Not Living Up to Your Core Values? Customers Can Tell

Posted by Sarah Clark on February 24, 2016


When a recent study polled customers about what traits they wanted to see from big brands, honesty about products and services topped the list. People care about not only the products a company sells, but also what the company stands for. Customers want you to be authentic about what you have to offer.

Fifty-three percent of customers say they make purchasing decisions based on social purpose when facing a choice between two brands of equal price and quality. This perception of what the business stands for is a crucial component of the brand.

As such, core values have to be more than meaningless words. They should constitute a message built from the ground up, reflect the characteristics that distinguish the brand from competitors, and underscore the marketing messages that reach people.

Determining the core values for a brand is a multilayered companywide process. Rather than articulate values that merely sound good — think “integrity,” “transparency,” and “authenticity” — it is important to identify ideals that actually reflect the company.


Knowing the Difference Between Values and Goals

Brands commonly confuse core values and aspirational goals. The latter refers to the direction in which the brand wants to move, but it does not describe the central building blocks that help define the company culture. The core values should outline common traits that set the company apart from rivals.

Consider the guiding philosophy Mark Zuckerberg has enshrined at Facebook. Employees are encouraged to “move fast and break things,” “make bold decisions,” and “[find] the biggest problems to work on.” It’s easy to see the echoes of these values as the company — barely more than a decade old — surpasses more than 1 billion users and becomes a medium of choice among democracy activists around the globe.

Businesses can get started developing their core values and then reflecting on them through these simple steps:

  1. Start at the top. Consider the values that mean the most to the brand’s leadership. Ask those at the top to think about the image they want to cultivate within the company and project to potential customers.
  1. Put pen to paper. Use these suggestions from the leadership team to write a draft describing the company values.
  1. Solicit feedback. Send this draft to people throughout the company, and ask for their thoughts. Ask them to think about an employee who represents the brand, and consider the traits that make this employee such a good embodiment of the organization.
  1. Do it again. Repeat the process as necessary to develop a core message that comprehensively represents the company.

These steps will set the foundation, but the work has only just begun. Brands need to make conscious decisions to strengthen their core values. That means making hiring decisions based on how well people can contribute to them. It means developing customer service procedures, employee guidelines, and an overall atmosphere that encompasses these ideals.

It also means that brand leaders have to set the tone. When the people in charge are living examples of the company values, it will be much easier for the culture to spread. Employees have an example to watch and learn from, helping team members to grow with the brand’s identity and share it with the customers with whom they interact.


Selecting an Agency to Project Authenticity

Once a brand has established its core values and what it wants to represent to clients, the next important stage is finding an agency that understands this vision and will promote these ideals.

At Mitchell, we place an emphasis on being a global brand but working locally. This is who we are, and we understand what works locally better than most. It is in our DNA, and we stay true to that. We activate PR and consumer marketing campaigns that connect brands directly to the people they want to have in their shops. This value helps us communicate better with our clients’ intended audiences. We can reach them on a local level and take the steps that are so critical to build brand loyalty between our clients and their customers.

A successful brand doesn’t achieve its goals simply out of luck. It pulls ahead of the pack because of an authentic message conceived at the top, reinforced by brand decisions, and allowed to permeate every corner of the business.

Sarah Clark is the president of Mitchell, an award-winning public relations firm that creates real conversations between people, businesses, and brands through strategic insights, customized conversations, and consumer engagement. The agency is headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with offices in Chicago and New York City. Mitchell is part of the Dentsu Aegis Network and has more than 300 offices in 145 countries. Clark is one of the top strategic communications professionals in the country, with more than 25 years of experience in corporate communications and an exceptional track record in protecting corporate reputations and redefining perceptions in key areas of business.

Topics: People, Culture, Authenticity