Brands and Values – are they the same?

This is a guest blog entry from David Jenkins of i2i Management. Click here for David’s blog page. This article as it eloquently explains the importance of brands, both positive and negative and reflects on how well a company embraces its brands throughout the organisation.

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Anyone who reads this blog and/or knows me will appreciate that I hold strong opinions about what constitutes a brand. I am firmly of the opinion that brands are the result of perception by customers and other third parties. They are not what the ‘brand owners’ say they are although they can clearly have an impact on that perception.

Brand valuesCustomer’s et al have their opinions of a brand because of their perception of the brand’s ‘values’. These are the qualities or otherwise that customers associate with the brand. There are some classic examples: Volvo with ‘safe’, Ryanair with ‘cheap’, Sony with ‘technology’, Asda with ‘value’ and the Co-op Bank with ‘ethical’ for example. Not everyone shares these perceptions, but most people do, and they are not the only perceptions, some brands have multiple associations in the mind of the customer.

However in any company there are other ’values’ and they have, or should have, a strong relationship with these brand values. These are the values in ‘mission, vision and values’. Whereas brand values might be regarded as the preserve of ‘marketing’ these values belong to the company: to its directors and all of its employees.

Values are the ethical foundation of a company’s strategy. They embody its principles and standards and they should be what it measures every action against. Such values should be communicated throughout the organisation. They should be understood and accepted by everyone because that’s the only way the company can be credible because if it isn’t credible its brand(s) will suffer.

Like for example the value that states that a company will not support sweat shop labour in any of its suppliers factories. It doesn’t matter how much PR such companies put out; when such companies are ‘caught out’ their brand suffers because customers see a mismatch between what the companies say and what they do.

Values of course are more fundamental than brand values. In some respect they are absolute and not relative. Brand values are about positioning which is a ‘relative’ activity. Values position companies against norms of good governance and corporate citizenship as well.

The 2006 Companies Act (click here for a related entry) sets out six factors which directors must consider in exercising their duty. It’s not just about short term profitability. The factors are the:

  • likely consequence of any decision in the long term;
  • interests of the company’s employees;
  • need to foster the company’s business relationships;
  • impact on the community and the environment;
  • maintenance of the company’s reputation for high standards of business conduct; and
  • need to act fairly as between members of the company.

This is a useful checklist to use in developing a company’s values. It’s not exhaustive but all of these factors should be reflected in a list of a company’s values.

What will differentiate companies will be their interpretation of each factor and the different weights which they give to them and the additional factors which they chose to include.

So where does that leave us? Some basic principles about the connection between fundamental good corporate principles on the one hand and positive customer perceptions of brands on the other:

  • companies must articulate their values, communicate them throughout their organisations and, in fact, to their business partners, and must act in accordance with them;
  • these values should underpin the values which are associated with the company’s brands and which active communication can reinforce
  • however the real test of the company’s brands is what the market says. In the end the market will make a judgement.

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