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Why brand values matter for retailers [+ 3 steps to define them]

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Today, everyone wants to be a values-driven retailer. Why? Because lasting customer loyalty is becoming harder to secure. 

In a crowded marketplace where consumers can change brands as easily as they change socks, it takes more than just price and convenience to keep customers coming back; it takes emotional investment in what your brand is trying to achieve.

This is why you need a strong set of brand values to attract your target customer and position your brand as the best possible solution for their needs.

First off: What are brand values?

Brand values are a series of principles that shape your business as it grows. They act as a kind of north star that helps you to gauge whether your business is sticking to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ that got you started in the first place.

It’s the job of a brand to clearly define its values and incorporate them into its overall story. Without a compelling set of brand values, it’s almost impossible to articulate why consumers should choose you over competitors.

In sum, brand values explain what makes your business different. They enable you to outline your value proposition and what you care about so you connect with customers who share the same outlooks. Longer term, brand values help you to build an engaged customer base who are passionate about what your brand has to offer.

How do brand values relate to brand identity?

Brand identity refers to the visible elements of a brand that helps consumers to build familiarity. Your logo, color palette, typeface, and the overall ‘look’ of your brand are all components you should be using to express the less tangible values that underpin your brand.

Why are brand values important?

Consumers want to support brands that make a positive impact

Where price was once the biggest competitive differentiator for brands, consumers are now showing a marked preference to support brands whose values align with theirs. With issues from environmentalism to social justice now firmly in the mainstream, consumers are much more conscious of the impact of their purchasing decisions. 

According to 5WPR’s 2020 Consumer Culture Report, 76% of millennials want CEOs to speak out on issues they care about, while two-thirds say they’ve boycotted a brand that doesn’t align with their beliefs. It’s clear that COVID-19 has accelerated this social consciousness, with 62% of customers saying they’re more likely to support companies who took extra steps to keep their employees safe during the pandemic.

In sum, more consumers than ever want to form relationships with brands that help them to make the world a better place. If your brand values aren’t well-articulated, this will be a red flag for conscious consumers.

Your values determine your brand’s direction

Values aren’t just nice-sounding words; they form the foundation of where your brand is heading. Everything from product development to brand partnerships should be shaped by your brand values, or it’s easy to get off track and end up alienating customers. Your values act as a compass to ensure that your business is always heading in the right direction and behaving in ways that align with what loyal customers have come to expect.

Example: Glossier

four glossier product bottles

Glossier is an excellent example of a brand whose values have driven the overall aesthetic and development of the company. Founder Emily Weiss started Glossier to address what she saw as the over-complication of beauty routines and their focus on ‘covering up’ rather than enhancing. Their initial launch saw the release of just four products, a massive departure from the bloated product catalogs of legacy cosmetics brands. 

Despite their offerings having grown considerably since, Glossier has stuck to the formula of creating no-frills products. Combined with their minimalist pink and white branding, it’s a clear reflection of their ethos that people should wear makeup – not the other way around.

Values are what differentiate you from your competitors

Today, it’s almost impossible to create an entirely unique offering (unless you’re investing a lot into R&D). For digitally native vendors selling wholesale products, this means that your brand is everything; if a customer can buy the same product from 20+ different vendors, why should they choose you? 

The only thing that separates you from competing brands is how well you articulate your value proposition. What does your brand care about? Why have you chosen to curate these products? What’s the story behind your brand? 

It’s the answers to these questions that will hook in prospective customers and persuade them to build a relationship with your brand. Without clearly defined values, you’re just a business that sells ‘stuff’, which isn’t particularly inspiring. 

3 Ways to define your brand values as a retailer

Trying to figure out what your values are can be an intimidating process, especially when your business is just starting out. It’s easy to fall into the trap of defining values that you think your target audience will be drawn to, rather than what actually drives your brand. Here are a few ways to help you zero in on what makes your brand tick:

1. Look back at how you began  

One of the easiest ways to define your values is to review why you got started in the first place. What pain points were you aiming to address, and how does your brand offer the solution? Reflecting on the origins of your brand will help you to highlight what your business cares about most, and how this is reflected in the products or services you provide.

images of women wearing thirdlove lingerie

Lingerie brand ThirdLove managed to gain a foothold in a market largely controlled by legacy retailers by solving a common problem for consumers; that ‘pretty’ underwear is ill-fitting on a lot of body types. 

Using advanced audience research and focus groups, they pioneered half-sizing for bras and a much more extensive size range than is available at mainstream retailers. This has shaped the brand values of ThirdLove as being about body positivity and inclusivity – a novelty in an industry that’s known for only celebrating certain body types.

