Building Your B2B Startup’s Core Values for Success
Reading Time: 6:25 minutes well spent
When building a startup, most Founders work according to a mental check list.
- Create innovative product Tick.
- Make sure product works. Tick
- Raise seed funding. Tick
- Hire staff to help me get it off the ground. Tick
- Build customer base. Tick
Startup founders love working their way down, across and back up the list, ticking off the successful achievements and adding more goals along the way. What we have found from working with startups on their B2B marketing is that while they are eager to talk about how their ‘baby’ is going to change the world, they often skip over defining the core values of their business.
It’s Not All About the Product
Core values are the basis of a company’s DNA. They are the set of guiding principles that define what the organization stands for. Your startup’s core values support the vision, shape the culture and reflect the attitude of the company.
All too often, startup marketing focuses on the product and leaves developing the company’s values to later down the line. Unfortunately, this approach is shortsighted.
Brand values are the bread and butter of a business, not an afterthought.
Case in point, 72% want brands to be positive contributors to society, and 53% say they feel connected to a brand whose values align with their own. An Australian study carried out in early 2020 found that trust and brand reputation were as or more important to consumers than price when it came to making purchasing decisions. So important was trust, in terms of integrity, that 54% said they would buy again from a brand, even following a negative experience, if trust had not been broken.
The lesson is one that Better.com’s CEO would have done well to learn before he decided to fire 900 employees over Zoom in early December. Recordings of the call went viral after he accused the employees of stealing from their customers by not being productive.
He also blamed the layoffs on a changing market, but failed to mention the $750 million cash injection investors had handed over the previous week. The fallout was severe: three senior executives quit in protest, a culture of bullying was made public, and the CEO was forced to apologize.
So it seems that sometimes it actually does pay to be nice, AKA, behave ethically!
In a recent presentation, Ariella Jackson, Mentor at Google, claimed that branding is ‘the beacon of light you shine to the world’. In many ways, branding is the contextual representation of your values.
Developing it requires defining the 3 Ps of your company; Purpose, Position and Personality. These factors are what shape your company’s core values and define how you conduct business. That’s why they need to be decided in conjunction with building your product - not later on. From branding and hiring, to building your customer base and office culture, a startup’s values should exist from the start of their journey, onwards.
Building Brand Values for Success: Marketing Envy’s 4 Step Guide
Step 1: Start With Messaging and Positioning
As a marketing agency, the first thing we do as part of the project kickoff with startups is a ‘messaging session.’ This is the most important activity in startup marketing. The main focus of messaging is to decide on the company’s ‘mission and position’ - how they perceive themselves, what they are here to do and how they want their potential customers to perceive them.
All too often, this is the first time that Founders have taken the time to stop and think about their values and purpose. Positioning defines your brand’s personality, but to decide the overall values of the brand, you need to define the purpose of your product itself.
By the end of the workshop we get answers to these tough questions:
For (target customer)
Who (statement of need or opportunity) (Product name) is a (product category)
That (statement of key benefit)
Unlike (competing alternative) (Product name) (statement of primary differentiation)
So if you were marketing Gmail you would write (thanks Ariella):
For email users
Who get a ton of emails, Gmail is a free webmail service,
That lets you search rather than sort
Unlike other webmail providers, Gmail is always ahead when it comes to email features and integrates well with other Google apps.
Once this is established, we start the discussion of how this translates into a brand.
Would you like your brand to be perceived as personable, friendly and approachable or as a large corporation with good service but process driven? Do you prefer Apple’s cutting edge feel or IBM’s well established look? The answers to these questions tie into how the brand aims to build its personality.
This is the table we give to clients when we ask them to rate themselves and how they would like to be positioned.
Hot startup marketing tip: You’ll notice that number 4,5 and 6 are missing, on purpose. That's because positioning your company in the middle of a scale is a sure way to find yourself with ‘vanilla’ marketing and a set of core values that are bland, boring and easy to forget. So we ignore these numbers altogether.
Establishing the personality of your brand and the purpose of your product is what is going to define your company values.
Step 2: Recruitment - Finding Your Brand Ambassadors
Ok so positioning and messaging is done. Now you have to start living up to it by building a team who are going to help promote your company’s values and help you reach unicorn status. In 2022, this is your next BIG challenge.
In our experience, whether they are your first hire or your twenty-fifth, the VP of sales or the office admin, you need to remember the following when hiring an employee.
