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You Startup's Core Values

Building Your Startup’s Core Values for Success

January 17, 2016

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

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 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, startups focus on the product and leave 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.

[Tweet "Brand values are the bread and butter of a #startup, not an afterthought."]

Case in point, 64% of customers cited a ‘shared value system’ as the reason for having a good relationship with a brand. A 2014 study conducted by the Edelman Group showed that customers value companies based on ‘trust’. When asked to rank the aspects of ‘trust’, the results showed that customers valued ‘engagement’ (how brands treat their employees and their customers) and ‘integrity’ (a brand’s ethics and values) as the most important attributes.

ranking

These results aren't too surprising. Remember that app ‘Secret’? The app was designed to allow users to share information anonymously among shared acquaintances. It raised $35 million in funding over three rounds and by all market accounts, was set to become a huge success. But it turns out that people don’t really like being mean to others in public. After a few court cases, accusations that the app promoted cyber bullying and a rapid decline in users, the app was eventually forced to close. The final decision to ‘shut-up shop’ came less than a year after raising $25 million in B round funding.

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secret-app

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

1: Start With Messaging and Positioning

As an agency, the first thing we do as part of the project kickoff with startups is a ‘messaging session.’ This is the most important marketing activity for any startup. 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 gives you 1GB of data storage so you never have to delete an email again.

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.

messaging-table

Hot 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. Take a look at another one of our blogs for a more detailed outline of the messaging process.

Establishing the personality of your brand and the purpose of your product is what is going to define your company values.

2: Recruitment - Finding Your Brand Ambassadors

You Startup's Core Values
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 by being the right ambassador for your startup.

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:
Yes, their 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 experience a prospective employee has and how well they know to operate certain tools might actually be less important that 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 task masters. This is hard to judge from a CV.

You startup's core values

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 were 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.

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3: Finding the Right Customers

Building your startup’s values includes selecting the appropriate customers. Those whom 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?

You Startup's Core Values

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.

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. Happier employees are 12% more productive and research has shown that happiness at work relies on a work life balance. 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.

You Startup's Core Values

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 (we have a whole blog post of ideas for you here). 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.

Building You Startup's Core Values
The Marketing Envy team enjoying a fun night out
 

Do something truly valuable - 86% of US customers prefer purchasing from brands who do charity work. 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 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

You Startup's Core Values

About the Author

Billy Cina

Billy Cina is the CEO of Marketing Envy, a B2B tech and startup marketing agency based in Tel-Aviv. Career and portfolio companies include Canonical/Ubuntu, HP Scitex, Fuji Xerox, Cloudyn, BlazeMeter, AquSecurity Coronet, CyberInt, Illusive Networks, Clicktale, Minerva Labs, Cato Networks and many more.

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