Brand values give you confidence and set you up to know how to move your company forward with conviction — like there’s a spine of steel going through your company. How do they do this? By showing you what you stand for and holding you accountable to it. And with the right process and commitment, you’re not only defining values, but also carrying them out, both through your actions and your employees’.
But how do you get there? Before we start, we have a worksheet that you can download here. It contains a four-stage guided process. This is the exact same worksheet that we use to direct our paid workshops.
Ground Rules for Defining Brand Values
First the rules. These rules help you avoid some common misconceptions that could both weaken your defined values and cause you more work than you need. And that’s not efficient.
1) Values aren’t benefits: What do I mean?
These things are all good. But these are the outcomes. Without your special, secret sauce, all those measures of success will be more difficult to attain.
2) Avoid values that are too obvious. What do I mean?
Those values fail to differentiate you. Everyone’s likely to claim those values. Heck, most companies even exhibit those values consistently.
3) Avoid values that just aren’t true. What do I mean?
Determination, for instance, would be a false value if you had a really weak work ethic. It would raise serious questions within the company and outside of the company. And you don’t want confusion, because confusion doesn’t lead to confidence.
It’s pretty straightforward, but make sure you can think of examples of how you exhibit values. If you can’t, then maybe you should seriously question those values.
The first section consists of framing questions. If you can answer these questions in sufficient detail, then you wouldn’t really need to do the rest of this workshop. But for most of us, these questions are here to help you understand the purpose of all the following questions and show you where you are right now.
What’s your brand’s passion? What do you care about? What gets your brand out of bed in the morning (if it were a person)?
What does your brand fight for? What evil is it fighting? What good is it fighting for?
These questions can help frame and show you where you’re at right now and then help frame everything that follows.
The first big exercise is all about elimination. You go through a sample list of values and remove them until you get to 20-25.
If you’re using our worksheet, you’ll find almost 4 pages of values listed.
- Print that out.
- Set a timer for two minutes.
- Cross out the ones that don’t seem true.
- Repeat two times until only 20-25 words remain.
Fine-Tune Your Brand Values
In this step, you’ll further reduce and organize until you’re down to three to five values. Here’s how you do that.
- Write down 20 to 25.
- Match similar words and then combine those into one.
- Prune the stragglers that don’t seem as relevant anymore and anything that doesn’t attain top-5 status.
Define Your Brand Values
Once you’re done with that, you should have three to five values for your company. And here’s how you do it. You don’t just look up the definition, but you write down what it means to you.
So if someone were to say authenticity, you wouldn’t define it with “we are authentic.” Instead, you would say something like “We wear our heart on our sleeves.”
“Show, don’t tell.” Here’s a rule in writing that applies here. Stronger verbs usually make a more impactful statement. It avoids modifiers (adverbs and adjectives) and uses actions instead. You’ll notice that the stronger definition uses a strong verb, not “We are authentic,” but “We wear our hearts on our sleeves.”
Pro-tip: If you’re struggling with how to define your values using strong verbs, list what you do in your normal conversations, interactions, processes and operations that fulfill that value.
Brand Values are Made for Testing
That’s the process. Simple, right? But the hard part is coming. I once heard that a dead fish can go with the flow, but it takes a live fish to swim upstream. If your values give you a level of boldness, you will be tested. The question is, are you building a company that’s meant to grow and thrive through a challenge, or are you trying to play it safe? Because your stated values will test that theory.
We’re not doing this to make a list of touchy-feely, nice-sounding words that we can put on a wall and show shareholders or customers. We’re developing a list of brand values that are close to our hearts that reflect the reason we have to wake up in the morning and to fight the good fight.
When we define and own our values, we can train new employees and strengthen existing employees. We’ll all have a rubric from which to make decisions in the everyday workings of our business. And if we do this consistently, we will find it easier to do in more areas of our business, until we have such a strong brand that people can predict the kinds of things we would and wouldn’t do because of our consistency.