I once drove two hours to meet the managing director of a company that had recently won accolades for being a great company to work for. The idea was to give some feedback and insights to a study report his company was sponsoring.
When I arrived, I discovered he hadn’t bothered to read our latest document. He was so unprepared and unconcerned that what should have been a meaningful meeting wasn’t. It told me that the investment of my time was less valuable than his. In monetary terms, it possibly was. But that’s not the point. What he demonstrated was a disconnect between his values and my own.
Values provide meaning
Values are very simple. They are a concept or principle that actively guides behaviour and decision making.
As an advisor, I use my knowledge of a company’s brand values to drive and shape how it communicates. However, the reality is that when asked about brand values, most directors and managers shuffle in their seats awkwardly and whisper to a colleague. They don’t know them.
A clear set of brand values are powerful in shaping visual, digital and spoken communication. They emanate from the pores of the organisation and reflect how that company is perceived by clients. That’s because if values = brand, then brand = meaning. Nothing helps to make a brand more successful than a set of meanings that customers like and trust.
Meaning is hard to define. That’s because it’s linked to feeling. And how a brand makes us feel is the reason why we want to do business with it or buy its product.
Values are social
Nespresso invests much time in making sure that clients who contact the company via social media have a positive experience. Like a lot of businesses, Facebook and Twitter are important channels through which its customers complain or say nice things. Shaping how Nespresso handles social media is its application of five digital social values, ones that are linked to its core values.
It should be a ‘pleasure’ to be in contact with Nespresso, just in the way that drinking a Nespresso coffee is a ‘pleasurable’ experience. There is ‘warmth’ in the words and phrases that are used, so you feel you are dealing with a person not a machine. An answer or message has a ‘simplicity’, just in the way it is easy use a Nespresso machine. Client’s shouldn’t experience long delays in waiting for an answer because the company is ‘responsive’. At times, the brand is ‘playful’ as one might expect from a company that has uses George Clooney in so many of its advertising campaigns.
Such values give those who are write social media responses invaluable reference points as well as guidelines on the tone of voice to use. That’s because it’s impossible to have a distinct brand tone of voice unless you know your brand values.
Values create identity
For the brand guru, Wally Olins, the starting point in discovering the identity of a brand was four-fold:
- Understand about the products or services the company sells
- Explore the environment in which all the employees work
- Learn about the behaviour of the employees – internally and externally
- Discover how employees communicate with each other
Such steps were taken by Isis Enterprise (IE), a global transfer and technology management consultancy that was looking to create a new visual and brand identity as part of a management buy-out from Oxford University. Having a brand name that is associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is clearly not good for business, especially if many of your clients are in the Middle and Far East.
Isis Enterprise is now Oxentia. It has a very distinct visual identity that involves coloured lines stretching horizontally and vertically across half a globe to reflect its global, open and collaborative approach as well as its Oxford heritage. The identity and its parts are designed to reflect trust, excellence, collaboration and creativity, the four values that Oxentia feels are at the heart of what it does. Most importantly, those who work at Oxentia feel that the new identity reflects the meaning of who they are as business. Oxentia consultants will in turn naturally communicate this to their own clients.
Values are for tough times
When things go wrong for a brand, as they inevitably do, a good set of brand values holds things together. Look at any retail brand that is struggling, for example Sears in the US or Tap Airlines in Portugal and the way it communicates via social goes horribly wrong. That’s partly because it’s values fall by the wayside as fire-fighting becomes the priority.
In 2015, England Rugby was at a very low ebb following its exit in the pool stages from its own World Cup. A new coach, Eddie Jones, was then brought in and succeeded in transforming the fortunes of the squad. England had 19 successive wins and is now number two in the world. Likewise, England Sevens, Women’s Rugby and U20s are all doing incredibly well.
Did England Rugby’s core values change after the World Cup? Not at all. They remained Discipline, Teamwork, Enjoyment, Respect and Sportsmanship. That’s because they are integral to how the brand behaves or communicates, whether at an elite or grassroots level.
Use values to check on the investment of your time
Next time you go into a meeting with a business you are unfamiliar with, spend a little time considering if it has a clear set of values and how it communicates them. On arrival, be aware of how the company and the people you are with make you feel.
Values may not be the be-all to develop long-term partnerships, but they are always a handy barometer to tell you if the company and its people are a good investment of your time and energy.