Beliefs trump values
Posted by Giles Lury on August 24, 2012
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Elisabeth Murdoch spoke at the MacTaggart Lecture on 23rd August and some of the media have enjoyed the apparent differences that they saw in what she said and what her brother James had said at the same event in 2009. “Murdochs at War” was how City A.M. Headlined it.
However as brand specialists with a key interest in brand positioning it was her comment on “The need for any organisation to discuss, affirm and institutionalise a rigorous set of values based on an explicit statement of purpose” that caught our eye.
In many ways we couldn’t agree more, we believe that at the core of defining your brand is a definition of its purpose and its beliefs. The more observant will notice a small, but for us important, change we have made. Whilst we too feel that a definition of “purpose” is required and is probably a better term than the classic but often ridiculed “brand vision”, we feel very strongly that “values” are not as powerful or useful as beliefs or principles.
Brand values suffer from two weaknesses.
The first is that too many people don’t understand the difference between brand values and brand personality and so words are used interchangeably. Indeed some companies now merge the values and personality sections of the brand positioning models.
The other is that it is too easy to fill these with the over-used apple-pie and motherhood values that populate too many brand and organisation brand positioning statements.
Instead we champion the use of brand beliefs. For us, defining a brand’s fundamental beliefs – and wherever possible, its principles – is a better means of codifying what a brand, or your organisation, stands for and will better help shape people’s behaviours
As the old saying goes, ‘a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money’, and when something costs you money in business, it tends to be something important.
If a brand has a true principle, it is something to which it is willing to adhere even if it is more expensive to do or if doing so closes down a business opportunity. For example, a principle of the Disney brand is that everything it does under the Disney brand name should be suitable for all the family. It means that, whilst the brand has the resources and capabilities to produce films that would appeal to an older adult audience, Disney wouldn’t make them if certification meant that those films could only be seen by adults.
On a practical note, we recommend that the beliefs are expressed as full sentences starting: ‘We believe…’ and not single words like the clichéd ‘transparency,’ ‘quality’ and ‘innovation’.