More and more consumers demand a brand's values align with their own when making buying decisions - which means we marketers need to be more and more conscious of how we infuse them into the essence of what we do.
I’ll come onto that shortly. First, though, let’s smash through some stats:
- 82% of shoppers want a brand's values to align with theirs [Google Cloud]
- 75% of consumers would part ways with a brand over conflicting values [Google Cloud]
- 30% of marketers are creating content that reflects their brand’s values
On the surface, these stats may seem like a marketing ‘problem’, but in reality, it’s kind of not. It’s a fundamental organizational one. Values sit at the heart of a business and we marketers aren’t miracle workers; if we have non-existent - or worse - fickle values to work with, all the creativity in the world won’t help you/us.
I just had to get that one off my chest…
Anyway, I wanted to get a quick temperature check of this within my network (largely B2B) too, and the results weren’t a million miles apart:
What even are company values?
It’s a simple question and one I evaluated heavily while writing this piece.
By definition, company values are the core values or standards that guide how you do business.
This, I think, is quite clear.
But as a concept, it’s incredibly murky because people’s guiding principles rarely actually guide the way they do business. Company values too often become a bit of a tick-box exercise people feel they need to do (usually for recruitment) and then fall the wayside - and as you’ll read throughout this post, ‘tick-box’ values are worse than no values at all. Consumers will see through them and it can have quite damaging consequences.
Let’s take a look at a couple of quick examples of company values in action before we explore how to bring yours to life.
Uber calls their company values cultural norms, and they’re:
- We build globally, we live locally.
- We are customer-obsessed.
- We celebrate differences.
- We do the right thing.
- We act like owners.
- We persevere.
- We value ideas over hierarchy.
- We make big bold bets.
Otherwise known as their ‘Ten things we know to be true’:
- Focus on the user and all else will follow.
- It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
- Fast is better than slow.
- Democracy on the web works.
- You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
- You can make money without doing evil.
- There’s always more information out there.
- The need for information crosses all borders.
- You can be serious without a suit.
- Great just isn’t good enough.
How to authentically bring your company’s values to life
1) Make sure your brand has a meaningful story - and tell it
Your story is the narrative that communicates your origins, values, mission, and purpose to your target audience. It encompasses your brand's history, the people behind it, and the journey that led to its existence.
A compelling brand story is important because it humanizes your brand, fosters emotional connections with consumers, and distinguishes you from competitors. It helps consumers relate to you, understand your values, and build trust - ultimately, leading to brand loyalty and advocacy.
A well-crafted brand story can leave a lasting impact and influence consumer decisions, making it a powerful tool for successful branding and marketing.
Getting your brand’s story right is by no means an easy task though.
Here are some components that make them great:
- Authenticity: a great brand story is genuine and true to your values, history, and purpose. It avoids exaggeration or manipulation.
- Emotional appeal: effective brand stories evoke emotions, creating a strong emotional connection with your audience. Whether it's joy, empathy, or inspiration, emotional resonance drives engagement.
- Relatability: it should reflect the experiences, aspirations, and challenges your audience can identify with.
- Unique positioning: your story should communicate what sets your brand apart from competitors, highlighting its unique selling and value proposition.
- Clear purpose: answer the question of "why" your brand exists and what it aims to achieve beyond profits.
- Engaging narrative: your brand story should be well-crafted, employing storytelling techniques such as a strong narrative arc, vivid imagery, and compelling characters.
- Consistency: align your story with its actions, messaging, and overall brand identity.
- Evolution and growth: a great brand story acknowledges your brand's evolution and growth over time. It shows how you’ve adapted to changes while staying true to your core values.
- Memorable moments: highlighting key moments or milestones in your journey adds depth and significance to your story.
- Call to action: a compelling brand story inspires action - and this doesn’t mean buying your products. It should encourage your audience to engage with you, share your story, or become part of your mission.
Let’s bring all this to life with some great brand story examples.
Adobe's brand story centers around creativity and digital innovation. Adobe's suite of creative software has been instrumental in empowering designers, artists, and marketers to bring their ideas to life.
Their brand story emphasizes the power of imagination and the transformative impact of creative expression.
Patagonia's brand story centers on environmental sustainability and responsible business practices. The brand's founder, Yvon Chouinard, built the company on the principles of environmental stewardship and ethical manufacturing.
Patagonia's commitment to quality, durability, and eco-friendly products has attracted a loyal customer base who share the brand's values of protecting the planet.
