The sheer choice of products and services available in today’s market allows consumers to think seriously about the brands they buy from and the values they’re buying into.
Increasingly, a brand’s values factor into purchasing decisions, especially among Gen Z consumers—but how does a business decide what it stands for?
In this article, you’ll learn what brand values are, how to establish them, and the benefits of running a values-centered company. Plus, we’ll explore examples of businesses that lead with both head and heart.
What are brand values?
Brand values are the key principles guiding how a company operates—including where it sources its products, how items are delivered to customers, and the way employees are treated. Brand values define precisely how a company operates, fulfills its mission statement, and earns money.
Brand values are the uncompromising principles a company upholds as it grows, even in the face of alternative paths to earn more profits or win more customers. “We’ve developed five core brand values over the past years,” says Marina Eckert, social and community lead at footwear brand Poppy Barley. “They’re defined enough that we can look to them in our everyday business activities, as well as when we make decisions for our company.” Essentially, brand values are how a company shows itself to the world, even when nobody’s watching.
The benefits of running a company that centers brand values
Running a company that has enduring core values can be a strong differentiation in the market for businesses seeking to build a lasting relationship with customers.
For example, 77% of consumers are concerned about the environmental impact of the products they buy. Brands with sustainable business practices baked into their values have the ability to reach these customers.
Here are more benefits derived from branding with values, and how they can positively impact your business.
Acquire new customers
Customers are increasingly on the lookout for products that align with their values—whether they’re shopping for footwear or fabric softener—and are increasingly concerned about the companies they support with their money. Buyers are more environmentally and ethically conscious than ever, opting to buy from businesses that align with their personal values.
Although buzzwords like “sustainability” are increasingly used in marketing, many consumers aren’t satisfied with greenwashing. Instead, they’re researching to see whether a company’s claims are authentic or not.
According to the Future of Commerce report, consumers are four times more likely to purchase from a company with aligning values. “Oftentimes, I find that customers interact with us and say, ‘I love your company. And I love your values. What you stand for is awesome,’” says Eckert. “People choose our company because we act with these values in mind and try to articulate them well.”
By establishing and sharing your company’s brand values, you can get on the radar of socially and environmentally conscious consumers who are searching for better businesses.
Build brand affinity and brand loyalty
When competing products are a Google search or Instagram click away, it’s increasingly difficult for companies to retain long-term customers. However, leading with core brand values can help businesses build a brand—turning one-off purchases into years, or even decades, of brand loyalty.
According to the Future of Commerce report, sustainable business practices appeal to customers. Moving beyond the price tag, half of global consumers are influenced by environmental, social, and governance concerns, with many choosing to support more ethical businesses with more sustainable supply chains.
At the same time,, other studies show there’s a psychological “feel good” factor to environmentally friendly purchases, while additional studies suggest there’s also a social factor to sustainable consumption. When companies are purpose driven, it gives customers a range of reasons to keep coming back.
Attract and retain employees
It’s not just customers who care about your values—employees do, too. Studies show that businesses with better environmental standards and corporate responsibility typically have higher productivity and lower staff turnover. Establishing brand values can be a magnet that attracts both loyal customers and mission-aligned team members.
Many job seekers are looking for more than just a paycheck. Instead, they’re keen to spend their 40-plus hours a week working on a mission they find compelling and important. For instance, 56% of professionals report being more likely to stay with a company with a sound sustainability agenda.
By developing core values—and even co-creating them with your employees—you can build a mission-aligned team that’s steadfast in executing a company’s values, whether that’s picking sustainable suppliers or finding ways for your business to meaningfully give back.
Improve business operations
Cutting operational corners can be a tempting choice for businesses to save money and maximize profits. But increasingly, businesses are favoring “fair” over “cheap” and opting for better business practices, including vetting factory conditions and ensuring safe and ethical operations for overseas labor.
Twenty-five percent say one of their biggest supply-chain-related concerns is ensuring manufacturing partners employ ethical and fair labor practices. Additionally, more than 33% report taking a more holistic approach to sustainability in the next twelve months of business, including distancing themselves from partners that don’t meet their sustainability standards.
Stand out from the competition
Having a solid brand story can differentiate your company from the competition. Rather than a race to the bottom, where companies compete on pricing, businesses can compete on core values instead.
According to the Future of Commerce report, in the past year, 44% of customers chose to buy from brands that have a clear commitment to sustainability, while 41% chose to buy from brands that have a clear commitment to social causes. Values like sustainability and social consciousness can set you apart from companies in the same category and win you more customers.
