Last week, we discussed why a well thought out brand is an essential part of your business. Today, we take a look at the next step in building your brand: your brand values.
As you begin building your brand identity, start with your brand’s values. And, as the head and founder of your brand, make sure those brand values match up with your own and are something you are able to commit to long term, not just in business, but in your own life, as well.
To clarify, what we are talking about here is not the value to your customers. While that is an important part of your brand and your business, it is not always the same as your brand values. Your brand values are important because they will help you define your brand personality and brand voice, and because they will help you in future business decisions. If one of your brand values is inclusion, then not only will your copy, images, etc. showcase that, but your employees, the other companies you partner with, the clients you serve will also reflect that value. (You, yourself, as the head of your business, should also reflect these values which is why it needs to be something you are able to commit to long term.)
For example, at Humble & Hustle Studios two of our brand values are helping small businesses grow and sharing our expertise. We showcase these values in all of our copy — whether that be copy on our website, in our social media posts, in our ads, or in our courses. Our social media posts promote growth of businesses — even those who are not our customers — as well as show our expertise in our field. Beyond this, we are constantly educating ourselves on new marketing techniques, new social media platforms, new audiences. We partner with others who we see as experts in their fields. We try to attract clients who also share these values. For Humble & Hustle Studios, these two brand values and our value to our customers are the same (but this is not always the case for all brands).
When thinking about your brand values, make sure they are clearly expressed to your customers, and that they are something that you are also reflecting in your own life. We have all seen the downfall of successful businesses because of a comment or action from the founder. Take the Kat Von D makeup line. Now, Kat Von D herself has always been a bit problematic, but the makeup brand was able to side-step most of her controversies. The brand itself was a vegan line, as Kat Von D was very passionate about veganism. However, the brand identity was not “vegan” — their brand values were about protecting the most vulnerable parts of a community. So when Kat Von D started making comments on her personal social media against vaccines (because she heard some might be made with animal byproducts) as part of her own vegan identity, the backlash against the brand was swift. Community members were appalled that the brand’s values of protecting vulnerable community members appeared to stop at animals and didn’t include the immunocompromised, and by the founder’s assertion that the community as a whole shouldn’t be protected because something so beneficial to society “might” have animal byproducts. The community didn’t care that this was in-line with the vegan values of the founder. They only cared that this seemed to go against the values of the brand (and their own personal values, as well). They felt betrayed.
The makeup line didn’t just suffer a bit of fallout: it began to tank. The company tried everything they could think of to mitigate this controversy: they wrote press releases that this was not the stance of the brand; they wrote posts and blogs on social media; they stated they were not “anti-vax” as much as they could; Kat Von D herself stated she was not “anti-vax” more than once. None of it was enough. Kat Von D sold her holdings of the makeup line to the parent company LVMH within Kendo Brands, and LVMH not only renamed the brand, but they have spent the last year trying to redefine the brand identity and rebuild the community trust that was lost in a single Instagram post. Only time will tell if they will succeed or scrap the brand altogether.
Now this is an extreme example of what can happen when your customers feel they have been betrayed by a brand not living up to its values, but there are other, less extreme examples as well. If one of your brand’s values is sustainability, but you don’t live up to that value whether it’s in your packaging, or shipping, or even your own life, your customers will not only notice the inauthenticity, but they will leave you for competitors over it.
So, how can you get this right? Let’s look at Ben & Jerry’s. Their brand values include community activism: they are deeply committed to racial and social justice, fair trade, equality, etc. The brand routinely sends out newsletters and social media posts about these issues and their stance. This is an integral part of their brand, and they have built a considerable loyal customer base because of it. These issues are very important not just to the brand, but to the founders as well, which is why we don’t see any Kat Von D type controversies with Ben & Jerry’s. Their fans are fully invested in their activist approach, so much so that when a statement is made on social media in support for one of their causes, they hardly need to reply to criticism because their followers do it for them. (Don’t like that Ben & Jerry’s supports BLM? Or GMO labeling? Or refugees? Go comment about it elsewhere — their loyal customers don’t just love it, they expect it.) Love them or hate them, Ben & Jerry’s brand values have helped them rise above their competitors in a unique way, and they have proudly displayed their values as the core of their brand. So much so, that even after their founders stepped down, the brand values have not changed, the brand personality and voice has not changed, and the brand commitment to activism is still as strong as ever.
Take some time and really think about your personal values and the values that you want to incorporate into your brand. Make sure it is something that you can commit to, long term, and not just something that is popular or trendy. Your brand values should shine through every aspect of your business. If you get it right, your brand values will help distinguish you from your competitors and build you a loyal customer base that will not just purchase your products, but become lifelong fans and advocates of your brand.