Here’s a great example of they stay true to this in their campaigns:
2) Make sure your visual identity is inclusive
Your words are one way to showcase your values, your visual identity is the other - and this can come in many forms.
On a more obvious level, it’s being intentional and inclusive of your imagery of people, ensuring you’re featuring individuals of all ages, ethnicities, genders, backgrounds, etc. This goes far beyond just artwork too. If your business creates courses, events, podcasts, and so on, it should be your responsibility to ensure you’re giving a voice to all.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion have always been incredibly important - rightly so, and more and more brands are being called out for not being inclusive.
Align your design elements with your core principles.
Selecting colors, typography, and imagery that evoke the desired emotions or associations is also a great way to ensure your values shine through in every email, social post, ad, blog, etc.
Consistency across all platforms reinforces your message.
Integrating symbols or icons that represent your values also strengthens the connection between visuals and values. A thoughtful and deliberate approach to visual identity is essential and isn’t something easy to nail - but here are some examples of brands that have (nailed it):
Apple's visual identity is clean, sleek, and minimalist, reflecting its core values of simplicity, innovation, and elegance. The iconic Apple logo is instantly recognizable and symbolizes the brand's focus on cutting-edge technology and user-friendly design.
Airbnb's visual identity revolves around the idea of belonging and connection. Their logo incorporates the "A" symbol inside a heart, representing their values of inclusivity, community, and a home-away-from-home experience.
Ben & Jerry's
Ben & Jerry's visual identity is playful, colorful, and socially conscious. The use of vibrant packaging, whimsical illustrations, and tongue-in-cheek flavor names reflects their values of fun, creativity, and advocacy for social causes.
3) Get your employees to advocate for your values
If you have a strong and meaningful brand purpose and set of values - and embody both in your company culture, your employees are one of your most powerful means to authentically share this with the world.
Just like your potential customers are more likely to trust testimonials and case studies from other customers rather than claims from your own brand, they’ll also be more likely to trust words from your employees rather than directly from your company.
So, how do you make this happen?
1. Make sure all your employees know and understand your company’s values.
2. Embody your values in all you do.
3. Offer opportunities for employee engagement in social or environmental initiatives.
4. Recognize and reward employees who embody your values - this can inspire advocacy.
5. Openly empower employees to share their experiences and perspectives.
Just to stress: this will only happen if your brand stands for its values. If you’re just paying lip service to them, don’t expect your employees to advocate for you.
Here are some examples of brands that have a strong employee advocacy game when it comes to organically showcasing their values:
Starbucks encourages its employees, known as partners, to advocate for their values of diversity, inclusion, and sustainability. They offer comprehensive training on social responsibility, support partner-led initiatives, and provide opportunities for employees to get involved in community service projects.
Starbucks' emphasis on employee empowerment and active engagement creates a sense of pride and ownership in advocating for its values.
Google supports employee advocacy through its "Googler-to-Googler" program, where employees can share their expertise and passions with colleagues. Google also encourages employees to participate in internal forums and discussions to share their perspectives.
By valuing employee contributions and fostering open communication, Google inspires its employees to advocate for the brand's values of innovation and collaboration.
And finally, here’s a quick example of how Hotjar ensured their employees remembered their values and turned it into an opportunity to create some great social content.
During a Tenerife meetup, they split the Hotjarians into teams and ran a Jeopardy-style quiz where teams would win points by uncovering and remembering values.
Immediately after, they launched a company-wide video challenge and asked the team to submit a 30-second video tying it back to one of Hotjar’s core values:
How does this translate externally?
- Marketers who embody your values will subtly and naturally bring these into their work. As a really rudimentary example, if you have values around creativity and create a culture that supports creativity, you can bet your bottom dollar the creativity within your campaigns will increase.
- Don’t force it of course, but encourage your employees to be socially active. Using Starbucks as an example, if you’re providing training around social responsibility, get some snaps in the session and see if people want to share them on LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter, etc.
Every employee post is an additional touchpoint and opportunity to showcase your values - and what better way to do this than through your people?
4) Only collaborate with influencers and/or brands who share your values
Partner marketing is a great channel for many brands - but making sure you and your partners reflect the same values is essential for maintaining authenticity, credibility, and a positive brand image.
Vetting potential partners thoroughly and only collaborating with those who genuinely share your ideals and mission is key. This helps ensure the partnership feels natural and true to your brand, rather than coming across as an inauthentic money grab. It preserves credibility with your existing audience and allows new audiences to properly understand what you stand for.
