Great brands lead with their values

We have a saying around here:  Your brand is what people say about you (or your company) when you’re not in the room.

So many people equate brand with graphic identity, but no one ever says, “Man, that company is so purple with a little bit of orange.” Or “I chose to work with them because of their commitment to a slab serif font.”

But they may say, “They have great customer service.” Or “They make THE best pizza in town.” And the companies that do generate that type of out-of-earshot compliment are the ones that are living their values through their brand.

Case in point: My youngest daughter works at Tomaso’s Pizza in Cedar Rapids. Their stated mission statement is “Make Good Pizza.” They most certainly do, and their clientele is loyal and creatures of habit, since Anna can tell you who orders what, on what days, and what time they call in. Their menu isn’t fancy or complicated. Their ingredients are simple, and their pizza is consistently delicious. They know they focus on good pizza. Their mission statement isn’t “Make lots of money.” It’s about a standard to which they hold themselves accountable.

Most companies have a mission or a set of values (or both), whether they are up on their wall or employees just intuitively know them. And it’s the companies that live their mission and/or values out loud that consumers and clients are seeking. The much sought-after Millennial market is often thought of as values-based buyers, but all generations are. Those values dictate the audience. If your values are to deliver the cheapest service or product you can get away with, well, you are going to have cheap customers.

Your values come through in your brand by serving your customers, your employees and the community. In the recent past, brands, especially larger brands, began pushing their values into the limelight, where once they may have been a quieter part of the overall company image. Who is adopting the day’s movement, and who lives it as a part of their company ethos? Customers are not that easily fooled. And it’s very detrimental to a brand to be outed as inauthentic when it comes to these things.

This is where decisions around “How do we talk about social issues publicly?” come into play. And if someone wouldn’t say that’s who your company is when you’re out of the room, a post on social media isn’t going to make it so. Putting up a social media post supporting Pride Month, or participating in the Blackout postings, when it’s never been discussed internally or externally before smacks of opportunism. Even if something comes from one person on your team who feels strongly about it, unless the company is actively living that value or has been taking meaningful steps to do so, it is not yet a part of your brand.

Actual organizational values take commitment and time. It’s a lot more than just putting cool customized vinyl that spells out who you are all over your office (ahem, guilty), but you should work to ensure they are a part of your company DNA.

Need a values check-up?

Maybe you’ve had some organizational values framed on your wall for decades. Perhaps you haven’t touched them in a while or revisited them other than reciting them to new hires.

Or maybe you are thinking, “Do we have values?”

Discussing your values as a team can help build a cohesive company culture and strengthen your position in the market. It helps build shared language around delivery and processes. It gives you a litmus test for the type of work you’re doing and the clients and customers you have now and will serve in the future.

Examining the “immutable truths” internally and externally, and objectively, is vital to understanding your intrinsic values before you even start wordsmithing them into something people can remember.

An excellent first step is to ask your team in a safe and possibly anonymous way, “What will always be true here?” You will see patterns emerge, perhaps positive and negative, around the most innate things to your company. Then, it’s a place to begin looking at how these beliefs play out across your organization, in good ways and in ways that offer an opportunity to improve.

Another good starter question is, “Why do we do what we do?”

You can lead this process internally or bring in a facilitator to help you discover, clarify and validate your values with your customers or clients to ensure they aren’t just ideals. The work plays out in your team interactions with those you serve and how your organization communicates with the world. Oh yeah, and you may end up with some cool vinyl on your walls as a result.

Jen Neumann is owner and CEO of de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids.