Defining your brand values is hard work. Once you’ve found consensus, it’s tempting to lay your values out alongside your mission, vision, and brand story into a nicely designed brand playbook and check “brand improvement project” off your to-do list.
Not so fast. If your goal is to truly improve your brand, then your work has barely begun. Instead of stopping at value definition, it’s time to focus on value creation. Creating value through these five value levers at your company’s disposal is the way to improve the equity and value of your brand:
- Functional value via the utility of products or services
- Educational value via subject matter expertise
- Emotional value via storytelling and media
- Economic value via employment and investment returns
- Social value via philanthropy
These are the five ways your business can make a positive impact on the lives of real people. As you’ll see, amplifying your company’s brand equity is rarely the primary goal, but it is always a happy outcome. And when it’s achieved, it generates more positive momentum for your company, your brand, your customers, and society.
Let’s take a closer look at each value lever, with a few real-world examples.
Functional value is the reason most companies stay in business; their customers are willing to exchange money for the utility of their products or services. When customers feel like your business is giving them a great deal for their money, your brand benefits.
Costco’s Kirkland brand is a great example. Just from looking at the products, you might not be wowed, since the Kirkland typeface and colors are not flashy. If the company didn’t care to splurge on its logo, what does that imply about its products?
But anyone who’s enjoyed a Kirkland frozen pizza or had the good fortune to hit a Kirkland golf ball knows the company has indeed invested in its products. Costco may not spend a ton of money on Kirkland’s visual identity, but that’s likely because it is intent on providing customers with the highest quality product at the lowest price. The model works so well that Costco club members pay a $60 annual fee to shop for high-quality, low-priced Kirkland products.
Other brands that leverage functional value: Uber, Apple, Southwest Airlines
Educational content is intrinsically valuable; this is the central idea of content marketing. While the ultimate goal of content marketing is often lead generation, your sales team isn’t the only benefactor of branded educational content. Your target audiences perceive your employees and company leadership as experts when they share their expertise through articles, videos, whitepapers, and other informative content. And, as REI has shown, educational value can infuse a brand’s tribe with inspiration and a shared sense of purpose.
To foster its community ethos, REI invests in a lot of educational content and programs. Its Expert Advice blog spans 11 broad categories to deliver practical, SEO-friendly posts, including one recent article: “Hiking or Backpacking With Your Dog”. Its Co-Op Journal goes more in-depth with longer feature stories and gear guides for readers to really sink their teeth into. REI’s Camping Research Project is a portal for finding new campgrounds to explore, and the Classes & Events hub connects curious adventurers to in-person training opportunities. Sound like a lot? These initiatives just scratch the surface of the educational value REI provides to inspire exploration, grow its community, and strengthen the REI brand.
Other brands that leverage educational value: Accenture, Microsoft, John Deere
As much as some people would like to believe that every purchase decision they make is founded in unadulterated reason, that’s simply not the case. Emotions color our experiences, and they influence our decisions about how to spend our time and money. (And this truth applies to B2B buying decisions at least as much as it does to consumer purchases.)
The products, advertising, and even customer service that a business creates can evoke real emotions. These feelings, whether they are of wonder, a sense of community, or maddening frustration do not “trick” people into a certain brand perception; they are part of the brand itself.
Why would someone pay $400 for dinner at Chicago’s Alinea restaurant? It’s not only—or even primarily—because of the food’s flavor. It’s because every course, from the starters to desserts, will drop your jaw even before tantalizing your taste buds. The sense of childlike wonder that the restaurant infuses throughout its dining room has defined its brand and solidified its reputation as one of the greatest restaurants in the world—all thanks to how it makes diners feel.
Other brands that leverage emotional value: Coca-Cola, Nike, Harley Davidson
Success often breeds more success, and that is indeed the case with the influence of a company’s economic value on its brand.
As a company grows, a few things tend to happen:
- It hires more people: The company’s employees appreciate their jobs and benefits, and everyone they know becomes associated with the brand as well.
- It pays more taxes: As revenues go up, so do taxes paid to the government to support infrastructure, education, and other public initiatives.
- It rewards investors: The people who bet on the company, whether in its early days or after it goes public, love the company for providing a healthy return on their investment.
These positive economic effects of a company’s success generate goodnwill toward the company and strengthen its brand equity. That’s right: When a company adds jobs, supplies the government with more money, and pays nice returns to investors, people tend to like the brand even more.
Amazon is the perfect example of economic value driving even more equity for its brand. Because of its ability to generate all the economic benefits above and more, cities were tripping over themselves for the opportunity to host HQ2.
Other brands that leverage economic value: Berkshire Hathaway, Bank of America, Exxon Mobil
Last, and certainly not least, a company’s brand can benefit substantially when it provides value to society in areas that are removed from its lines of business, such as philanthropy. Sometimes the founders of a company will set up a foundation to support a cause that is close to their hearts. Examples include The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Other times, a company will use its brand name to support a cause, such as The Ronald McDonald House. And recently, Patagonia used its $10 million tax cut to support environmental programs and take a stand against both the cut itself and climate change deniers.
All of these efforts to improve the state of the world—not just companies’ balance sheets—are valuable initiatives that make real progress toward their brand mission. And while a company’s philanthropy isn’t motivated by brand improvement, it is no doubt a welcome result.
Other brands that leverage social value: IKEA, Starbucks, Toms Shoes
The Cycle Of Value Creation And Brand Amplification
Branding is clearly not a zero-sum game. As companies work to create more value across these five levers, they benefit from genuine feelings of appreciation, loyalty, and admiration. This positive sentiment serves to lift the company’s brand equity, which drives more patronage, sales, and profit to reinvest in value creation all over again.