Brand Values: Why Your Startup Should Define Them and How to Go About It

Illustration of people who are working together on their brand

When you start a business, every day you’ll make a million of something beginning with “d”. 

(And no, I don’t mean dollars, although they better start falling in your pocket soon, too.)

I’m talking about decisions.

These decisions set the stage for how your team behaves and solves problems. The underlying principles and beliefs which guide these decisions are later on often translated into brand values.

But values are not just some fancy words used to decorate the office wall. If that’s what you’re after, go get some funky wallpaper.

Values are there to be lived. Every. Single. Day. 

Yes, you’ve heard it a million times. But let’s give it to you straight: building a company with strong values that it sticks to is how you make a brand authentic and trustworthy. It’s also a way to build the right company culture.

This article will bring a bit more light into why defining brand values is important for startups, how it can help you, and how to go about it.

So, what exactly are brand values?

Think for a moment about your own values: which principles and beliefs do you lean on in tough situations? What are the things you stand for?

Whether it’s social justice, empathy, or inclusion, what you care about and value in yourself and others makes up your guiding light to navigate difficult moments.

They also help you define what kind of person you are, as well as who you’re not. Although values develop over time, they’re usually the most consistent aspects of one’s personality.

It’s similar when it comes to brand values. 

They are your brand’s compass in tough situations. Brand values indicate how you’ll treat your employees, customers, and deal with challenges. Essentially, they are the building blocks of your company culture.

Your values also play an important role in crafting your brand story and developing your brand identity. They will inform how your brand communicates (messaging) and how it comes across to your audience (personality). It’s a useful way to distinguish yourself from other brands and show that you’re unique and authentic.

So, if you’re one of the folks from the “I couldn’t give a bleeping hoot about values” camp, listen up. Here are a few reasons why you should care.

Why you should define your brand values

Define your brand values to show your audience who you are, what you stand for, and what’s the essence of your brand.

Thanks to defining your core values, you can: 

  1. Bring more loyal customers who’ll stick around

More and more, customers pay close attention to what brands stand for and whether they practice what they preach. If they can identify with your brand values, they are more likely to stick around.

  1. Attract like-minded talent that will fit your culture

A big factor in choosing which company to work for are company values and culture. Employees at companies whose values they share are more likely to have a higher engagement and job satisfaction. They’re also more likely to stick around. Win-win.

  1. Create a deeper connection with your audience

Shared values bring people together. They also bring people and brands together and create deeper connections. As a result, your brand can build trust with your audience much faster.

  1. Create a strong narrative to tell an authentic brand story

Strong values help companies create strong cultures. Develop a narrative around your values that will tell your brand story that is unique and relatable. Picking the right values can differentiate your brand from the competitors and help you stand out.

Now, you should have a pretty good idea about the dos. Let’s take a look at the don’ts.

Mistakes companies make when defining brand values

By setting strong values, you can build a strong brand. But only if you walk the walk.

You might not want to say your biggest value is diversity if you only employ white males under 40. Or that you value eco-friendliness and then you go on and send your customers tons of branded pens, lanyards, and gift bags made of plastic. 

If you do, your brand will be less believable and it will reflect negatively on how your audience feels about your company. So, make sure you live and breathe your values.

Also, don’t want to go for values that are too obvious. For instance, the fact that you value productivity. I mean, who doesn’t, right? Instead, use values that will differentiate your brand from the rest of the market. What do people you’re trying to attract value the most and the other brands don’t have?

But there’s another catch. Don’t simply pick values and proclaim that they define you if they’re not the right fit for your company. If it doesn’t make sense, your audience will see right through it and they won’t believe you. 

How to define company values

Defining your brand values as a team is quite the endeavor but ultimately, it will pay off with greater employee engagement, higher job satisfaction and higher customer loyalty.

If your heart is pounding fast right now and you have no clue where to even start, don’t worry. We’ll walk you through it.

Here are the steps you should take to kick off the process:

1. Ask every team member come prepared. Get every person to write a list of 6-8 values individually, which they feel represent your organization’s driving principles and beliefs and why they think it’s important for the company. When doing this, think about how you communicate with your customers and what resonates with them the most.

2. Discuss it with your team (or in groups). Divide the team into small groups of 2-3 people and let the groups discuss what they think your brand values are. Challenge each other on how the value is implemented. E.g.: how does this value guide the way we hire staff, make decisions about partnerships, purchase material, etc.? Then get each group to come up with 3 values that resonate with each group member.

3. Vote on the most resonant values. Let each group present their chosen values. Then, get each person to vote on the top 3 values. When you get the result, look at the top voted values and co-create their definition with the whole team. The ideal number of values sits somewhere between three and five. The more you have, the harder they will be to remember.

4. Communicate this across the company. After deciding on which values you’ll stick to, make sure that everyone on your team will know about them. Communicate it far and wide in your all-company meetings and answer people’s questions to ensure everyone is fully on board and understands what they mean.

5. Put it into practice. Once you defined your values, don’t put them in the corner, leaving them all sad and forgotten. Think about them, talk about them, refer back to them, and live them every day. Promote the actions and behaviors which demonstrate these values across the team.

If you have a bigger team, it’s better to co-create the values together as a group, so they come from the bottom up, rather than instructing the team to adopt the values they might not identify with. 

Wrap up

Whether you never thought about company values, or you just don’t know where to start, the above steps will help you get started. Remember, values should be thought-out principles that you’re willing to translate into everything your company does. So, choose them carefully.


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