Why Businesses Must Live By Their Brand Values

It takes two minutes to blow up your brand, here's how to avoid damaging situations.

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It takes two minutes to blow up your brand, here's how to avoid damaging situations.


Why Businesses Must Live By Their Brand Values

It takes two minutes to blow up your brand, here's how to avoid damaging situations.

Share this article

We often hear the phrase ‘living the brand’ used to describe someone who embodies the essence of a brand, but how does that translate into good business?

Values are the emotional part of a brand or business that give staff a reason beyond the practical ones (e.g. the right location, good salary etc.) for working at a company – and similarly they provide differentiation for consumers, getting them to look beyond price at more emotive reasons why they should want to buy a particular brand.

The need for clear organisational values is becoming stronger as both Millennials and Generation Z are famously looking more and more to engage with companies and brands that reflect their own values and ideals.

However, these days we all expect companies to be about more than just profit. Companies have a moral duty to ‘do the right thing’ and to be fair and honest; those that don’t threaten our social structures.

As our employers, and the providers of products or services that we need, organisations have a responsibility to be role models in just the same way as we expect well known individuals to be.

It’s not enough for a CEO to simply determine what those organisational values are; he needs to communicate them internally and externally, otherwise what’s the point of having them?

They should form the DNA of the company and, as such, need to be lived and breathed by all staff at all levels; everyone needs to know and understand what the business stands for and why, with clear policies explaining what the values mean in business practice and behaviour.

Senior management should have guardianship of the values built into their job descriptions – with measures in place to show that they are being upheld – as a form of ‘values policing’ to ensure that everyone in the company lives by them.

If values are clear and understood across the whole company, it makes it much easier and quicker for people to make decisions. Otherwise, values tend to just get forgotten or are over-ridden as they trickle down outside of HQ and people make decisions based on price, rather than on whether or not it is the right fit for the organisation’s ethos and ethics.

Instead of just having a leaflet or a policy document that is given to staff when they join and ends up at the bottom of a drawer, companies should invest time and money in making values central to the business and ensuring that they cascade down to all staff – be it through events, training, or newsletters.

When defining a business’s values, it’s important to reflect on whether those values are likely to be popular or ‘of the time’. For instance, if a company is all about offering the lowest possible prices then it needs to think about how it makes this possible while ensuring its values encompass fair and honest ways of achieving this.

For example, it’s not acceptable for a cheap fashion brand to use slave labour to maintain low prices. Therefore, they would need to be clear to staff about how to keep prices low, e.g. by having fewer items in a range, using technology to create cheaper fabrics, training out of work people and ensuring they are paid at least the minimum wage etc.

Once the brand’s values are established, senior teams must take responsibility to ensure that they are not compromised, even on what may seem to be a trivial level. Something like whether or not a man should open a door for a woman may breach a company’s values, for example.

Employing only white males in a business that expounds a message of inclusivity is an obvious no-no. Essentially, any decision that isn’t led by company values can compromise them.

A good example is Burberry. Last year they burned $37.8 million worth of unwanted goods to ensure their brand values of exclusivity were maintained.

They defended the practice by saying that they captured the energy generated from burning its goods but there was a massive backlash as people slammed the practice as hugely wasteful and bad for the environment.

Clearly directors had allowed the practice to go on as a means to adhere purely to its values of exclusivity, while ignoring how this would look externally.

They have now revised their policy for getting rid of excess stock, saying they will reuse, repair, donate or recycle all unsaleable products. In addition they have stopped selling fur and they are clear on their corporate page that they are championing positive change.

Another example is the Co-Op, which has long been known for its values as an ethical business championing change. Unfortunately the Co-Op Bank’s Chairman, Paul Flowers, appeared not to receive the memo.

Hence he had to step down when he was found guilty of possessing drugs and using the bank’s phones and computers to access premium rate chat lines to engage in sexually explicit conversations.

While having training days about the company’s values may not have changed Paul Flower’s behaviour, it seems that the company’s bad financial state at the time meant that people around him tolerated his behaviour as they tried to stop the bank collapsing.

However, in allowing behaviour that was so against the company’s ethos the situation became far worse than it would have been otherwise – making the job of saving the bank far harder.

More recently, there have been articles about Jose Mourinho not acting in a way that reflects the values of Manchester United. The football club should never allow him to be bigger than the organisation that he works for.

No one should be above the values of an organisation, however important they are.

It can take two minutes for a company to have its reputation damaged and many years to recover. By making senior directors responsible for managing organisational values it should be easier to avoid damaging situations.

Protecting the company’s values should be a key part of their role; when things go wrong they must held accountable.

Simon Wright is managing director, Greenwich Design and co-founder of The Chemistry Works.

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Why Businesses Must Live By Their Brand Values

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