I used to think core values were silly, worthless things. Just words. Words like integrity, trust, honesty, etc. They seemed like something you had to do as a business, but I didn’t really understand their purpose. Their existence seemed to be in a file cabinet, not operations. I just didn’t see the connection or worth.
Over time I’ve come to see core values as absolutely critical building blocks. When they come from the fabric and story of an organization, they can bring clarity across all areas of the business – hiring, strategic planning, service offerings, community engagement, and yes, marketing. I really can’t think of an area that core values don’t touch.
So What Is A Core Value?
Core values are essentially behaviors. Behaviors that you want to see in your organization, behaviors that you want to be held accountable to. At SmallBox we have 4 core values: curiosity, courage, collaboration and persistence. We look for these behaviors when we hire, in how we work, in our interactions with clients and how we engage the world. This brings us to marketing.
When we inspect next generation brands like Whole Foods, Starbucks, Zappos or Rackspace we see businesses that are driven by their values. If you follow those links you will quickly see, if you have any familiarity with those brands, how their core values inform and drive their marketing.
These next generation brands know aligning their organization around core values is absolutely critical for marketing. The employee experience has to drive the customer experience, which then creates the brand experience. Values create clarity and accountability around behaviors. If one of these companies stray from their values they know they will be held accountable by their customers on Yelp, Facebook, Angie’s List, etc. Essentially the internet, through transparency and its byproduct, accountability, has made core values highly relevant for marketing. Thank you, Internets!
no core values = ineffective marketing
Without real, actionable core values organizations struggle with marketing. I see that again and again. This is because nobody knows how to behave or how to talk about the brand. After all, isn't marketing about driving behaviors? How can you expect to drive a customer’s behavior if you haven’t defined your own behavior?
So marketers wander through campaigns wondering why nothing seems to work. They create “social media rules", they build and re-build strategic plans, they have sales, they roll out new products and services. Sometimes they get lucky and hit on something that works, for a while, and this tricks them, lulling them with activity. They cling to shiny objects like marketing automation systems that promise amazing results. Don’t be fooled. Tools and systems cannot replace the message. All effective communication comes from a place of conviction.
Build your marketing on core values and you will, in time, magnetize your brand towards your target audiences. Then leverage these awesome marketing tools to nurture, and yes, monetize those relationships. If you want to get value from your customers you need to start with living and breathing your core values.
Need help finding and building your core values? I suggest Dave Logan’s “Mountains and Valleys” exercise, Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” and Gino Wickman’s “Traction”. They all have useful suggestions and exercises to get at your organization’s core values. I would caution against leadership “going it alone” on core values. Team involvement is critical for buy-in. Also, remember that accountability around these values goes from intern to CEO. No-one can be exempt, especially leadership.