CVs and the human touch:
We're not going to go into the debate of whether a CV in the LinkedIn era is still relevant. As long as they accurately cover the applicant's experience and credentials, they're same same. Yes, the applicant's CV is important as it’s the only way you can really decide who is worth making the time to interview, but it’s far from being the only factor. Tom Gimbel, CEO and founder of staffing and recruiting firm LaSalle Network says ‘hard skills’ are not relevant when trying to build and maintain your company values. "Consider focusing on soft skills — like interpersonal skills, communication skills, thought processes and emotional intelligence — because they are what matter."
How many years of experience a prospective employee has and how well they know to operate certain tools might actually be less important than their personality. If their personal values fit in with the values of your brand then you have a winner. For example, if your business is built on quick service as a core value -- you need energetic people who are taskmasters. This is hard to judge from a CV.
Round pegs for round holes:
Having a clear vision of what (or who) you want is an advantage... Much like defining your marketing personas. For us, it is always important to find independent thinkers that are willing to give things a go on their own. At the same time, all companies have their way of ‘doing things’ and it is equally important to us that a new team member is willing to quickly adapt to our processes, work ethic and the pace of our work day.
Startups move as small combat units working in a small space so making sure that every member of the group is on the same page is critical to achieving the goals.
Step 3: Finding the Right Customers
Building your startup’s values includes selecting the appropriate customers. Those who align with what your company deems as important as well.
The new startup status does not mean you can’t be picky when it comes to choosing who your company works with. If you are a business that needs to work closely with your customers, you need to first decide whether you actually believe in their product. Does it work for or against your company’s values? Do you really want to be working with the Ashley Madisons of this world? Weapons manufacturers? Gambling sites?
Consider whether working with specific customers fits in with your own business goals. Are they local, international or both? Are they the company size you were aiming for or were you hoping for bigger/smaller? Will it harm my company’s ‘street cred’ to work with the same type of company the whole time or is that what is going to make me a valued market player?
More importantly, consider whether they are the sort of people you are going to want to work with. Will they be too demanding on your resources and time? Building the right customer base is an extremely important feature to building your startup’s core values and being low on cash is no reason not to work to get it right. You won't get to unicorn status if you target and work with the wrong type of customers...
Step 4: Workplace Culture
Creating the right ‘culture’ for your office doesn’t mean hanging hammocks from the walls and ordering pizza for your workers (although they will love you for it). It means building an overall environment that reflects the goals and values of your company.
How to create a kick-ass culture
Ensure work/life balance - We're bored of hearing it too, but it’s true. A strong corporate culture drives corporate success. One extensive, 11-year-long research project found that companies with performance enhancing cultures increased their revenue by 495% over the research period on average, against an average increase of 166% for companies which did not. That’s means that simply by valuing and empowering employees, companies can increase their revenue four-fold While it’s important to ensure your company is known for hard-work and success, employees are more likely to uphold company values if they are content at work.
Reward your clients and your workers - Show both your customers and employees how much they are valued. Whether it be interacting with them on Twitter or sending thank-you gifts, showing customers that they are important to you is vital. But it’s not just about customers. Whether it is a birthday gift, a voucher or a fun night out, it is equally as important to show your workers how much they are valued when building a positive work environment.
In 2022, it's more like unicorns running Michelin star restaurants on the 30th floor, so you have to really stand out. How? Consider what your employees want and put thought and effort into making it happen, be it shorter work weeks, more work from home or something else - know your employees.
Do something truly valuable - A global study of more than 8,000 consumers across eight countries found that the vast majority supported companies with a purpose - 83% thought companies should only earn a profit if they also deliver a positive impact. Google, PayPal and Airbnb are all jumping on board community service and it’s a great way to show customers what you deem as important.
Encourage feedback from everyone - The same rule applies everywhere - whether you're a unicorn or a small early stage startup - when it comes to feedback. A healthy workplace culture relies on your clients and workers knowing that they can openly share their feedback, thoughts and suggestions. Opening your mind to other people’s ideas is also more likely to help you build and grow.
Putting the value on something priceless
So, when’s the right time to deal with your brand's core values? On Day One!
Your business doesn’t start and end with the product. Take the time from day one to define your brand position, personality and purpose. This process will help you to determine your brand’s core values and once they have been decided, you have laid the groundwork for deciding who you are, which clients you work with and your overall workplace culture. It may take time and effort, but creating core brand values is truly priceless.
Clearly defined strong set of brand values. Tick