Marketing Envy’s 4-step guide to building winning core startup values
Let’s be honest, when it comes to startups, focusing on creating your brand values and an enviable startup culture may not be your number 1 priority. This is understandable as there is a near endless stream of daily tasks to accomplish.
Most Founders intuitively start with a mental checklist. This often includes (important) aspects, such as:
- Reaching a product-market fit
- Raising seed funding
- Hiring excellent team
- Building a go-to-market plan
- Securing a beta customer base
Startup founders love working their way down, across, and back up the lists such as these. Ticking off the successful achievements along the way no doubt adds a sense of accomplishment.
However, 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 their startup values. This is a BIG mistake!
It’s Not All About the Product
Brand values are more than just fancy words, they are the basis of a company’s DNA. They are the set of guiding principles that define your startup's culture and what your organization stands for. Your startup values will help support your overall vision, shape the company culture, and reflect the modus operandi of your company. Ensuring those values align with your target audiences’ will lead to a headstart on the road to success.
“A brand’s strength is built upon its determination to promote its own distinctive values and mission.” — Jean-Noel Kapferer
To prove this point, 72% of consumers want brands to be positive contributors to society, and 53% say they feel connected to a company whose brand values align with their own. Another 2022 study found that trust and brand reputation was as or more important to consumers than price when it comes to making purchasing decisions.
But what happens if you fail in this regard?. In 2021, Vishai Gard, CEO of Better.com decided it would be wise to fire 900 employees…. On a Zoom call! Well, as you can probably imagine, the recording of the call went viral not long after. While multiple reasons were given for the layoffs, from employees supposedly being unproductive, to a changing market, the heat was turned up on the company, with multiple executives resigning and the company being forced to issue a formal apology. This resulted in the share price of the company dropping by over 13% in just 1 month as their audience felt the company’s brand values did not align with their own.
The 3 P's of Brand Values
So this is all well and good, but how can you actually create and define your brand values? It might seem like a difficult thing to do, but in reality, it can be broken down by defining the 3 P’s of your business:
- Purpose - What is the purpose of your business
- Position - Where do you stand in the market and where do you aspire to be
- Personality - How do you want to get there
The 3 factors work in unison to help you shape your startup values by defining how you engage in business. Yes, product and service are incredibly important but do not overlook your brand values as they are ‘the beacon of light you shine to the world’ as Ariella Jackson, Mentor at Google so eloquently put it.
4 steps to building your company’s brand values
1. Start With Messaging and Positioning
As a marketing agency, the first thing we do with startups is run a messaging session/workshop. Why? Because it’s VERY important to define the company’s mission and position, right out the gate. It is important to understand how you perceive yourself, what you’re here to do, and how you want your potential customers (and employees) to perceive you.
Before we dive any deeper, ask yourself an honest question - Have you ever actually taken the time to consider this before? If the answer is no, don’t worry. It is easy to overlook defining your startup values. By the end of any branding workshop, you should 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)
Using this layout as an example, let's say you are marketing Gmail. Here you would write:
- For email users
- Who gets 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.
Lots of companies and brands struggle with answering these questions the first time. But once this structure is established, you can start looking at how your value proposition translates into brand values. For example:
- 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?
- Do you want to be perceived as high-end or value for money?
The answers to these questions tie into how your brand aims to build its personality.
If you need a little help with this part, here is the table we give to our clients when we ask them to rate themselves and how they would like to be positioned.
Hot startup marketing tip: You’ll notice that numbers 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. If you place your brand here, it likely means nobody particularly likes or dislikes your positioning… They probably just feel a bit… Meh. Don’t be a vanilla brand!
2. Recruitment - Finding Your Brand Ambassadors
Once you have defined your startup values, it’s time to start the work of building your dream team! Your team should reflect your values. This should always be front of mind when recruiting new employees, whether they are your 1st or 1,000th hire.
CVs vs. the human element
Firstly, we’re not here to debate whether a CV is still relevant with this little social media channel called LinkedIn floating around (You’ve probably heard of it). Regardless, a CV is not the only factor that should be considered when recruiting. 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 brand 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 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. For example at Marketing Envy, we love proactive problem solvers who are willing to try things out (and who may or may not be a little crazy…). If these are also important qualities for you, your choice of employees should reflect this. 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 workday.
A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other. - Simon Sinek
3. Finding the Right Customers
Fun fact: According to the Future of Commerce report, 41% of brands plan to be more transparent about the brands vision, goals and progress, and values in the coming years. Ask yourself why you think this is? The answer is simple - Because it’s important to their customers (and therefore also important for companies’ bottom lines!).
Building your startup's culture and brand values includes ensuring they align with your target audience. In other words, those who align with what your company deems as important issues - societal or otherwise.
Of course, finding customers whose cultures match yours is crucial, but not more important than key metrics. For example, they should be in the right market - Geographic or certain vertical or company size, or otherwise, have a business need that you can fulfill, and provide for a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership.
And perhaps most 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 of building your startup values and being low on cash is no reason not to work to get it right.
4. Workplace Culture
Creating the right ‘culture’ for your office doesn’t mean hanging hammocks from the walls and ordering pizza for your workers. It means building an overall environment that reflects the goals and values of your company.
Creating a kick-ass work culture
Ensure work/life balance - We're bored of hearing it too, but it’s true. A strong culture drives success. But what does a strong work/life balance entail and why is it so important? 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. This is compared to an average increase of 166% for companies that did not.
This means that simply by valuing and empowering employees, companies can benefit from a whopping four-fold increase in their revenue. 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, and a great way to ensure this is to ensure a strong work-life balance.
Reward your clients AND your workers - Show both your customers and employees how much they are valued. Showing customers that they are important to you is vital, be it a birthday message or interacting with them on social media. However, it’s important to remember that 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.
The Marketing Envy team enjoying a fun night in!
Do something truly “brand 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. For example, when AirBnB recently announced its employees could work from anywhere, the result was its careers page was viewed a whopping 800,000 times - Imagine that! It’s clear that people have their values, and that they want to work for companies that have similar ones. If your values are clear and ‘good’, you will attract and retain the right people.
So… What is the right time to deal with your startup's core values? On Day One of course!
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 startup's 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 values is truly priceless.
Now you can move on to the next item on your never-ending list… May we suggest getting in touch with Marketing Envy for more expert startup wisdom and guidance as a good place to start.