I explain what brand values are, why they’re so important, and give examples of where a brand’s values have worked – and where they’ve caused a PR nightmare!
Hi, everyone. My name is Cat, and I work in the RocketMill Content Team as a Senior Content Strategist. Today, I’m going to talk to you today about something that I mentioned in one of my previous talks: The Art of Editorial Guides. In that talk, I mentioned two other things as well. I mentioned brand tone of voice, and brand values.
Today, I’m going to talk to you about brand values. First of all, I want to draw attention to this talk. This is a talk that our MD, Sam, did about why brands need to be more politically relevant. And whilst I recommend you check it out after this video, it’s not going to stop you from understanding mine, but it’s going to help provide you with more context and really reinforce the importance of what I’m going to be talking about today – which is basically: Bonfires and Why Brand Values Matter. Or, as I like to say: “burning shit, and why brand values matter”.
So, New Balance shoes, you put shoes on your feet. New Balance are an American company. They’re based in Boston. They also have a factory in the UK. One of their core brand values is all about local manufacturing. They really care about this, they’re so passionate about it. They try and keep production close to the heart and the home. They give jobs to the local community. It sounds fantastic, and they make nice shoes, so you’re thinking: “This sounds really great.”
What the hell? What happened? What went so wrong?
Some of you may have missed this, but a little while back, loads of New Balance customers took to social media and burnt their shoes. These shoes are really expensive, so why were these people so mad? Because they were real mad, they were real, real mad! They went onto Twitter and they burnt all their shoes. They called out the company. It was an absolute PR disaster.
So why did brand values cause customers to burn their shoes? What could have been so wrong? What could have happened? We’ll get on to that in a minute, but let’s talk about brand values first.
So what are brand values? The definition of values in the Oxford Dictionary, is basically what you care about in life. What is important in life? So that is a value. So, if you apply that to a brand, it’s basically what a brand considers to be important in life.
I’m going to leave it to Seth here to basically explain what brand values are, because Seth is a really, really good author. I really recommend you check out some of his books. He’s written some great stuff on marketing and storytelling and brand authenticity. But basically, what he’s just trying to say is, a brand’s value is based on what story, what dream, what causes, you are selling that would make a consumer buy your stuff over someone else’s. So that’s essentially what it is.
We’ve established what brand values are, but why are they important? How can you identify your brand values? I’m going to use a really simple example.
This is Boxed Water, pretty much does what it says on the box. It sells boxed water. Their core brand values surround sustainability, being environmentally friendly, and charitable. So, if I was going to actually illustrate those brand values, they’d look a little bit like this.
You’ve got charitable and environmental, the core, main issues that they care about. Those are issues though, they’re not really your brand values as of yet. So where do your brand values sit within the issues that you care about? Pretty much in the centre.
Your brand values need to be the heart of your brand, basically. They need to encompass everything you care about. They need to sit right in the centre. If effects everything that your brand is about from your products, to the people you hire, to the consumers you’re trying to target.
I know you’re thinking, “Right. That’s really easy to care about the environment and be charitable. But what happens if I’m not about the children or the trees? What else am I supposed to do?”
Honestly, brand values can be based around or built around anything. They don’t have to even really be that noble. They can just be really simple, like I don’t know, making people laugh, making people happy. Or you can tackle something bigger.
Whatever it is, you can build your brand values around anything. Just make sure you build them on something, because without them, you don’t really have a product that’s unique. You’re just another brand selling some more shit to people.
Why do brand values matter? Like I pretty much said earlier, they are the heart of your brand. They are the heart of your company. They should be literally the first thing you have before you have a brand or a product.
They do so many other things that I’ve listed in these bullet points as well. But the key point I’m trying to make is, you can’t just be another person selling more shit, selling some more stuff to consumers. You have to have something that makes you different. You have to have something that will make people care about your brand more so than anyone else’s.
So okay, how do brand values actually sell products, because it’s nice to have them, but if they’re not going to actually make me money, then why should I even bother? You should, and I’m going to tell you why.
This is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s basically an illustrated graph of what humans aim for, what they need in order to become a fully developed, happy human being. It works from bottom to top.
You’ve got your physiological needs here. These are your basics. I should say that this hierarchy of needs, depending on what you sell, as a brand, you can aim to target different tiers on this hierarchy. So physiological needs, food, water, your basics. Unless you’re a supermarket, you shouldn’t really be targeting this. Most people have this covered, so we can skip this.