2. Ask your employees

Businesses have a fantastic internal resource in the form of their employees. Staff often have a better idea of company values because it’s what drew them to work for you in the first place. Asking them what makes your business different is a great way to uncover key values you might not have thought of initially, but play a major role in making your brand appealing to consumers.

3. Use customer surveys

If you really want to understand why your customers choose to shop with you, why not ask them? Customer surveys enable you to get your customer’s impressions of your brand in their own words, giving you in-depth insights into how you measure up against competitors. 

Because of the time commitment involved, it can be difficult to persuade high numbers of consumers to take part. Consider offering an incentive in the form of a discount off their next order or entry into an exclusive giveaway to boost the number of customers joining in.

The golden rules for maintaining your brand values

Be consistent. Consistency is the biggest contributor to successful branding. When your messaging and offerings are in tune with your brand values, this builds trust and confidence on the side of your customers. In the reverse, a lack of consistency makes it difficult for consumers to understand who your brand is and what it stands for. If your brand is uncertain about what your value proposition is, consumers will be too.

Be authentic. Consumers can sense insincerity a mile away, especially when it comes to social and environmental issues. For example, the ‘Blackout Tuesday’ social media campaign in support of Black Lives Matter was criticized by many activists as being a performance aimed at looking inclusive, rather than making a meaningful difference.  If you’re going to back a certain cause or issue, you need to ensure it fits with your brand values and won’t look as though you’re trying to jump on the bandwagon. 

Get your team on board. Showcasing your brand values should never be a top-down approach. Your team is a significant stakeholder in your business and should be encouraged to take an active role in communicating your brand’s values, whether that’s through social media or in-person events. This helps to highlight individual contributions that showcase how your brand genuinely walks the talk.

Find ways to put your values into action. Words won’t be enough to convince many customers that you’re serious. Investing in initiatives that showcase a real commitment to your values is what will separate your brand from competitors that make empty promises.

For example, noissue is a custom packaging company that only sources paper and cardboard from sustainable sources. They’ve built on their brand’s values of protecting the environment by launching the Eco-Alliance, a tree-planting program that enables customers to plant trees in places suffering from deforestation. It’s an actionable way not just for noissue to showcase its values, but for their customers to get on board too.

3 Brands who’ve nailed their values 

REI

REI notice to spend the day outdoors instead of inside shopping

Outdoor adventure is a highly competitive space, but REI has managed to carve out a niche for itself as a values-driven retailer. The brand has managed to compete effectively with the likes of Amazon and Walmart by positioning themselves as true outdoor enthusiasts. 

Marketing campaigns such as the now-iconic #OptOutside, encouraging consumers to avoid the mass commercialization of the holiday season by engaging with nature, resonated deeply with consumers. This is because it was backed by the brand’s decision to close all of its stores on Black Friday so staff can spend time with their families, a stance that has since been copied by other retailers.

Allbirds

allbirds ad highlighting their values

Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown felt that most footwear was over-engineered and missed opportunities to use natural materials. This is what led him and fellow co-founder Joey Zwillinger to design the world’s first sustainable woolen sneaker. 

The brand’s core mission has always revolved around doing more with less, something that’s reflected in their minimalist branding and product range. Instead of producing a dizzying range of styles, Allbirds launched with just one shoe: The wool runner. It’s a firm expression of their confidence that superior design and materials are the way to break the fast fashion cycle and create a slower, more considered approach to consumption.

Lush

interior of lush cosmetics store

Lush Cosmetics is certainly not a new kid on the block, but the brand continues to cultivate a dedicated fanbase of ‘lushies’ who support the brand due to its innovative products that embrace ethical ingredients and ‘naked’ packaging (that’s to say no packaging at all). 

From day one, Lush has made reducing packaging waste one of its key values. This has played a hugely influential role in the evolution of the brand. Its storefronts pioneered the art of ‘stacking’ naked cosmetics products in barrels and baskets like a greengrocer, creating a more engaging shopping experience (sans packaging). 

Customers can also earn free face masks or discounts off their next purchase by returning liquid product packaging for recycling. By putting its values into practice from end to end, Lush has developed long-term relationships with customers who trust that they take their pledge seriously. 

At a time where it’s never been more challenging for retailers to stand out from the crowd, having a clearly defined set of brand values is the key to building lasting customer relationships that help your business to grow. Instead of being ‘just words’, your brand values need to be actionable sentiments that you can put into practice to show customers that you aren’t virtue-signaling. By cultivating a strong, values-led brand both internally and externally, it’s going to be much easier to resonate with your target audience.

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