In the beginning, the conversation goes something like this:
Client: I can’t wait to sit down and define our brand. This is going to be so fun.
NC: It’s one of the most valuable things you can do at this stage of your business.
Client: Before we begin, I’ve prepared some initial thoughts.
NC: Awesome, go ahead.
Client: So we’re an online magazine for tweens, coffee makers and Buddhists.
NC: That’s an interesting mix of people. How did you come up with that list?
Client: Those are very underserved markets.
NC: And what key value do those three markets share?
Client: Our magazine.
Client: So I’ve thought about the core values of our startup.
NC: Sounds good, go ahead.
Client: We care about sustainable living, world peace, global health care and calorie-free food for all.
NC: Those are meaningful, but remember, you’ll use these values as an anchor for future business decisions. So maybe you want to consider brand values like “education” or “tenacity.”
Client: I like those. Add ‘em to the list.
NC: Well, those are only examples. We should work together to determine your specific values.
Client: Oh, those definitely fit our product.
NC: What do you sell?
Client: Laptop sleeves.
In both instances, the clients are clearly suffering from a constant bombardment of images, thoughts and advice about the “right” way to do things. This type of thinking can lead to misdirection, not to mention a really stupid business name.
Head decisions, like the ones made above, often sound like this:
- “This is how XXX did it, and they got funding, so let’s do it.”
- “That model worked for Startup X. Let’s copy that and give ourselves a cool name.”
- “That design sells laptops for Apple. It can sell our health insurance app too.”
Whereas heart decisions sound like this:
- “We want to educate people and that model supports learning, so let’s do it.”
- “We want to be seen as reliable, so changing our business model because Mr. Silicon Valley will invest in us could hurt our credibility. Let’s pass.”
- “I love that Apple-ish design, but people are having a hard time understanding our product. Since mentorship is a value of ours, we should explore other options.”
How do you go about determining “heart” values? Here are a few tricks.
Create a list of values of businesses you admire.
This can include everything from reliability to whimsy. (Yes, whimsy is a value. It’s a desire to provide a bit of fun in everything your startup does.)
Think of who your business would be if it morphed into a real person.
Would it be the life of the party? A sullen intellectual? James Bond with dreadlocks? What would this person’s key values be?
Consider your product.
If you’re developing a new technology for house cleaning, “hedonism” may not be your best bet. However, if you’re creating a new adult resort in the Bahamas, game on.
Pare down the list.
You probably have a pile of values, so it’s time to make tough choices. Write all of the values down and rank one above the other as they pertain to your business until you have a complete list. Think of it like that age old question, “If your house was on fire, what would you take with you?”
Document your decisions.
Once you’ve chosen 4-5 values that define your brand, make sure you get them on paper. Post them around your office and use them as a touchstone when you’re debating everything from new product features to company culture.
Not all decisions in work (or life) can be made with the heart. However, by solidifying brand values, you give your company something to focus on when tough decisions need to be made. Through these values, you’re sending a clear message to your team that what you are doing is important, and if nurtured, can be successful. And here’s to hoping you never utter the words, “Man, we’re so glad we sold out.” Instead, let it be, “We created something that mattered.”