How to define your core brand values
Coming up with the values that guide your business is more than copying and pasting corporate promises from another company’s website or doing a quick Google search for “popular brand values.” Your brand values should be unique to your company, laying out what you want to achieve and how you decide to get there.
While strong and intentional core values may attract conscious consumers, ultimately your values must stem from what is realistic and achievable for your company.
1. Take stock of what matters
Often a business’s values can stem from an entrepreneur’s personal values. How a company does business—the way it operates, how it manufactures products, and its hiring practices—can be a manifestation of what matters to a company’s leaders. To take stock of what matters to you as a business owner, consider these questions:
- What impact do I want to have on the world?
- What bothers me about how other companies operate?
- Who are the individuals and companies that inspire me?
- How can I use my company as a vehicle for change?
- What values do I want to inspire in others?
- What changes am I willing and capable of making?
These questions can help you brainstorm ideas—whether you’re starting your business or rethinking after years of operating. It’s never too late, or too early, to assess what matters to you and how your business can embody those values too.
2. Dig into your company's pain points
Try as you might, your business won’t be perfect. But developing company values can hold you and your company accountable, helping you aim toward better business practices. Dig into your business, searching for pain points that can be translated into values. Here are a few questions to kick off exploring for areas of improvement:
- Where did you fall short last quarter operationally? Last year?
- What critical feedback have you seen from our customers?
- What issues are consistently raised by employees?
Think of business shortcomings as opportunities for change and a chance to develop and execute on core values that transform your business.
3. Decide on your values as a collective
While brand values might stem from the founder of a company at the start, they’ll likely evolve as your company grows and expands—including adapting to reflect some of the values of the people who join your company.
It’s not realistic to have an ever-growing list of core values that are impossible to truly establish and implement. However, as a leader, take into account how your brand values can expand over time to reflect your growing business. By co-creating and collaborating on your values with the people at your company, employees will be more inclined to carry out these core values through their work.
MooShu Ice Cream founder Liz Mok bakes care for employee well-being into her brand’s values. This includes everything from a commitment to a living wage to closing shop during the pandemic to protect staff.
4. Borrow from great brands
While brand values should be unique to your company, and implementing them will depend entirely on the context of your business, it’s OK to get inspired by other companies.
Industry analysis is important to understand both what your competitors are doing and what values consumers in your industry care about or even see as non-negotiables. Some of the best businesses aren’t only innovative in their products, but also in how they operate ethically and sustainably.
These businesses set an example of how core brand values can change the world and inspire others:
- Poppy Barley crafts its products for maximum wear, allowing consumers to “buy less and buy better.” It also holds itself to ethical production, allowing workers the right to unionize and providing them with a safe working environment, equal pay for equal work, and a living wage with health benefits.
- Patagonia commits 1% of its sales to environmental groups and has values like “Cause no unnecessary harm” and “Use business to protect nature.”
- Aloha is employee-owned, certified organic, and non-GMO project verified. It uses its profits to support a variety of organizations, like Conscious Alliance, Soul Fire Farm, Social Works, and more.
- Encircled is transparent in its manufacturing process and uses sustainable fabrics and low-impact dyes. It pledges to “put the planet and people before profits, always.”
Get inspired by sustainable companies with strong core values that extend beyond their advertising and into how they truly operate as a business.
Living your company’s brand values
Establishing your company’s brand values is one thing. Implementing them and operating with them in mind, day to day, is quite another. According to the Commerce Trends 2023 report, 41% of brands plan to be more transparent about their social impact vision, goals, and progress. But how do you move from plan to action?
Go beyond drafting your brand values in a Google Doc by embedding them in your business—keeping them front of mind internally, communicating them to customers, and even making it official through certifications.
1. Embed them in your business
Your company’s brand values should aim to touch every part of your business. If one of your brand values is sustainability, consider if sustainable practices are baked into how you operate as a business—from the kind of materials you use for products to your company’s customer return policy.
Here are a few ways to integrate brand values into your day to day:
- Company operations. Beyond customer-facing facets of your business, consider how your brand values can show up in the daily operations of your business—from the companies you partner with for shipping supplies to employee perks like volunteer days.
- Customer policies. Extend your brand values to how your business interacts with customers. For instance, do you have an after-sales policy that includes repairs to minimize waste?
- Employee assessment. Assess, acknowledge, and promote members of your team based on how they embody and encourage the execution of brand values at the company.
Assess different areas of your business—supply chain, hiring practices, customer care—to ensure that your brand values are a constant throughout your company.
