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How to Define Your Core Brand Values (And Why You Should)

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Read Time: 13 min
This post is part of a series called Small Business Branding.
7 Steps to Building a Head-Turning Personal Brand
Online Brand Development: 7 Web-Savvy Steps to Growing Your Business

Your core brand values are the compass that points to the true North of your business success. Which means, they’re pretty darn important.

Core Brand ValuesCore Brand ValuesCore Brand Values
Defining your core brand values (graphic)

But what exactly are they, how do you define them, and what do you do with them once you have them?

Let’s start from the very beginning by taking up the relationship between a brand and its values.

Note: We have a brand values PDF worksheet you can download for free and work with alongside this tutorial.

Brand and Values: How Do They Relate?

Values stand at the very core of your brand. They’re the center from which everything radiates—including your brand’s look (design), message (voice), and relationships (customer service).

And unless you’ve been living under a rock with no wi-fi connection (which is pretty hard to find these days), I’m sure you already know that you need to create a brand around your business.

If you’ve got not idea how to start thinking of your business as a brand or how having a brand can help your business, you can find out all about it in the following article. (Hint: It involves unicorns!)

If you’ve already got the basics of branding covered, then you may already know that branding can be quite an involved process. Contrary to what many small business owners tend to think, branding includes a lot more elements and goes way deeper than a simple logo you display on your website and products.

In case you haven’t gotten that far on your branding knowledge yet, you can learn all about the deeper aspects of branding your business right here:

On the whole, a brand consists of two main “external” aspects:

  • Your visual identity—which includes your logo, colors, and typography.
  • Your voice identity—which includes your tagline, tone, and communication styles.

But for a brand to be complete and substantial there’s an important third “internal” aspect that every business owner needs to address before even thinking about designing a logo or coming up with a tagline to stick on every visible surface, and this is your: Brand Values.

Your brand values will help you capture the three Ps of your brand: Proposition, Personality, and Purpose. Without values to guide you, your brand will seem like just any other business—rather than a distinct and recognizable brand—and your growth and sales will suffer as a result.

Values vs. Value: Are They the Same?

Interesting question. Does the value of your brand have anything to do with your brand values?

Don’t be too quick to say no! And don’t be too quick to say yes, either! Let’s break things down first so we can see how the two relate.

When we say brand value, we usually think about a monetary sum. How much is your brand worth? For example, a no-name pair of jeans could be worth $19 while a Levi’s branded pair of jeans could be worth $119. Clearly there’s a difference in value based on the brand.

Levis Levis Levis
Original Levis 501 jeans 

Seth Godin gave a nice definition when he wrote:

“A brand’s value is merely the sum total of how much extra people will pay, or how often they choose the expectations, memories, stories and relationships of one brand over the alternatives.”

As you can tell, now we’re getting into deeper ground. A brand’s value is not simply how much extra people will pay ($100 more for a pair of Levi’s jeans over an unbranded pair), but also how often they choose that brand and for which reasons.

Example: A branded pair of jeans may cost $119. But if people choose them only once for a matter of prestige but never buy again, then the brand doesn’t have much value. No one can survive on one-time customers.

But if let’s say, another brand of jeans costs $79, but the people who buy once choose to buy again and again, then this second brand has a far greater value than the first one. Repeat customers are the lifeline of every business.

And repeat business is tightly tied to values.

The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, nicely summarized the connection when he said:

“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”

You don’t buy Coke over Pepsi (or vice versa) because it tastes better. It doesn’t. And countless studies have shown that the difference is all in our brains!

You buy it because you “bought” either into the “happiness” brand or the “youthfulness” brand, depending on which value you consider most important.

For your brand to be valuable, you don’t have to have the most expensive products or services in your industry. Your value gets multiplied every time a customer chooses to come back to you, chooses to do business with you over all the other brands in your industry and chooses to recommend your brand to a friend.

