The way businesses have treated their staff or customers through the Covid-19 crisis has been revealing for many of us and, to some, left a nasty taste in the mouth.
From the way they’ve dealt with pay or redundancies, to managing customer refunds or ensuring the visitor safety, we like to think that most businesses have worked from a premise of doing what’s right.
Although we can all appreciate the unique difficulties many are facing, some companies seem to have a stronger handle on what’s right for their brand in the long term than others, as some actions seem set to hit reputations hard.
At any time, most companies claim to have strong values and make the effort to have them clearly defined. This is fantastic. Staff need to understand how to represent the brand, how to develop products that strengthen an agreed philosophy or deliver a service in a way that’s consistent across the organisation. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
But how much do I, as a customer, really care about your values? Should they be reserved for your
internal communications or does it boost your business if you promote them to the outside world?
When you meet someone for the first time, you don’t expect them to lay their values out on the table. I don’t walk up to you at a networking event and say “Hello, my name’s Vicki from Dugmore Jones and my brand believes in integrity, honesty and the power of enduring relationships.” If I did, you’d pretend you’d spotted someone you knew and bolt to the other side of the room.
It is feels generally more effective to exhibit what’s important to us, both as brands and individuals, in a more subtle way, through actions and behaviours and pervading the way we tell our stories.
Researching suppliers of a particular service for a client recently, I got varying responses that made me scratch my head. For a level playing field, I emailed several suppliers the same request. One rang me immediately, followed up quickly on our chat, was responsive and engaging. We met, we got on, the quote was fine.
From all that responded, I could see that what they’d all deliver for my client would be comparable and generally a similar price. But the job went to the one who engaged in the more personable and genuine way. I don’t know whether their work will be better or worse than the others, but I sense it’s all going to be absolutely fine. Just a few conversations revealed a shared approach and attitude, and all without needing a bulleted ‘vision and values’ page to cross-reference against. However, I suspect their team knows exactly what those bullet points are.
I’ve known organisations be highly successful without having values clearly defined, but only where there was strong leadership that inherently demonstrated what they believed to be right for the organisation. And, which I suspect is a major factor, only in small teams where open communication with all staff is easily maintained.
I’ve seen an example of a team attempting to retro-fit values into a culture that was starting to fragment, only to see deeper cracks emerge. This demonstrated to me that, even in a small team, ensuring your staff understand what the brand represents from the early stages of its development not only helps them become your brand champions, but builds a stronger foundation from which the brand can grow.
Externally, your potential customer benefits by having clear sense of what your brand stands for. If you’re not in a market or environment where articulating values through your products and services (such as using ethically sourced materials to reinforce environmental sustainability), your marketing and advertising are the place where your audience gets to learn more about what matters to you.
Although clear values may not directly boost sales, a lack of them seems to make building and sustaining a business that much more problematic.
Most consumers care how you behave, rather than how you say you’re going to behave. So, where does communicating your values fit in your marketing, communications and sales mix?
Well, as always, that’s entirely up to you but my take would be ‘in the background’. We can compare communicating your values externally to baking: they’re not the icing on your brand cake, but an essential ingredient within the mix.
It’s like the pinch of salt in baking that’s indiscernible to taste but it enhances all the other flavours and keeps your customers coming back for another bite.