2. Make them front and center internally
When it comes to communicating what’s important, there’s no such thing as too much repetition. Keep your company’s brand values top of mind by design, highlighting them in physical and digital spaces. Here are a few places to keep your brand’s core values present:
- Workspace presence. If you have a central headquarters where employees work, consider displaying your brand values at the entrance or in a boardroom.
- Employee onboarding. Walk through and explain your company values to new employees when they join the company.
- Company documentation. Have a document or file where your brand values are housed that everyone at your company has access to.
- Digital bookmarking. If you use a team communication application like Slack, pin your company values to one of your most frequented channels.
- Meeting openings. During important meetings, like quarterly all-hands team calls, open the meeting by discussing the brand values and let them guide the conversation.
Being reminded of brand values and giving them a weight of presence will help your team keep them at the forefront of your business.
3. Communicate them to customers
To attract prospective buyers and forge long-term customers, communicate your brand values across marketing touch points.
Here are a few places where you can communicate your company values directly to customers:
- Website. Use your digital storefront to tell your company’s story, including using your About Us page to communicate your brand values and why they’re important to you and your business.
- Packaging. Consider brand storytelling through your packaging, using icons and text that describe what matters to your company at a glance.
- Marketing. Consistently remind your target audience of your company’s core values, mentioning them across social media and email marketing.
Conscious consumers inspired by your values will feel more inclined to choose your company for their buying needs.
4. Make it official
While your company can informally do good in the world, consider making it official with a certification, like becoming a B Corporation. B Corporations, certified by B Lab, are given to companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Poppy Barley is a Certified B Corporation and considers “purpose, people, and profit” when making decisions. “Every couple of years, we need to resubmit our application to make sure that we are still living true to that,” says Eckert. “So that’s one way to check yourself and make sure that you are living those values accurately.”
The company focuses on ethical production, using responsible materials and sustainable packaging. Its products are built to last to reduce waste, and the business is a vehicle to empower people and protect the planet.
Aside from B Corporation certification, here are a few other certifications and pledges that can help businesses live their brand values:
Striving to become certified, and maintaining your standing, can hold your company accountable, internally and externally, for making environmentally and socially responsible business choices as you grow.
Examples of brand values to inspire your strategy
While your company’s values should be expressed and executed in a way that makes sense for your business, here are a few generalized examples of company values that can drive how a company operates:
- Ethical sourcing and manufacturing. By being intentional about where and how materials and products are sourced and manufactured, entrepreneurs can sidestep exploitation in favor of empowerment.
- Environmental consciousness. From sustainable packaging to being carbon-neutral, companies can operate with an Earth-first attitude.
- Products built to last. By eschewing fast fashion in favor of long-lasting goods, businesses can sell products that stand the test of time.
- Diversity and inclusion. From the range of people a company recruits to who they make their products accessible to, companies can change the status quo.
- Operational transparency. Giving your target audience a behind-the-scenes look into how they operate keeps companies accountable while also giving individuals information to make better buying decisions.
- Giving back to the community. Businesses often benefit from the communities they’re embedded in. Companies can give back through donations and volunteering.
- Caring about customers. From providing buyers with high-quality products to maintaining a line of communication with customers, businesses can prioritize the customer experience.
Often, these core brand values are compelling to consumers, too. Fifty-two percent of global shoppers are more likely to purchase from a company with shared values. By establishing core values and upholding them, companies can put their best foot forward and attract consumers who are compelled by the same values—from reducing waste to operating with integrity.
Here are some brand value examples from sustainable, intentional companies.
Tech brand Nothing promotes sustainability and community as its core values through a dedicated network for customers and recyclable materials.
Low ABV drinks brand DECEM uses local ingredients to make its products. It’s proud of its British heritage and uses that to inspire its brand story around natural, local, high-quality ingredients.
Belgian drinks brand Misuko uses its website to highlight its values around innovation and change. It makes a point of stating all its products are certified organic to give customers peace of mind.
4. Francois-Joseph Graf
Designer bag brand François-Joseph Graf centers its values around luxury handmade goods. Its emphasis is on architectural leatherwork and detailed designs, and its founder plays a huge part—he’s always in the workshop.
The future of business: Your core values matter
It’s never been easier to start a business. But this means a healthy dose of competition in the market, making it harder and harder for companies to stand out from the crowd and find customers for life. Values are a key part of your brand strategy that can help you attract new customers, grow a strong values-aligned team, and build long-term relationships with customers.
Establishing core brand values, and truly living them through your brand strategy, can lead to both a better business and a better world.