Positioning with a purpose
Why building meaningful values into your brand leads to the culture you want
Creating and sustaining culture can feel a little bit like a chicken and egg situation in a startup. You need to define your culture early on in order to attract the right employees, but culture itself is largely driven by people, so until you have the people in place, how can your culture be expected to flourish?
According to a study, “nearly 80% of Millennials look at people and culture fit with prospective employers, followed by career potential”, so there’s real value in getting this right, but as we also know, millennials are also the most critical when it comes to authenticity. In a study by Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse, “81% of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.” So empty promises or claims that you are not able to live up to could potentially be more damaging to your brand than having no values at all. A high value is placed on the millennial audience at the moment but this thinking applies to multiple groups such as Gen Z, who could represent a lucrative and energetic workforce as you build your startup from the ground up.
So in order to attract the right kind of people who will build the culture you want, what tools can you use to ensure you’re building something authentically, with purpose and that can stand the test of time as your business grows?
Set your brand vision – “Vision is the frame where culture lies.”
This should be beyond your initial product or offering and should set an aspirational road map for where the business will grow to and what you hope to achieve. This is incredibly important to potential investors and is the only element that should be set exclusively by the founder/co-founder. A compelling vision also demonstrates a founder’s passion, energy and drive to succeed, all very attractive qualities to potential investors. “Great and successful entrepreneurs have achieved their purpose and goal by setting a strong and clear vision, and by pursuing it with passion.”
Attracting people with the same values, retaining them with the right culture is a recipe for success in the vital and usually lean stages of a startup. This is where the all-important vision comes back into play, because if you can bring people on-board who buy into and believe in your vision, your trajectory for success will be much stronger than if you make hiring decisions purely based on salary cost or skillset. “When the vision gets spread across the organisation, it translates into culture.”
Define your brand values “Stay true to your values. That’s why you were a success in the first place, and that’s how you make incredible things happen.” Rafe Offer
Make sure your brand values are specific and actionable. One of Coca Cola’s core values is: “Accountability: If it is to be, it’s up to me”, which clearly shows a potential employee what is expected of them, and fosters a culture of ownership and accountability.
Involving any current employees (if you have them) can be a great way to build values that are representative of your business as a whole, not just yourself. But if it’s just you, then create values that are based on things you as an individual truly believe in.
“Core values are beliefs your business follows in all aspects of operations. They guide decision-making and define what your business stands for. Business values can heavily influence your brand identity, or how outsiders view your company.”
Prioritise transparency Once you’ve set a clear and compelling vision, defined core brand values which will enable your customers to connect with you and potential employees to come on-board, how do you get that message out into the world in a clear and concise way? Prioritise transparency and be clear in your messaging. This is where work on your proposition and positioning as early as possible can bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to get to, and ensure everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet. Consistency in messaging is not just essential to build brand awareness, but it also can help you save money as you won’t be wasting valuable resources. “Reduce time spent creating, and instead, maximise your marketing budget by circulating.”
Also think about your on-boarding process. If you’ve worked hard to define your vision and values there’s no use having them sit on a piece of paper in a desk drawer, or paint them on the walls of the boardroom for people to ignore. They should be put into practice across your business and you should help your employees to understand how to bring them to life when they are representing your business. Creating an employee handbook, making sure that these aspects are discussed in the recruitment and on-boarding process will eliminate costly hiring mistakes if you bring people into your team who have conflicting values.
The brands that truly change the landscape or disrupt their industry are the ones with staying power, and when you unpick the DNA it’s often clear that these crucial elements have been established from the beginning. A logo can change, a product can change, even a brand name can change, but what sits at the core should be built to last. The dominant force behind your business is your commitment to your customers, and the quality of your product or service should always be prioritised. But there’s a balance to be had, and by considering the bigger picture in relation to your brand you can ensure that the customer commitment can be fulfilled, and you’re building the kind of business you want internally as well.
It’s easy to think that setting your vision and values is low down on the priority list when you’re at bootstrap stage, but the risk of getting it wrong could have serious and costly consequences for your business in the long-term. Making the wrong hires, sending out an inconsistent message, all of these could be damaging to your brand in the crucial early point of getting off the ground and becoming established. Get it right and you’ll only have to invest the time and effort once, conserving valuable resources and leaving the pathway clear for you to grow and build your brand to that all-important tipping point of success.