Skip this vetting step and prepare to face the backlash, as Pepsi did in the wake of its 2017 campaign with Kendall Jenner.
TL;DR of Pepsi’s fluff-up:
In a Pepsi ad, Kendall Jenner was shown joining a protest march and diffusing tensions between protesters and police by offering a can of Pepsi.
The ad was widely criticized for trivializing social justice movements and co-opting serious issues for commercial gain. Many viewers felt that it was insensitive and disrespectful to real-life protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The backlash was significant, with social media erupting in outrage, and the ad was quickly pulled by Pepsi. The partnership between Pepsi and Kendall Jenner, a high-profile influencer, backfired because it didn’t reflect the brand's commitment to social justice and human rights.
The misalignment of values resulted in a damaging blow to Pepsi's reputation, highlighting the importance of carefully considering brand partnerships and ensuring they genuinely resonate with the brand's values and messaging.
H&M also faced backlash back in 2017:
They announced a partnership with The Weeknd, a well-known musician and artist, to create a collection of clothing. However, the collaboration faced criticism when it was revealed that H&M had also released a racially insensitive ad featuring a young black boy wearing a hoodie with the text, "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle."
The Weeknd, who has been vocal about social justice issues and racial equality, expressed his disappointment with the ad and the misstep by H&M. He severed ties with the brand, announcing on social media that he would no longer work with them.
5) Avoid jumping on trending bandwagons
Jumping on trending bandwagons can result in looking opportunistic or insincere - not exactly the look you’re going for, right?
When it comes to your values, it’s all about being consistent and staying true to your core beliefs. When you do a genuine job of this though, it can then open the door to jumping on trending topics and using them to amplify your own values.
Here’s a great example of how WWF did just that amidst Twitter’s rebranding to X:
From the concept to the relevance to the timeliness to the simplicity of the creative, everything about this ad was just stunning and uber relevant to WWF’s values and mission.
6) Create educational content around your values with the sole mission of educating, not selling
Let’s not be naive: every business is here to make money.
However, when it comes to infusing your values into your content strategy, not everything has to be created with the end goal of selling. Sometimes, it’s purely about educating your audience with no strings attached, and the byproduct of this free, educational content, is value, trust, credibility, and respect.
And as well know, the byproduct of that, is likely new and repeat business down the line.
Let’s take a look at Salesforce as an example.
Salesforce's values revolve around customer success and social impact. Their content focuses on customer relationship management, marketing automation, and corporate social responsibility (CSR). They create webinars, eBooks, and blogs that empower businesses to connect with their customers and make a positive difference in society.
There are a few bits to unpack there, but focusing on the CSR aspect specifically, we can see they post blog content on this:
- 10 Ways to Reimagine Your Corporate Social Responsibility Program
- Baratunde Thurston on “How To Citizen” and Why Words Matter
- How Technology Is Helping Net Zero Efforts
And here’s how they supported company’s giving back during COVID-19.
This is only a snapshot of their content, but as we can see, CSR forms part of their values, and it’s something they promote on their site.
(The only thing I will note is their CSR archives were a little out of date (the latest blog was published in 2021), and this goes against the key principle of being consistent).
7) Bring your employees to life
Your employees are the ambassadors who embody your brand's principles in their actions and interactions, and when your employees authentically exemplify your brand's values, it reinforces credibility, trust, and brand identity.
A couple of ways to bring your team to the fore could be with behind-the-scenes footage and ‘day in the life of’ type videos. Here are a couple of examples of how we’re doing this here at The Alliance:
Employee spotlight series
Day in the life of…
You don’t need big budgets for this and as you can see by the second video, phone footage will do. Sometimes scrappy is better because it shows it’s not polished/edited and it’s the true you.
TL;DR: by empowering employees to showcase your brand's values through their work and engagement, you’ll gain a human touch, create meaningful connections with customers, and position your people (and therefore brand) as someone others want to work with/buy from.
That want is incredibly important too. There has never been more choice and competition than there is today and it’s not always your feature set that’s going to win you the deal - as the stats at the very start of this post show, sometimes, it’s down to your people and values.
8) Use your brand to amplify important causes
As a brand, you hold influence in society, and using your voice to amplify important causes is crucial for driving positive change. The key here is driving that positive change, but the net effect is building trust, loyalty, a sense of community among customers, and fostering brand affinity.
So take that responsibility seriously! Use your voice to drive awareness, inspire action, and contribute to a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for everyone.
