Of all the pieces that make up a brand’s big picture strategy, Core Values have the biggest impact on day-to-day operations.
As shown in our framework below, Purpose, Vision, and Mission define and guide a brand’s path forward on progressively more specific levels. But it’s the Core Values that sit in the bullseye at the middle focused on “Right Now”.
That “Right Now” refers to the brand’s beliefs and code of conduct. They determine how you behave in pursuit of that longer term direction.
Core Values provide consistency and motivation. They keep teams on the right path even, and especially, when faced with tough decisions.
Given that level of importance, it makes sense to invest some real thought and effort in how your brand defines its Core Values.
Whether your brand needs to create Core Values from scratch or give an existing set a refresh, here’s a 3-step exercise to craft a set of values your team can embrace, remember, and rally around.
1. Start At The Root Word Level
To create Core Values that are meaningful to your brand, the first step is to define the root concepts. These are the ideals the founders and leadership of the business believe most serve the brand’s objectives.
To help uncover them, you can start a few prompts:
- What are some singular words that come to mind when you think about how you want your team to behave no matter what situation they’re in?
- What are your non-negotiables?
- How would you describe your team when they’re performing at their best?
To get started, we have the list of value keywords we use in our own brand strategy process:
While all of these are positive values in general, it’s important to focus on the words that are most relevant to your specific business. For example, we can all recognize Health and Generosity as fundamental values for a good life. But that doesn’t mean those concepts are essential to how your brand operates.
Try to limit yourself to a maximum of about 10 keywords.
And note that this list is only a starting point. There are open slots in the grids above to add in other words that resonate.
2. Merge, Clarify, And Personalize
In this next step, take the keywords from that list and build Core Value concepts specific to your brand.
Here are some criteria to keep in mind to help guide this step:
- Think about your Core Values as 2-3 word phrases that describe an important guiding principle or behavior.
- Look for combinations of keywords that relate in a particular way for your brand. For example, at Map & Fire, we combine Competence and Empowerment into “Excellence Through Empowerment”. A big part of our philosophy is to not only do great work but also share how things work.
- Make sure each Core Value concept is distinct. When multiple values overlap it dilutes the impact of the collection as a whole.
- Aim to keep the final number of Core Values around 6. A short, concise list is easier to remember. If your list is too long, or the ideas aren’t clear it’s much harder for the values to stick in people’s heads.
The last part of this step is to write short clarifying descriptions of each Core Value.
This is your opportunity to get specific about what these concepts mean for your brand and help reduce ambiguity and interpretation for the team.
Core Value Examples – Word Phrases:
Here are a few more examples from Map & Fire’s own Core Values:
- Evidence Over Ego: When it comes to decisions and recommendations, we use research, data, and an outside perspective to provide an objective point of view.
- Fast And Focused: To maximize efficiency, we keep our processes and methods lean so that we can put strategies into practice and learn from them as soon as possible.
- Make It Fun: If you can laugh together, you can relax together. When you’re relaxed you’re more likely to share ideas and do your best work.
In each case, the description provides an extra layer of context so that it’s clear what the value means and why it’s important.
3. Make Your Core Values More Evocative
There’s one last step you can take to even further set your Core Values apart and make them unique to your brand:
Create short sentences to describe each Core Value.
As mentioned above, one of the most important and challenging goals with Core Values is to make them stick in people’s minds.
The more you lean on commonly used words – i.e. Honesty, Creativity, Equality – the harder it is to create an association back to your brand.
With another layer of specificity, you can paint a picture that sparks emotion for people. That emotion amplifies the ability for people to remember and relate to them.
Core Value Examples – Short Sentences:
Here are a few notable examples of this approach from some big brands:
- The need for information crosses borders
- Democracy on the web works
- You can make money without doing evil (I think they mostly still follow this one…)
- Deliver WOW through service
- Create fun and a little weirdness
- Build a positive team and family spirit
- Caring about our communities and our environment
- Creating ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers
- Promoting the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education
In each case, you can see how a small dash of creative word play helps elevate a simple concept into something you can start to envision.
You’ve Got Amazing Core Values, Now Put Them To Use
By now it should be clear that your brand’s Core Values are not something to define, set aside, and let collect dust. They should be guidelines that your team understands, utilizes, and even has their performance graded against.
There are several key ways to deeply integrate Core Values into your brand’s operations:
- Hiring: Use your values as a way to evaluate and vet alignment of potential job candidates
- Onboarding: Provide every employee access to your values so that it’s clear from day one the standards they need to uphold
- Culture: Find ways for your team to call out and celebrate moments that show your values in action
- Reviews: Make values a part of the review process so that there are clear checks and balances around performance
When your Core Values become something your brand lives and breathes it doesn’t just improve alignment, it elevates how your team functions and works together.
By spending a little bit of thought and effort with how you define this part of your brand strategy your team can build stronger relationships with one another and ultimately deliver more consistent value to your customers.
Get Help Crafting Your Brand’s Core Value
If you’re ready to build stronger connections with your customers, reach out for a free consultation. We’ll help you transform your best business thinking into an actionable, shareable, growth-oriented guide. Click below to learn more about the Brand Guidebook process.