Thursday, April 18, 2013

Brand Values: Be Consistent, Not "Nice"

Starbucks corporate social responsibility values are key to the brand -- because they position themselves as part of the community. Screenshot of Starbucks coffee cup label via Tara's Tidbits.

People get brand values (a.k.a. core values) mixed up with humanistic ones. They're not the same thing.

You, as a person, have a basic set of values. They are the principles that drive you as a human being -- your conscience. Your values may make you "not nice."

For example let's say these are your top three: freedom, integrity, and honesty. Freedom means choices; integrity means doing the right thing; honesty means not lying.

  • Standing up for freedom can mean fighting very vocally and sometimes physically. 
  • Integrity may mean turning in a thief. 
  • Honesty may involve a very direct and undiplomatic response to someone who's being deceitful.
All of those values are nice. None of those values involve being nice.

What is the purpose of having personal values? They are your compass; they guide you through life. They can be grounded in religion, or not.

The purpose of brand values is very different. They are your compass, too. But they're not about personal meaning. They are about adding value to the product you sell.

Brand values gain traction through consistency. The more you are who you say you are, the more believable your "promise." Meaning, the more credible you are when you say your product is worth more than a competitor.

That promise may be true or simply an illusion. But it is always founded on living the same values day in and day out.

Steve Jobs is one of my favorite examples on this. He valued innovation, simplicity, focus above all else. He was not known to be nice.

Porsche cars are luxurious, fast and showy. The salespeople treat you well. But not because they are nice people. Rather, they assume you are important.

McDonald's is not a luxury brand. The cashiers at McDonald's don't treat you especially nicely. But then again, you're paying for the dollar menu. It's not what they're about.

What is a brand that treats you nicely? Here's one: Trader Joe's. At this supermarket, the salespeople are all like, "Ho-ho-ho, welcome to the store," and they should be. They are selling an experience, they want you in the fantasy of a community, and to do that they have to reach out.

A long time ago I was part of a conference held at The Four Seasons in West Palm Beach. There ought to be a training series taught by the staff of The Four Seasons. I have never been treated so nicely in all my life. For the duration of that conference, the guests' feet were literally not allowed to touch the floor.

Niceness is a good quality to have. But it's not essential for brand.

Distinguishing the pursuit of brand equity from the quest to be a decent human being is important. You can definitely work on both. And every executive has to have some serious polish. But niceness as an end in itself is sort of meaningless.

Success in any sphere -- work, friendship, family, hobby, life -- means knowing what the goal is, having a strategy, and assessing whether that strategy is getting you there periodically. When it comes to personal values as versus those related to brand, it's very important to know your metric for each. And how you can realistically measure your progress.