Safety needs, most consumers have this covered already, so unless you sell padlocks, again, this is not the tier that you should be targeting.
Okay, so those two are what I call the survival tiers, so the real basics in order to have a happy, safe life. So, we’re now going into what I call the happiness tiers. Belonging and love needs, okay, unless you’re a dating app, you don’t need to target this either. You know what I mean? Padlocks are not going to help you find love, broccoli isn’t going to help you find love, so this is not the tier you should be targeting.
That just leaves esteem needs. I genuinely believe that most consumer brands that are not integral to human survival, should be targeting this particular tier. This is why your brand values need to fulfil this particular need in the hierarchy. Your brand needs to make people feel good, whatever that is. You need to make people safe: “Buy our broccoli. It makes you feel good. Buy our padlock. It makes you feel good because you feel safe.” I would argue that every consumer brand needs to target this tier.
So, examples of this, Toms. So, Toms sells shoes, not really integral to survival, but the unique thing about Toms is, they sell shoes, and when you buy a pair of their shoes, they give a pair of shoes to an underprivileged person in the world.
So, if you’re looking at two pairs of shoes about the same price, and you like the style, this is probably going to make you feel a little bit better about buying them. You get a pair of shoes, and you’re doing good. It’s making the consumer feel good.
Cards Against Humanity, so this is a really good example of a brand that isn’t trying to be noble. Their brand values centre purely on being funny and offensive. This is it. It doesn’t even have to be serious, but people love them for it. That’s what they base their whole brand about, just being funny, and being a little bit of laughter and offensive humour.
Ben & Jerry’s, they sell ice cream. Ice cream’s not integral to human survival, but it makes life a little bit more fun. So, what makes Ben & Jerry’s so different? One of their core brand values outside of just making good ice cream, is their consumers, their customers. They want everyone to have a happy life. They want everyone to be able to marry whoever they want. And it’s really a core part of their business offering, so much so that they basically did this protest in Australia, because they care that much about it.
Finally, we’ve got Nike as well. It’s a really good example of a big brand, who, they don’t have the charitable angle. They don’t have really the environmental angle either, so what are they trying to sell? What are their brand values? Why should I buy Nike?
Their core values centre around one saying, which is basically: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” That’s it. They want to sell you shoes, so you can go and be the best athlete, dancer, runner, climber, that you can possibly be. It’s that simple. They’re very honest about that.
Speaking of shoes, let’s go back to New Balance. So, what happened to New Balance, and why did their brand values cause such a stir? How did it go so wrong? Trump. Trump happened, that’s why it went so wrong.
Because New Balance, their whole brand values centre on being local manufacturing. They care about local jobs. It was horribly misinterpreted. A lot of people viewed their support of Trump, who was basically saying: “Let’s keep all these jobs in America. Let’s not put them abroad. Let’s keep them over here.” Well it was horribly misinterpreted by their customers, who then thought: “Well, you basically don’t want to give any jobs to any immigrants. This doesn’t make any sense.” And people who did support the cause and misinterpreted it, took it really the wrong way, and said they were shoes for white people, which led New Balance to respond pretty quickly saying: “We don’t tolerate bigotry or hate.” And while you’re reading it, if you notice on the last line, I almost think it’s kind of noble in sort of a sad way that they really still stick to their brand values saying that: “We are still committed to manufacturing in the United States.”
So, whilst it’s kind of an apology, they have stuck to their values and gone: “We still believe in this. We’re sorry you misinterpreted this, but we’re not letting this go.” I’m not defending them. I’m just saying that when you come up with your brand values, you need to make sure that not only are you loyal to your brand values, and they make sense with the product and the consumer you’re trying to target, but also, everyone understands your brand values, not just you, not just the higher ups, not just the people who develop the product or the brand, your customers and your consumers need to understand, and your staff need to understand, because if not, it can be horribly misinterpreted.
So you’re thinking: “Right, okay, I understand that, but really, does it really matter if someone misinterprets my brand values? I’m still selling a good product. Why does it matter? I really don’t need to bother.” This is why it matters, because another brand, your competition will jump up and take your consumers from you, your customers from you, and they will paint you off as the bad guy even if you were never the bad guy really in the first place.
So when you come to make your brand values, like I said before, please make sure that you are loyal to them, and that when you do come up with your brand values, everyone from your staff to your consumers understands. Otherwise, you could potentially lose out on people who really like your product, and you probably haven’t really done anything wrong.
Thank you so much.