WHY DEFINING YOUR VALUES IS SO IMPORTANT
Recently, my father and I brought my late grandparent’s ’53 Ford F-250 pickup truck to our home from their farm with aspirations to “fix ‘er up” and have a fun project vehicle to work on. As we started taking off fenders, bumpers, and more, I discovered there was one critical element to that old truck that held everything together — the frame. Without the frame, there would not be a foundation for the truck to be built upon or anything for the wheels to attach to. The designed elements that make that old truck iconic, like its fenders, hood, etc. wouldn’t hold together without the functional and foundational properties of the mostly-hidden frame.
Branding in a corporate world is much like this old truck. There are a lot of thoughtful marketing terms, beautiful designs, and specialized media that appear to be the brand. It’s what is seen first. I would compare them to the elements that make up that old truck’s stylistic form. As important as these assets are to a brand, sometimes we miss the most critical component that holds all of these pieces together — its frame.
That frame consists of a company’s set of values. These values make up the frame of which a brand builds its messaging, design cues, and media upon. It’s arguably one of the most important aspects of building a brand. Let me explain.
From my experience working in and studying brands, values are a critical component to creating culture. When a company rolls out their values, they are essentially saying, “This is what we stand for as a company.” To many, these may just seem like words, but when a company uses them correctly they actually give meaning and structure to something ambiguous. They act like pavement for how the company envisions their ideal culture and how they are going to get there.
Where this gets really interesting is when we start looking at how values can shape who we are on a more individual level. Understanding how companies use brands may help you find out more about yourself. Much like a business, we are all individual brands made up of different ideas and values. It’s important to understand our own individual values, that way we can learn how to represent our true-self outwardly in an authentic and believable way.
A few examples of things that can reflect your values could be: the type of clothing you like to wear, the type of music you like to listen to, the political beliefs you subscribe to, etc. These types of interests can most likely be traced back to what you resonate with culturally. You find groups of individuals that share similar values and interests and then begin to associate yourself with them. Unless you’re cheap like me and buy a Ripcurl shirt from Ross because it fits you right, even though you’ve never surfed a day in your life. Then some random guy at the airport yells to you with a smile, “hey, do you surf?! I noticed your Ripcurl shirt.” And you awkward reply, “no, I just liked the shirt. Do you?” and he replies “all my life!”
I digress. The power of a brand is more than just the shirt. The shirt is the representation of the culture(s) it is associated with.
Your values will be what help give you a foundation to stand on when making decisions about how you represent yourself publicly, or how you are going to respond to something culturally. Defining your values can be very hard to do and a process that I believe is ever changing through life. We are all a sum of life experiences that make up who we are, and new experiences will continue to shape us over time. So it is okay if our personal brand evolves. I personally would like for you to understand how important understanding what your values are. However, I would say it’s more important to recognize how values shape the decisions you’re making. Ask yourself, “Am I representing my personal brand honestly?”
Often times in today’s tidal wave of information consumption, there are narratives that try to persuade us to accept what they think we need to be and how we should act. These are marketing tactics of companies or individuals trying to get us to become a part of their culture. They want us to buy their products, join their movement, or agree with their message. Taking advice and educating yourself is obviously important to do, but your time may be better served to take a moment to sit down and truly evaluate what aligns to your values. Remember the why behind your values. Doing so will help you define what makes you, you. It will also help steer you more intentionally towards the things that you would enjoy culturally instead of falling to good tactics of persuasion.
A couple things to keep in mind:
- Emotions can be an important decision maker. In this particular instance, try to look at your values more critically and less emotionally. Being more critical allows you to see more of the moving pieces that make up a particular culture. This will help you start to understand what it is about the things you associate with that connect or resonate with you from a more objective point of view.
- “Values” is a popular buzzword, but it is an important one. Be careful NOT to allow your values to sound like monetized selling points. If they are built on truth, they will be a natural extension of yourself.
- Understand that everything you do is a representation of your personal brand. Make decisions based on what you feel is moral. That way you can stand in your truth.
Branding is awesome! I hope individuals out there can see the power behind it. It can help you find others who share similar interests as you. It can help you find others who would want to purchase a product you create or those who would want to join a movement you believe in. It surrounds every decision and choice we make. It creates commonalities and differences. It can be one of the most powerful persuasion tools we have — for better or worse. And remember, at its core our personal brand is built on our fundamental values.