Brand values are important, as they define the identity of your brand. They’re not simply 3 to 5 pretty words; they are the foundation upon which you build your branding strategy – and they can even make or break your competitiveness. That being said, it’s not simple to identify and agree on distinctive brand values that are robust enough to rely on. Our secret? Co-creation.
What exactly is a brand value – and why are they so hard to define?
A brand value is a word that embodies a concept, emotion, characteristic or feeling that defines what you stand for as a company. They act as clear points of reference for your branding approach and enable the rapid validation of new branding or marketing assets. As such, they are used both internally and externally.
Without brand values, your company lacks a coherent, unified voice and risks being misunderstood – or going unheard – amid the clamour of a million other brands all shouting to be heard. Every company should identify between 3 and 5 brand values, each accompanied by a short, clear description that avoids confusion or misunderstanding.
Coming up with brand values that enable your company to have its own voice is necessarily a tough exercise. They require input from many stakeholders. They’re also intangible and difficult to fine-tune, leading plenty of companies to go with worn-out, tried-and-tired options; think ‘bold’ or ‘innovative’. Choosing common brand values often leads to a label that’s the exact opposite of the boldness and innovation that you’re shooting for.
Over the past few years we fine-tuned our approach to creating a robust and actionable set of brand values together with our clients during our branding workshop.
Step away from the company
Rather than looking inwards, debating internally and putting the focus on their own company or product, we invite our clients to choose items from a handful of seemingly unrelated options.
For example, we may ask the workshop participants to compare their company to a car brand. Which one is the best fit: a Volvo, a Tesla or a Maserati? If it was a city, would it be Paris, London, San Francisco or Las Vegas?
This exercise encourages company leaders to start thinking in metaphors and view their business through different lenses. It also tends to spark in-depth discussions about the many shades and nuances that describe what their brand is all about.
Humans are social creatures; we tend to respond with much more engagement to brands that have their own distinctive personalities.
In a similar exercise, we present our clients with a selection of celebrities with strong, outspoken, well-known personalities. This adds a human, relatable touch to the company’s brand values and enables participants to further refine the company’s new identity.
Compare and contrast
Brands and companies don’t exist in a vacuum; how a brand relates to others is also a defining factor. These relationships can include direct competitors, similar companies in different industries, or the big names that everybody is familiar with.
Useful trick: shortcut discussions and gain even more clarity by offering a scale between “opposing” companies. Ask participants to identify where their company is located on each scale according to one aspect of their brand identity.
For example, we could ask participants to pinpoint where they stand between Revolut, a young financial institution, and Deutsche Bank, an established bank. The former is known as innovative and trendy, while the latter is considered robust, dependable and experienced. Figuring out where you want your organization to fall on a scale like this can be a huge eye-opener – particularly when participants disagree with each other. Strong disagreements are where the most interesting insights emerge.
Bringing it all together: identifying trends
In the course of these exercises, we record all of the many personality traits and values that our branding workshop participants identify as relevant for their brand. This means that we usually end up with over 50 different values – but distinct trends always emerge. Specific values keep popping up and certain traits are referred to multiple times across different exercises.
To wrap things up, we cluster this large population of brand values and pinpoint the 3 to 5 that summarize the brand best during a joint discussion. This often requires some hard decisions and tough choices, but it is absolutely critical to limit the number of brand values chosen.
By the end of the exercise, the participants have a handful of clear values that can be fed into the next part of the branding exercise: testing their chosen values by gauging brand perception.
Jan Van Lysebettens
Jan is an experienced senior designer and developer who’s really passionate about creating beautiful designs and turning them into fully functional digital experiences. He combines a strong sense for aesthetics with an analytical approach to turn a client’s vision into meaningful digital products.