Why your brand values probably aren’t great

Most brands fail to get their core values right. But then some don’t, and those brands all have something in common.

Too often we think brands are just corporate entities, designed to sell us coffee and bank accounts. But ‘brand’ runs deeper. Take superstars like Kylie Minogue or Bjork. They don’t have logos. They don’t have design guidelines. Instead they’re brands built on something much, much stronger.


All marketeers are aware of ‘core values’. They live, locked up in brand ladders, onions and doughnuts in marketing presentations. They’re sort of the fluffy bit, before you get to the big sexy idea.

But I’ll let you into a little secret. Take a step back, and a harder look at those fluffy values. Because the really successful brands are the ones that hit them on the head first, transforming their organisations.


Good brands are defined by the personalities beneath them.


Values are what make you care about a brand. They humanise them, slowly helping shape a tangible personality.

They are what defines you far more clearly in the consumers’ (and your internal staffs’) mind, and have far more longevity and tangible value than any clever slogan. They elevate brands. Give them meaning, and a soul.

The best don’t even need words. You can already sense what they are. What the depth and meaning is behind their logos, photos and design.

Think of Coca Cola and Red Bull. Virgin and British Airways. Converse with Nike. And yes, Lady Minogue and Dutchess Bjork. Same product. Different personalities.  

And it’s on this is where most brands trip up.

Granted, they’re much harder to articulate than you think. So most businesses end up squeezing as much strategy as they can into a collection of corporate words, losing all meaning and impact. They become generic and indistinct.

Agencies are guilty of it too. Presentations are won and lost on the ‘big reveal’ moments. So our jazzy creative decks tend to build to a dramatic crescendo - the big campaign idea - the hero shot. Soft and complex core values just slow things down.

So below is a starter for ten on how to counter that. How to pause and figure out more accurately what those values could be.

01. Think about behaviour.

Values shouldn’t be about the organisation - but the people within it. They should be pointers to help guide their behaviour. How to talk, how to sell, how to innovate, how to make decisions. Make them pointers for how to behave – not corporate-speak.

02. Three. Simple. Ideas.

For values to be useful, they need to be remembered. And the brain remembers lists of three. Plus, keep them simple. If you find yourself writing “Positively welcoming?”, try ‘friendly’. “Elegantly reductive?” Just say ‘simple’. Pretend you’re talking to a six-year-old – it’ll make your language much, much stronger.

03. Think inside out.

Read your values. Then ask yourself, would they interest and excite you enough to want to work for your company today? If the answer is no, then why would you want to buy from them? Focus your values inward on your team first. It’s much easier to build advocates in the outside world, once you have some within.

04. Ask your team first.

It’s impossible for core values to change a culture a full 180. They need to also reflect what you really are. So instead of just briefing an agency to discover what makes you tick, insist that they talk to your people first. It’ll lend whatever you create more internal credibility and be much more likely to nudge behaviour the right way. 

05. Don’t be afraid of NO.

Values work best when they tell you what not to do. We find ours come to life most strongly when we’re each held to account by them or when we filter a tricky decision through them. If you have values that just say YES to everything you put in front of them - they’re not working.

06. Try the ‘intern test’

Still struggling? Imagine you’re an intern, fresh in the door. At your induction, you’re told your new values are ‘engagement’, ‘dynamic partnerships’ and ‘equality and diversity’. Then ask - honestly - what does that really tell me? How is that going to change the way I behave?

Finding them isn’t easy, but is easily worth it when you do. If you need more support, then drop us a line. We’d be happy to help.