But remember, it has to align with your values.
❌ Don’t make a song and dance about things like Women’s Day, Pride, or Mental Health Awareness Week if your company fundamentally does not live and breathe these values (I’ll share examples of why next).
✅ Do define values you authentically live by (both internally and externally), and then use your influence to amplify key causes and issues.
Let’s take a look at a good example in practice using Playstation.
In 2022, Sony Interactive Entertainment launched the PRIDE@PlayStation Employee Network (eNet). With this, they provide a platform for LGBTQIA+ employees and allies to share ideas and strengthen the company's commitment to inclusivity.
This isn’t a one-off initiative.
It’s a long-term commitment to advocating for diversity and inclusion.
When they infuse the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple stripes of Pride in their design, it doesn’t feel fake. It’s a continuation of the work they’re doing behind the scenes, and they’re using their huge following to make a publication declaration of their support and amplify the cause.
It doesn’t feel fickle - and this is the key.
Let’s look at the flip side of when/how this can go wrong:
In June 2020, following the death of George Floyd and widespread protests against racial injustice, many individuals and brands participated in the "Blackout Tuesday" campaign. The campaign involved posting a black square on social media as a symbol of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
However, some brands faced criticism for merely posting the black square without taking substantive actions to support the cause or address racial inequality. This led to accusations of performative activism, with many people arguing that these brands were using the campaign as a marketing tactic without actively supporting meaningful change.
Brands that participated in the campaign without demonstrating a genuine commitment to addressing racial injustice faced backlash from consumers and were seen as insincere in their support for social causes. This example underscores the importance of authentic and consistent action when aligning with socially trending movements.
Back in 2018, a fashion brand faced backlash on the back of their “Women’s Day” campaigns due to misalignment with their values.
They released an ad featuring women empowerment slogans and messages. However, it was quickly revealed that the brand had a history of underpaying female employees and hadn’t taken significant steps to address gender inequality.
The campaign was met with criticism and accusations of hypocrisy, as consumers and activists pointed out the brand's failure to practice what they were promoting. The brand's attempt to capitalize on a socially important day without aligning its actions with its proclaimed values led to negative publicity and damaged its credibility on gender equality issues.
This example highlights the importance of backing up social campaigns with genuine commitment and action.
Do values have value?
Before I wrap up, I just wanted to share some insights shared on the back of the LinkedIn poll I mentioned right at the start, asking people whether or not a company’s values influence their buying decisions.
“All the time! It’s important to support or not support companies that align with our values.”
Audrey Nesbitt, Chief Operating Officer at NXXT Golf
“Do values have value? I liked your question too. I think values indirectly create value in the sense that if people working for that business emulate good values they produce better outcomes, but they need to really believe in them and that belief only comes from watching others live up to the values and benefit from those values. So yeah, indirect. That’s my thesis.”
Frank Khan Sullivan, Fractional CMO/CSO for Cloud, Data & Tech Scaleups
“Yes, if a) I have a comparable choice, and b) I am aware of a company’s values, I will choose to spend my money with a business that is aligned with my values. I know that companies declaring their stance on matters is marketing stuff, but still.”
Nadja Antonova, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Backbase
“I wanna say yes, but if I’m truthful I think I’m just biased towards a nice, polite sales process. I like to think that the reason the person selling to me is nice, is somewhat to do with their company's values - but can’t always say it’s the case! I like working with good people, usually good people like working at good companies.”
Tom Barragry, Product Marketing Manager at MarkUp
“Values do or don’t filter down into the attitude, behavior, culture, and conduct of those employed by the business - that almost certainly has a bearing on my purchasing decision. So, indirectly, values are the things holding up performance (if you can lump principles in there with values).
“I also think it depends on how commoditized the product or service it is that you’re buying, whether the values have any bearing on brand equity and the distance between the people behind the brand and the purchaser… Most people are happy enough to buy from Ryanair as long they never ever have to talk to them and the flight runs on time. Is that because their values are working so well?
“Another way of looking at it is, “Do I have to engage with them?” Are they a grey thing on a shelf that could be swapped out at a moment’s notice or do you actually have to reflect on why you’d buy from them over someone else? I think consumers just don’t [have time to] care unless they need to be seen to care.”
Frank Khan Sullivan, Fractional CMO/CSO for Cloud, Data & Tech Scaleups
So, that’s my two cents worth on the building blocks of bringing your values into your content and marketing. What would you add?