And that choice is tightly connected to your values.

So if you want to create deep and meaningful relationships with your customers that last for years bringing you repeat business and raising the value of your brand, you need to clearly define your brand values so that your audience can have something to connect to. Something to stay loyal to.

How to Define Your Brand Values (And Raise Your Brand’s Value)

1. Discover Your True Values

The most obvious way, perhaps, to start thinking about your business brand values is by thinking what’s important to you and make a list. But there’s a danger to this approach: A lot of things sound “nice” or “noble” when we think of them in theory.

But choosing standard values like “timely,” “reliable,” or “trusted” won’t help you stand out from the crowd in any significant way. There’s no real feeling or emotion behind these words other than that they sound “nice.” But “nice” won’t get you chosen; it will only get you ignored.

“Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence their brands acquire no texture, no character.” - Richard Branson

So how can you dig deeper with your values so you can go beyond an idealized version of you in a way that goes beyond “nice”? Forget about idealized perfections. We’re talking about discovering the real and raw feelings that connect you (and your brand) to the world!

The best way to do this is to start with things you don’t like. That’s because we often experience negative emotions more intensely than positive ones, and we can often articulate far better why we don’t like something than why we like something else.

Think about a brand experience you had that you hated. Maybe the customer service was terrible. Maybe the project wasn’t done on time. Or maybe it was finished on time, but it was done in a sloppy way. Maybe the company was very typical both in terms of time and quality but left you feeling like you just shook hands with a cold, heartless robot.

Download this free worksheet and fill in your negative experience into the first column of exercise one.

Brand Values Worksheet - Exercise 1Brand Values Worksheet - Exercise 1Brand Values Worksheet - Exercise 1
Brand Values Worksheet - Exercise 1

In the second column write the negative emotions or values that the specific experience communicated to you. What are the things, in other words, you like to avoid doing yourself?

In the third column, write the opposite value that you’d like your brand to project instead as a way of connecting to your audience.

For example: Let’s say that you stay in a glitzy glam hotel on a weekend getaway. Although the hotel is nice and the service good and timely, you didn’t like the snobbery of the staff. So you write in column one “snobby glitzy hotel stay.”

The reason you disliked the experience was that it left you feeling empty and disconnected. You didn’t like how the place looked like every other hotel you’ve ever been to. Plus, you felt like no one there was really interested in you but only in your money. And you write these negative emotions in the second column of your exercise.

So what are the opposite and positive values you’d like to project instead? It could be “homey,” feeling like you’ve visited a friend’s house and not a faceless resort. Or “friendly,” by being made to feel like a valued guest, not simply a paying customer. Or even “unique” because you value experiences that stand out from the ordinary ones.

And this example isn’t entirely imaginary, but it could be how Airbnb came up with brand concept and values of offering unique places to stay with local hosts around the world.

Airbnb unique homey and friendlyAirbnb unique homey and friendlyAirbnb unique homey and friendly
Airbnb: unique homey, and friendly.

Make your list here starting with the negative brand experiences you’ve had or would hate to be associated with and turning those into specific positive values you’d like to cultivate in your brand. There’s room for five on your worksheet, but feel free to experiment around with even more values.

Once you have a list of possible candidates, pick your top three values that mean the most to you and that you’d like to focus your energies on.

2. Stand Up For Something

If your customers were asked to describe your brand in just 2-3 sentences, what would they say about you? What would you want them to say about you?

As business owners, we often get into fancy and elaborate explanations of what we stand for and what we believe in. But no one will be able to remember or repeat that about our business.

When you’re promoting your business in any way (through your website, customer service, advertising, etc.), you need to make sure you clearly promote the 2-3 values that you want customers to know about you.

Think about Apple. What are the words that come to your mind?

  • innovation
  • think different
  • change
  • cool products

And it’s not by accident that we think these things.

