Brand values: What you do and how you do it
The Single-Minded Mission Mistake
Let’s look at BP.
Back in the early 2000s, BP had four company values.
But there was a problem: very few people in the business could actually remember them. Tony Hayward, who was CEO at the time, drove the business towards this singlular vision: to be the biggest oil company in the world.
And it became a mantra, resulting in just one of the four company values (performance driven) gaining senior leadership air-time.
In 2010, just one week after achieving that vision, disaster struck in the form of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico.
Since the horrific disaster, BP has gone through a huge internal overhaul, it simply had to.
Its reinvention and focus on safety under CEO Bob Dudley was admirable. But it’s not the only company to have fallen victim to the single-minded vision mistake.
Under Sir Fred Goodwin, RBS set its sights on becoming “the world’s biggest bank”. And it achieved that vision shortly before the 2008 financial crash. Volkswagen pursued the goal of becoming the world’s largest carmaker – a title it held only briefly in 2015 before the emissions test scandal broke later that year. This was followed by a criminal investigation and a number of lawsuits against the carmaker.
These cases – and others – highlight how many of the important functions of a business, such as safety, duty of care, and employee wellbeing can get lost in pursuit of one grand goal.
How to prevent these situations from happening?
Brand purpose has been given a lot of attention in the past decade. It has been shown that customer loyalty increases when they feel a brand is making a difference.
It’s not enough to simply state that you sell cars, invest money, or produce energy – society expects some good to be coming from your business. The same is true for employees: a 2022 Deloitte survey found that over half of employees (62%) consider an organisation’s purpose before deciding to join.
47% of respondents to the survey said they have left an organisation due to purpose-related reasons. That’s a considerable number! So, to achieve that purpose and not lose sight of it is crucial.
It means having a set of guiding principles that drive brand strategy. In a 2023 survey by The Team, it was found that 60% of employees say that ultimately brand values are a far more important guide for them than purpose. The right values ultimately determine the ability of a brand to achieve its purpose.
This means so much more than having a list of values tucked away somewhere on the website, it means living them authentically every single day.
After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP needed to carefully examine everything that led up to the terrible incident and ensure it didn’t happen again. If they ever wanted anyone – employees, customers, governments – to believe in the brand again, something had to change.
By reassessing, the company realised that its values – around safety for example – had been pushed to the side in pursuit of the goal of becoming the “biggest”.
Without an understanding of its values across the whole business, any company will lose its way.
Ask yourself some searching questions:
- Why your brand exists?
- What significance does it bring to the world?
- How will you achieve that end state?
- Who do you have a duty of care towards?
Recognise the potential stumbling blocks
The most vulnerable time for any brand is during a period of success.
Bear Sterns, one of the biggest banks to collapse in the financial crash had values stated on their website around ethics, integrity and the quality of its people. But where were the ethics and integrity when the bank was investing in the subprime mortgage products? They disappeared.
The market was buoyant and their continued success made them feel invincible.
It’s at this moment – where success feels inevitable – that a brand’s leaders need to check themselves when it comes to their values and behaviours.
The implementation and living of values must be a priority at all times.
If a company’s leaders don’t live or believe its values, they will eventually falter. And there needs to be buy-in across the whole business. If, like BP, a brand realises it needs to reset or revisit its values, then everyone should be consulted.
It’s an unglamourous process and it’s hard work, but many, many conversations must be had.
Sometimes they will be difficult, but they will be worth it. And, when a company launches its values, they should be the worst kept secret in town. People should be nodding along because they’ve been involved from the beginning.
There’s no need for a long list of brand values. People will forget after a certain amount.
What’s crucial is that the impact of the values is tangible. At RBS (now NatWest Group), this meant creating the “Yes Check”: a decision-making process that incorporated five questions based on the new values. If you can answer yes to the five questions then you know you’re making the right decision. This is the sort of tangible tools employees need.
For brands to ensure their future, they must implement a balance of value and grasp the fact that success is not just about what you did, but how you did it.