How uncovering our brand values guided our startup through its first year
When we started our business I was excited to build out our business plan—finally I could put my Commerce degree to good use! Along with the business plan came the need for business values, and honestly, I was stumped.
I started looking at other business’ values, but I was left uninspired. I mean, when you see ‘collaboration’ ‘integrity’ and ‘perseverance’ touted as values again and again, you begin to think, does anyone really know and live out their values? Or is everyone just playing it safe with values they think their customers want to hear?
I wanted our values to be authentically and unapologetically ‘us’. If our potential clients don’t like our values then they probably weren’t suited to working with us anyway. I wanted our guiding principles to filter down into our business decisions, through our marketing and everything in between. I couldn’t stand the thought of them being some crusty, unoriginal values that no one within our business knew. I wanted them to be meaningful to us.
How we created our brand values
At the time we were living in Vancouver in a tiny laneway house, so our workspaces were local coffee shops. One of our regular spots was owned by an Aussie chef, who would bring us Vegemite on toast and his homemade Cherry Ripe slice—what a legend! We pulled up a table on a rainy weekend, armed with coffee, paper and pens and began brainstorming.
By this point I had visited lots of how-to blogs, each with their own unique process of figuring out values, but some felt overly long-winded, while others were telling me to pick my values from a predefined list or quiz—the perfect recipe for something unoriginal. So, we took their advice on board, but made some changes along the way.
The question of 'what does your business value' felt very intimidating to me, so I wanted to start with a simple task. To begin, we shared stories about what we did and did not want our brand values to be based on our past experiences—positive and negative. This had a bit of a snowball effect and soon we were jotting down lots of keywords from those stories.
With something on paper, and feeling more confident, we started asking bigger questions—what personal values or principles did we want to bring to the business? Which traits were important to us in staff members? How did we want our customers to describe us now and in the future?
We ended up with a big list of words, but clearly, some words were not the gems that others were, so we began to consolidate and cull. We looked at each word and thought, is this really us? Is this going to assist us in achieving our vision? Is it actionable? Is it memorable? Does it say something unique about our approach? Will it resonate with our audience?
Admittedly, they have been tweaked slightly over the last few years, but the core premise of each has remained the same, and every time I read them I think ‘Yes! That still rings true.'
Here's why you should uncover your own set of brand values
You might be reading this thinking, I don’t really need a set of values yet, it’s just me! I’m just a startup! I've only just begun!
But, here's why I'm so glad we created our brand values, and why I think you should create some too.
They've helped to attract like-minded people to our business, whether that's through followers or customers. They have filtered down through our entire brand and marketing strategy, from our copy to our target audience and even the content on our social feeds.
And the biggest impact our values have had so far is to help us make tough decisions, such as;
- Saying ‘no’ to a job or client because their values didn't align with ours;
- Saying 'yes' to working with a startup with a very low budget, simply because we believe in their vision and potential
- Keeping us focused on the end-game and the core of what we are trying to achieve
- Knowing where to prioritise funds or time when there are many competing tasks or expenses.
If you haven't already, you will need to make some tough decisions soon, and when you do, your brand values can remind you and your staff of who you are and who you want to be. While less fun, brand values are guaranteed to be much better for making decisions than asking Siri or your trusty 8-ball.
It’s these little decisions and actions that define our businesses and sit at the foundation of our brands to help us to find our audience, collaborate with the right people and distinguish us from competitors.
So, what are you waiting for? Hurry along and get yourself some values already.
When you’re done, shoot me an email or comment and let me know how you went, I’m so excited to hear your values!