Brand values: business boosters or bullshit?

Does your organization also have massively-ignored brand values? Are most people in your organisation unaware of them anyway, leave alone that they ever give them a second thought? Don’t worry your not alone: the world is infested with utterly redundant ‘brand values’. The good news: if defined well (or better), brand values can be a great tool to keep your organization focused, your customers happy and your business booming. But words alone are not enough – especially if you’re a service brand. Making your values work needs concrete, no-nonsense thinking and…perpetual action!

Why do you have brand values to start with?                                                                             We all know that to seduce customers your have to stand out, create an expectation about the experience your brand (product, service,…) will give them, and exceed their expectations. The worlds strongest brands have a very clear idea of the experience they want to give customers – and want to be known for. Their communication is dedicated to create a distinctive expectation about the experience a brand will give them – and (over)delivering on it. If defined well, brand values (guiding principles) help to the organization to (re)affirm the expectation they’ve planted in customers minds in every contact.

Are your brand values logically related to your brand promise?                                         The problem with many ‘brand values’ is that they are just a collection of random words, that don’t have a straightforward relation to the desired brand experience . If defined well, your brand values help you to deliver your brand promise.

  • In the Dutch fairytale-themed family park Efteling, all employees know what brand experience they contribute to: “an enchanting day”. Whatever your job is, whether you’re a clown, musical-star or snack-vendor: ‘guest orientation’ and ‘reliability’ are important for every employee. Arriving late at work or unfriendliness would break the spell for visitors, crystal clear.                                                        

Are your brand values anchored in concrete goals?                                                          Too often brand values are defined in terms no one will disagree with. “Our brand values are passion, dedication, bla bla bla.”. The first problem is: how do these values relate to concrete behaviors? And more important: how do these behaviors affect the way your brand feels (looks, sounds, appeals) to customers? The question you should ask yourself regularly is:

  • To which extent do our customers experience us as << value, for example ‘passion for service’?>>. Which concrete behaviors cause an eventual lack of this experience? Where does our brand (and it’s performance) sound/feel/look passionate? And where isn’t it too obvious or convincing?
  • What can we, as team, do more/extra/different to make our ‘passion or service’ more tangible (in activities, in service-behavior, in visual style, in communication, in ….)?
  • What can I, in my role, do more/extra/different to make my ‘passion for service’  more tangible?
  • Do our organizational resources (systems, technology, skills etc.) support us to work according to our brand values and deliver the right customer experience?
  • What are we going to do about it tomorrow? What should we change/improve?

This shouldn’t be a matter of ‘internal branding campaigns’ but part of of regular team and management communication (internal communication can be supportive, but will never be enough).

Is the relation between your brand values and the happiness of your customers obvious to every single one of your staff members?                                                                Did you ever explain the point of having brand values to your staff?                                       Let’s face it, they will only act along the lines of your brand if they are understanding why it’s important. And if they feel empowered and motivated to do so. Every single person in the organization needs to understand why your brand is important, what it stands for, how you want to make every customer think and feel. You’ll have to translate your value(s) to a script for every role in your organization. If they don’t know or understand how their role contributes, how can they contribute to the desired experience?

Do your brand values resonate with your staff?                                                                        Abstract words like ‘integrity’ of ‘innovation’ don’t resonate with people. A manifest like ‘We always try to look at things from a different perspective’ does. And ultimately leads to innovation. What is ‘sustainability’? Ah, you mean we take the long term consequences of that we do into account, now I see! What do we mean with ‘integrated working and thinking’? Ah, you mean we always work on the solution of a problem with multiple specialists.

Is your staff empowered to act upon your brand values?                                                      If your staff doesn’t have the systems or skills to perform in line with the your promise it won’t work. Employees must possess the skills necessary to deliver on the brand promise. This is both a matter of training and selection at the gate. Where employees lack skills, you will have to train them. It is obviously the most efficient to select employees with the right mind and skill-set at the outset.

  • At Starbucks each employee will receive training in remembering names of customers and their preferences. This contributes to the Starbucks brand-customer experience as ‘a second living room’, a place where people know you, just like at home.
  • Apple deliberately recruits nice, smart people who have a passion for service and enthusiasm for their product or service. Under the motto that knowledge can be brushed up, but no personality.
  • South west recruits highly selectively as well. “What we are looking for first is a sense of humor. Then we are looking for people who have to excel to satisfy themselves and work well in a collegial environment. We can train people to do whatever they have to. We hire attitudes, ” – says co -founder Herb Kelleher .

Did you set the incentives right?                                                                                                      Human motivation is a matter of ‘punishment’ or ‘reward’. “Brand-worthy behaviour” should be part of the yearly assessment process and performance interviews. Employees who go the extra mile to live-up to your brands promise should be rewarded. And there should be consequences for negligence as well.

  • Once I met an organization that wanted to improve their service-experience. Market research showed that ‘personal attention’ was the main driver of customer satisfaction. Meanwhile, employees were not judged on the amount and quality of attention they provided, but on the number of clients they ‘processed’ in a day!
  • In Bombay where I live part of the year, bus drivers drive like lunatics. Not necessarily because they are crazy, but because they financially get rewarded (or punished) for the number of times they drive a certain route within an hour – not for careful driving.

Needless to say the management has an important role in setting the right example. Nothing more demotivating than managers who don’t walk the talk and practice what they preach….

If defined well, brand values can be a great internal tool. They can be the center from which everything radiates—from your service performance to your brand’s look (design), message (voice), and relationships (customer service). If not defined well, you can as well get rid of brand values – no one will miss them.


Always love to hear your thoughts at!









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