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Building a Brand Identity: Laying the Foundation for Core Values

Who are you as a company?

For a while now, our blogs here on CompanyCam have focused a little more on the cam part — which makes sense, as that’s what differentiates CompanyCam from Nintendo or Vera Bradley or NorthFace (and now you know what I keep in my living room, as I write). Cam is what CompanyCam does — and does darn well, if we do say so.

But today, and for the next few posts, I want to look more at Company — who you are as a business. Because who you are determines what you do, and having a clearly defined brand identity unlocks the door to how you operate, and how you use tools like CompanyCam to do it well.


There are a ton of reasons to have a strong brand identity, from the perspectives of leadership and human resources and operations. Any one of those pursuits justifies the time spent in developing an identity. But I’m a marketer, and so for the purpose of this series, I’m looking at how a brand identity, once it’s put together, can help direct your marketing, so you can tell the world who you are — and why you are.

This series will start with the building blocks of brand identity — your core values — before moving into a mission statement, and culminates with a tagline. You can’t go out of order on this; you need these pieces in this order. So today, let’s start at the beginning: your company core values.

Core-nerstones

The first thing to ask is what a core value is — and what it is not. Gino Wickman, in his book Traction, defines core values as a small set of vital and timeless guiding principles for your company.” Likewise, in his article in the July 2002 Harvard Business Review, Patrick Lencioni defines core values as the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones.”

Your core values should be the words that, when really boiled down, tell your company’s story. They’re what you want your company’s tombstone to say (obviously, 250 years into the future, because you’re building a business that will last). But these are more than just words. Your core values are what you ARE, not what you say you are.

Again, Lencioni says it best:

Coming up with strong values — and sticking to them — requires real guts. Indeed, an organization considering a values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that, when properly practiced, values inflict pain. They make some employees feel like outcasts. They limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people. They leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance. … But if you have the fortitude to see the effort through, you can learn some important lessons from the few companies that have adopted meaningful corporate values.”

To that end, if you’re going through the motions of throwing some nice-sounding words on a poster with a pretty landscape meant to inspire your employees…well, save your effort. The quickest way to derail your team is to be superficial about what your business is. When your team doesn’t believe in your business, it shows. But when you have real, genuine, core values that direct your company’s every action, and your team is bought into that vision from top to bottom…that’s when the magic happens.

Who are you?

So at this point, if you don’t have them already, come up with your company’s core values. There are a ton of ways to do that, but generally, you’ll want to have a few key players providing input (not the whole company, or you’ll never get anywhere). Who those people are will depend on your company’s structure.

By the time it’s all said and done, you will want to end up with 3 – 7 values — but as with most things in advertising, less is more. In a lot of cases, if you run out of fingers to count them on, you have too many.

Need some ideas on what these values might be? Here are a few well-known businesses with some excellent core values that define their people AND their work:

Who are you?

So at this point, if you don’t have them already, come up with your company’s core values. There are a ton of ways to do that, but generally, you’ll want to have a few key players providing input (not the whole company, or you’ll never get anywhere). Who those people are will depend on your company’s structure.

By the time it’s all said and done, you will want to end up with 3 – 7 values — but as with most things in advertising, less is more. In a lot of cases, if you run out of fingers to count them on, you have too many.

Need some ideas on what these values might be? Here are a few well-known businesses with some excellent core values that define their people AND their work:

Walt Dinsey World Resorts

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Courage
  • Openness
  • Diversity
  • Balance

The Honest Company

  • Create a Culture of Honesty
  • Make Beauty
  • Outperform
  • Service Matters
  • Sustain Life
  • Be Accessible
  • Pay it Forward
  • Fun!

Southwest Airlines

  • Warrior Spirit (Work Hard; Desire to the best; Be courageous; Display a sense of urgency; Persevere; Innovate).
  • Servant’s Heart (Follow the Golden Rule; Adhere to the Basic Principles; Treat others with respect; Put others first; Be egalitarian; Demonstrate proactive customer service; Embrace the SWA Family).
  • Fun-LUVing Attitude (Have FUN; Don’t take yourself too seriously; Maintain perspective (balance); Celebrate successes; Enjoy your work; Be a passionate Teamplayer).

These are all just examples, and some are certainly more general, but they are also tailored to some degree to each company’s work. They tell the company’s story by defining what the business finds important — and this leads us to the next step.

Your why” brings your who”

Again, there are a lot of reasons to define your company’s core values, from a growth and operation standpoint, but for this blog’s purpose, we’re focusing on the marketing side. When your business has well-defined core values — and lives them — it attracts the right people to you, both as customers and employees. Both are KEY to your marketing strategy!

First, your values are the why” to your business. They are what you find important. They are what drives you. They are what determine how you do business. And how you do business is how you should market yourself.

Is one of your values honesty? If you’re a roofing contractor, and the customer doesn’t need a new roof — be willing to tell them that, make that statement in your marketing, and live it out. Is one of them service? Use your advertising to show the community projects you’ve done or the charities you’ve helped.

On the flip side, unless one of your values is cheap” — don’t advertise your low prices. Why?

Simon Sinek says it best in his classic Ted Talk that’s worth all 17 minutes of watching: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And you have the opportunity, in your marketing, to tell them why you do it.

For example: Company A’s advertising says: We have the best prices on widgets! We won’t be undersold.” Company B’s advertising says: We look for ways to make our community stronger, and we do it by selling great widgets that we stand behind.”

Which company are you buying widgets from? At best, Company A’s advertising is simply unmemorable; more deeply, it says they value money over quality. But Company B lets their core values tell their story, too, and attracts the type of customers we all want — the loyal ones who might even be willing to pay more for quality, who aren’t interested in cheap fly-by-nights but want things done right. It’s worth repeating: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Your core values tell the story of why you do business. Therefore: tell people your carefully-selected, well-defined, always-lived-out core values.

But as many of us in the contracting world know, a good chunk of your business doesn’t even come from paid advertising — it’s from word-of-mouth referrals or previous customers. At White Castle Roofing, this makes up more than half of our calls and requests for service. As our advertising director, I can put together the most amazing ad campaign in the world, but if we give people a poor experience and we lose that customer base, we’re done. Your customers’ experience is up to the people who work for you, and your core values should be directing how you staff your company.

Lee Cockerell, former Executive Vice President for Operations at Walt Disney World Resorts, writes in his book, Creating Magic:

Great leaders not only know what their values are but allow those values to guide their every decision. At Walt Disney World Resort, Cast Members are expected to follow seven core values, and every leader works hard to make those values a living reality. … Those values have paid huge dividends in service excellence, Cast Member loyalty, and bottom line results.”

What does this mean? When your core values direct your hiring and human resources decisions, you wind up with a staff of people who embody what’s important to your business, and they tell your company’s story simply by doing their work — and in doing so, advertise your why”.

So your advertising needs to be on two fronts: outward, to your customers, and inward, to your team. Teach your core values and your mission statement (which we’ll cover next time) regularly. Use them to recognize great employees who live them out, and use them to determine who you hire, promote, or even dismiss. Post them around your business, both for employees and customers to see. Incorporate them into your very first interview with potential employees, and include them in your new hire orientation and training. When your staff tells your why”, it’s the most effective marketing you can have.


So to wrap it all up: Tell the world who you are by what you value. When they know who you are — and WHY you are — you’ve got something worth buying.

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