During a 1997 presentation to his employees at Apple, Steve Jobs gave the following advice:

“To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
Ipad Pro AppleIpad Pro AppleIpad Pro Apple
Apple - iPad Pro

In the same presentation, he goes on to say:

“What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their job done… Apple is about something more than that. Apple at the core… It’s core values… is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”
  • passion
  • change
  • better world

That’s what Apple believes in, and they make sure to promote those values through every aspect of their brand.

Another great example from a business that started off as a small, online business is Marie Forleo. In her “About” section, Marie writes the following about the purpose and values of her brand:

“I’m here to serve. My company is built on a bedrock of love, a passion for what’s possible and a commitment to be an unstoppable force for good.
Through our free content, our paid online training programs and anything else we might offer — we’re in this to make a difference. To help you build a life that you truly love. A life that is one of a kind, unique and brilliantly tailored for you.
Whether you’re starting or growing your business or looking to make a big change in your personal life, we’re here to help you reach the highest levels of your creative potential and tap into the deepest wisdom within you.”

And that’s all great for the About page, where a brand gets to elaborate on who it is and what they believe in. But that’s not something her audience will remember verbatim or be able to say about the brand.

So what about something shorter? Marie has boiled her business brand values down to this powerful sentence on her homepage:

Marie Forleo brand messageMarie Forleo brand messageMarie Forleo brand message
Marie Forleo's brand message

And that’s the essence of her brand: Encouraging others to reach for their dreams.

(Which, going back to our first exercise, could have been born out of negative experiences with a lack of support system that helped people discovered their unique gifts and talents.)

What does your brand stand for? 

Start by elaborating your thoughts in the second exercise of your worksheet on what the 2-3 values you’ve selected really mean to you and why. (Aim for something like Marie’s longer message on her About page, but packed with your values.)

And then try to condense everything into one short and powerful phrase that captures the essence of your brand. What do you stand for?

3. Keep it Consistent

The most important thing after discovering your core values is staying consistent with them. Everything about your brand, from the colors you use to the logo you choose to the language you speak, have to represent those core values.

A logo isn’t a brand. Neither is a slogan. Neither is a color. Nor even an ad.

Consistency is the true brand builder.

If you want to build a brand, you need to stay true to your values and consistent with them. Always.

One entrepreneur who’s built a successful personal brand and has then leveraged it to launch an internationally-recognized marketing business is Gary Vaynerchuck. Gary is an outspoken person and a great proponent of hard work and constant hustle.  

Just take a look at what his brand looks like across the internet:

Gary Vaynerchuck homepageGary Vaynerchuck homepageGary Vaynerchuck homepage
Gary Vaynerchuck homepage

The intensity of Gary’s personality comes through both the dark colors and intense fonts he uses across his brands. Just by looking through his profiles you can tell that he’s all about entrepreneurship, leadership, and hustle.

Gary Vaynerchuck on FacebookGary Vaynerchuck on FacebookGary Vaynerchuck on Facebook
Gary Vaynerchuck on Facebook

Yet, none of his social media channels looks identical to the other. And that’s a very important note to make about consistency. Consistency doesn’t mean you have to be the same across all channels or throughout the years. It means that the image you project must be consistent with your core brand values.

Gary Vaynerchuck on SnapchatGary Vaynerchuck on SnapchatGary Vaynerchuck on Snapchat
Gary Vaynerchuck on Snapchat

In fact, if you scroll back enough into Gary’s social media channels, you can see how the look and imagery of his brand have evolved through the years to what it is today. The look may have changed, but the brand always remained consistent to core values of entrepreneurship, leadership, and hustle.

Are you staying consistent in the messages your brand puts out? 

Once you clearly define your core brand values, it will be much easier to do so and much easier to promote your brand across various channels.

What Are Your Core Brand Values?

Do the exercises on the worksheet, discover what your brand really stands for, and share your core values with us!

We’d love to know: What does your brand stand for in the world?

Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2016. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.

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