly common and generic. This is problematic because, when enabled through behaviour, communications or design, they won’t result in unique experiences that differentiate you in the market.

Specific values

Values need to be specific so your brand is brought to life in the way you intend. Specific values reduce ambiguity and narrow the scope for all sorts of internal and external misunderstanding. If you have specific values this will:

  • help human resources colleagues recruit people whose values align with your desired brand experiences;
  • help internal and external communications deliver communications that reflect your values;
  • help you to create clear and accountable briefs for your agencies.

Let’s consider the ‘values’ of quality, innovation, and professionalism further. The scope and room for interpretation of such ‘values’ is broad and this is problematic. Your colleagues’ or agency’s understanding of ‘quality’, ‘innovation’ or ‘professionalism’ may be drastically different to yours. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tend to become apparent until it’s too late. That could be an expensive mistake in terms of hiring the wrong recruit, communications that miss the mark, or disappointing creative work.

Active values

Framing your values actively means they focus on cause, not effect, in order to encourage behavioural change. ‘Quality’, ‘innovation’ and ‘professionalism’ are not values; they are behavioural outcomes that stem from values. You could reframe:

  • ‘quality’ as ‘meticulous’: being meticulous could result in the quality of in-store service or online user experience being enhanced;
  • ‘innovation’ as ‘progressive’: being progressive could result in the creation of more innovative and forward-thinking brand experience processes;
  • ‘professional’ as ‘dedicated’: being dedicated could result in more professional customer service which ensures all customer enquiries are addressed.

‘Teamwork’ is another classic example. This is a behavioural outcome of values such as being ‘empathic’, ‘emotionally intelligent’ or ‘collaborative’. If you focus on the behavioural outcome, not the value, you won’t get to the root of things. As a result, you’ll struggle to foster the behaviours you seek to encourage.

The importance of defining ‘active’ values will become more apparent when we explore employee behaviours in Brand Experience Enablers (Part 3).

Learn more about building a better brand, and save 20%, when buying Building Brand Experiences with code CHALLENGE20 at www.koganpage.com/building-brand-experiences.

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