June 20, 2018 / Point of View
Remember the days when motivational posters lined the halls of corporate offices everywhere? The word “vision” was paired with a bald eagle surveying her majestic domain. “Teamwork” was visualized with an image of perfectly synchronized rowers. And “courage” was depicted by fearless skydivers. Well, my friends, those sentiments — aka values — have been reborn and are more important than ever. This time around values are not paper thin, nor are they being mocked on the way to the water cooler. Values today are everything a company and brand are and should be. Values dictate decisions worth millions and sometimes even billions of dollars. When activated, values are a brand’s secret weapon.
Just recently, two leading corporations walked the walk and put their long-term values ahead of short-term gains, and their brands will profit greatly because of it. ABC canceled its hit show Roseanne because the star’s controversial tweets didn’t align with the company’s core value of respect: “We treat our audiences and each other with consideration and dignity. We embrace diversity.” This news came shortly after the network announced it would be filming a second season as a result of the show’s popularity. And Starbucks closed 8,000 stores for an afternoon to invest in racial bias training in response to a single employee’s abhorrent actions. Starbucks could’ve taken the less expensive path of terminating the employee and capitalizing on our collective short attention span, but instead it lived its core value of “Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.” Bloomberg has estimated that this bold act may have cost Starbucks $16.7 million in lost sales.
While drastic actions like these are making headlines more and more, both were public relations nightmares that could’ve easily become crisis management debacles. Both brands took a stand based on their existing values. They did something meaningful to demonstrate those values and will be stronger because of it. In this era when transparency rules and consumers have increased access to information about companies and their behaviors, consumers have more control over the future of brands. Living these values is now mandatory, so why not make the most of them? (Insert the motivational poster of a bodybuilder here.)
Here’s what marketers and leaders can learn from this to activate their brand values.
First things first — you gotta know your values.
If you’re a marketer, you’ve gone to great lengths to research, strategize and define your brand’s purpose, but when’s the last time you looked at your values? I bet somewhere buried in an employee manual or deep within a 200-slide PowerPoint deck there are powerful values just waiting to take center stage. I’d also wager that they’re near and dear to your CEO or division president, who most certainly authored or approved them. Look at those values. Internalize them. Try to understand the deeper meaning of why they exist, what they mean to the organization, and how they should impact your department and, ultimately, you.
Second, directly connect your brand’s purpose to its values.
Over the years, I’ve seen so many companies whose brand values and brand purpose were obviously defined by two different parts of the organization. Not only does this separation dilute the meaning of the brand, but it also promotes a culture of silos, putting the entire organization in immediate danger of a startup that has infused its values into everything it’s done since day one. Simply put, weaving together purpose and values is a huge opportunity for marketing and corporate communications groups to work with the CEO to build a stronger foundation for a brand that’s clear, cohesive and embraced by all corners of the company.
Third, live those values. Even if it hurts.
If you’re only using your values to inform your communications, that’s just a modern-day version of Successories for your brand. It’s a start, but there’s so much more you can do with them. You have to Yoda your values. Live them you must. Ask yourself, “How do our values affect not only our advertising but our actions? How can they lead product and service innovation? How can our values better inform who we recruit and retain? Are there partners who don’t align with our values and do we need to replace them?” And, of course, the granddaddy question of them all: “If we were to live our values fully, what would we do that would sacrifice short-term profits for long-term prosperity?”
When you live your values, you can use them to create meaningful actions that have a lasting impact. Or, in other words, your values are your secret weapon. Your brand's purpose will grow stronger. Your organization will be more aligned and motivated. Your customers will appreciate your shared beliefs and where you stand. And PR crises will become easier to navigate.