Uncovering Authentic Brand Values Through Brand Research

A critical component of your brand platform, brand values, are an expression of your organization’s principles and culture—a representation of what you stand for—and they are becoming increasingly important as audiences have come to expect brands to uphold the same values they carry as individuals. A trend that continues as younger generations become a target demographic. In fact, 90 percent of millennials say authenticity drives their decision to support a brand compared to 85 percent of Gen X and only 80 percent of boomers.

Have your customers describe your brand in 2-3 words. Their immediate thoughts will shed light on the values behind their decision to do business with your company.

Brands like Honest Company, Starbucks, Nike, and P&G that are taking a stance on social and environmental issues consistently rank better with millennials than they do with baby boomers on Enso’s world value index. Looking at Generation Z, we’re seeing brand authenticity is attracting more devotees who are willing to advocate for their favorite brands. These trends indicate your organization not only needs to establish brand values, but brand values that truly represent who you are.

Incorporating a core values discovery into your brand research process will help you discover how you can authentically represent what you stand for as an organization. This research can be conducted through one-on-one interviews, online surveys, or workshops—whatever tools will help you understand the values of your organization as your internal and external audiences perceive them. This context is key. Claiming values that aren’t already inherent within your organization will be perceived as inauthentic and ultimately erode brand perception.

Pull From Your Own Experience

Sometimes it can be difficult to come up with values that separate you from the pack. It’s easy to say you value things like trust, honesty, and on-time delivery, but your audience has heard all this before. To unearth unique values that actually deepen your audience relationships, think about experiences you’ve had as a customer – both negative and positive.

Then think about how each of those experiences made you feel and write down the values associated with these feelings. For the positive experiences, pull out the values you think your organization naturally embodies. For the negative experiences, consider corresponding positive values you can offer where these other companies are falling short.

Remember to Involve Everyone

Every individual in your organization contributes to your values and how they’re presented to your customers. Beyond the external experience, brand values also manifest in the way your employees treat each other. This makes it doubly crucial that each value accurately represents your organization as a whole. This means having conversations with representatives from as many areas of your business as possible.

Use the experience exercise you completed to start the conversation. Find out what’s important to them as individuals and ask how they see those values represented in their work and the way they interact with coworkers. Talk to leadership about the vision for the company and how they see brand values driving that vision. Ask customer service what they’d like to see the company improve on to better align with what they think your customers value. Ask your sales team what value messages resonate most with your customers throughout the sales process.

Including Your Customers

You can’t come right out and ask your customers what they think your values are. But, you can ask questions that will give you a glimpse into what they value about your brand. Ask them to explain why they chose your brand in two to three sentences. Then have them describe your brand in just two to three words. These most immediate thoughts will shed light on the values behind their decision to do business with your company.

Find Themes in What You Heard

Document your findings and sift through what you heard from the different areas of your company and your customers. Chances are you’ll start to see common themes arise. Some of the employees might be proud of the advancements you’re making in your industry—Discovery. Maybe a customer chose your brand because your product is accessible to people of all abilities—Empathy. Perhaps you got a lot of responses about your company’s commitment to sustainability—Conscientious. Assign values to each of these themes, then determine the top four to six that best represent your brand.

Define Clearly

It’s important everyone in your organization understands how to embody your brand values. They will guide decisions across every department, function, and individual. Add definition around what exactly your values mean to your unique organization and explain how they should be carried out. Give examples of how your values might be applied in practical day-to-day situations. Everyone in your company should understand the role they play in upholding the values they helped define.

Incorporate Across All Branding and Touchpoints

Your values are the foundation of how you do business, impacting every action you take and decision you make as a brand and as a team. These include decisions around the visual representation of your brand as well as the messaging. While you don’t need to include literal references to your values in every touchpoint, they should come through in how you talk about your products, the conversations your sales team is having, the images you use on your website, the meaning behind your logo, and the way you interact with each other. If your branding, marketing, and overall operations don’t align with your values, you’ll lose the authenticity your audience is hungry for.