How to create brand values that aren't trite, meaningless, and forgettable

As part of the process of taking your Big Audacious Meaning out to the world, you will want to define your brand values. Think of these as guiding principles that establish what your brand believes and how it acts.

These are great guideposts that help ensure your Big Audacious Meaning comes to life in all your engagements with prospects.

Unfortunately, brand values too often receive no more than a cursory review. As a result we end up with 5 to 7 words that are supposed to represent what our brand believes and how it acts, but really seem rather uninspiring. The sad part is that it is easy to generate a passable list. Let me demonstrate. This list took me all of 30 seconds. 

  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Teamwork
  • Fairness
  • Excellence

Finding values that mean something to your brand

It's easy to treat brand values as a check-the-box exercise. And because it's also easy to criticize the whole process, I'm going to offer a method for discovering and defining brand values that are more meaningful, and even inspiring.

It starts with two questions.

  1. Think of the times in the past when the brand was at its best. What was it at those times that made it that way?
  2. Having defined our Big Audacious Meaning, imagine a time in the future when the brand fully embodies this purpose. What does the brand believe and how does it act to create this ideal future?

Write down the answers to these two questions. This is best done with your group of key stakeholders. Once you have all the answers compiled, put them up on the wall. Take time to field questions about what's up on the wall, reworking answers that may seem unclear to the group.

Then give your stakeholders 7 stickers. They can put  stickers on the values they believe are the most compelling. They don't have to choose 7. They can put two or three stickers on a value they feel particularly passionate about. 

When the voting is complete you should have 5 - 7 clear winners. You can stop here, but you may still have a list of 5 words like I threw together above. I recommend giving each a small story. This does two things. First, it gives the value context, showing the reader how it applies in his or her life. And second, it makes the value memorable, improving the chances of it coming to life in every expression and engagement. Here is an example. We could just list a single word:

Empathy

But, it is more powerful to tell a small story:

Before we respond in a challenging situation, we ask ourselves, "How would I want to be treated?"

Small stories help us see those values come to life. The first of Zappo's 10 core values is "Deliver WOW through service." They could of said, "customer service excellence" was their core value. But "WOW" tells a much richer story.

I'll bet you team members have a much better idea of how to deliver "WOW" than they do "customer service excellence".

The lesson in all this is that your brand values can be powerful assets. Assets that deserve more than a cursory review. Give them the attention they deserve. They'll return the favor by helping you bring to life what you believe as well as guide what you do. That will ensure that your Big Audacious Meaning can achieve everything it has the potential to do.