Identifying Your Brand Values

Last Updated May 31, 2007 6:07 PM EDT

Brand awareness is an important factor in customer purchasing decisions. The values associated with a particular brand can range from product attributes such as quality, to less tangible aspects of a company's operations, such as environmental responsibility. It is essential to identify the key values of your brand and to establish those values in the customer perceptions of your company and its products. It is also important to gauge and monitor, on an ongoing basis, how your products and company are perceived by different types of prospects and customers.

What You Need to KnowAre brand values an important consideration in business markets?

Branding is frequently perceived as a consumer marketing discipline. However, business-to-business purchasing is a complex process which can also be influenced as much by intangible perceptions as by hard facts on product features and performance. Thus, it is essential to identify, establish, and communicate the brand values that are important to your customers.

Are brand values weighted equally across all markets?

Research indicates that different customers place different emphases on individual brand values. Thus, when it comes to a values campaign, direct marketing strategies that communicate individually-significant brand values to a focused market segment can be more valuable than more general broadcast media strategies.

There is a poor perception of my company's brand values. How do we fix this?

If your company is weak in important areas that support your desired brand values, take remedial action to better establish those values for your company. Then, when you are certain that your company can deliver on its promises, focus your communications on those values.

What to DoIdentify Key Brand Values

There are many attributes of a company, its products, and its business processes that can contribute to its perceived brand values. These include:

  • fitness for purpose;
  • value for money;
  • quality;
  • extendability;
  • company reliability;
  • history of proven products;
  • investment in product;
  • development;
  • distribution;
  • finance;
  • service backup;
  • training;
  • warranty;
  • level of product customization;
  • partnership;
  • administration;
  • emphasis on customer service;
  • consultancy;
  • quality of technical support;
  • environmental responsibility;
  • ordering processes;
  • quality and clarity of product information;
  • delivery methods;
  • customer base.
Determine Relative Importance

Although these brand values can be applied to business products in general terms, it is vital to understand how individual customers or prospects rank the values. This can be determined in several ways, described below.

Survey the Customer Base

To determine the values deemed important by your customers, conduct a survey. Ideally, a survey should be performed by an independent research company, to elicit the most objective response. Ask respondents how they rank various brand values in importance, and how they believe your company compares with competitors across these values. The results should provide an indication of the relative importance of brand values to different market segments. Additionally, survey results supply valuable insight into individuals' perceptions of your company.

Conduct Focus Groups

A focus group can be used to achieve some of the same objectives as a customer survey, but it provides the opportunity to cover the subject in greater depth, and to raise issues that might be outside the scope of a typical survey. Focus groups are ideal for identifying branding issues that concern customers, assessing customer reactions to potential changes, or identifying problems that customers are experiencing.

Monitor Industry Trends

Industry associations and publishers regularly conduct surveys regarding buying behaviors within a particular industry sector. Results from these surveys highlight issues that concern the whole market. Review and monitor these findings, to identify industry trends. Relate these broad findings to your own research to ensure that you are communicating the most appropriate brand values.

Identify Vendor Selection Criteria

An increasing number of business customers use formal criteria to evaluate potential suppliers and gauge their performance. These purchasing criteria indicate the factors that customers value when selecting a vendor. Identify these purchasing requirements within your customer base, embrace them, and ensure that the key messages in your brand communications reflect and support them.

Utilize All Communication Channels

Once you have identified the brand values that are most important to your customers and prospects, emphasize these values in your communications and customer-facing activities. Advertising and marketing communications are the most important media for raising awareness. However, there are several other direct and indirect channels through which these values can be communicated. These can include your organization's products, services, packaging, distribution facilities, Web site, and customer service organization. The role of each of these channels is discussed below.

Reflect Brand Values in Products

Any company's products should reflect and communicate its key brand values. Typically, the most important values for product branding are:

  • fitness for purpose;
  • value for money;
  • quality;
  • extendability;
  • history of proven products;
  • investment in product development;
  • warranty;
  • level of product customization.

If customer research shows that your company is perceived poorly in any of these key categories, or if customers are simply unaware of your company's strengths, seek opportunities to improve development processes in order to better support the desired brand values. When these brand values are well-supported by the product(s), raise awareness of them via product advertising, product literature, direct marketing, and product public relations.

Communicate Brand Values through Services

Service capability can be an important company differentiator. The relevant brand values for services include:

  • training;
  • warranty;
  • partnership;
  • consulting;
  • quality of technical support;
  • service backup.

Many companies underestimate the importance of service to their customers and fail to adequately communicate their service capability. The right services can enable customers to improve their own business performance or to supplement their own resources. Raising awareness of service capability is therefore an important aspect of brand communication. As with product branding, this awareness can be increased through product advertising, product literature, direct marketing, and product public relations. In addition, leverage your service communications.

Reflect Brand Values in Packaging

Packaging raises awareness of brand values by its reflection of the corporate identity. The right packaging can communicate a number of important brand values, including:

  • fitness for purpose;
  • value for money;
  • quality;
  • emphasis on customer service;
  • use of environmentally friendly materials;
  • quality and clarity of product information;
  • ease of storage and handling;
  • delivery methods.
Incorporate Brand Values at Distribution Facilities

Distribution is an area that is frequently overlooked in branding programs, but one that often contributes to customer perceptions of a company. Build awareness of distribution facilities, and communicate the quality of service and backup mechanisms embodied by them. Your distribution facilities can raise awareness of various brand values, including:

  • fitness for purpose;
  • quality;
  • company reliability;
  • distribution mechanisms;
  • service backup;
  • partnership;
  • administration;
  • emphasis on customer service;
  • delivery methods.
Branding via E-Commerce

If your company supports e-commerce, ensure that the e-commerce process and customer experience supports your brand values. In an effective e-commerce Web site, the various technical and design components all work together to generate customer interest, build trust, communicate product value, and support convenient, profitable transactions. A winning e-commerce formula ensures that, once a visitor reaches the site, every link in the process of making a transaction flows smoothly, conveniently, and professionally.

Support Branding in Customer Service

Customer service has a major impact on the way customers or prospects perceive a company. Customer contact takes place both before and after a sale, and these experiences can prove critical in shaping customer attitudes. The effective handling of inquiries, orders, and even complaints can create awareness of positive brand values. Poor customer service, on the other hand, creates the perception of an inefficient company which does not value its customers.

Monitor Customer Perceptions

Customer perceptions change over a period of time, especially following targeted communications programs. Ongoing research should be performed to monitor customer attitudes. This is known as tracking research, and helps to measure the effectiveness of brand communications programs.

What to AvoidYou Don't Research Individual Customer Preferences

Industry research may provide a broad view of the brand values that are important to customers. However, it is more important to understand how individual customers—particularly your most important customers—rank individual values. This can be achieved only by ongoing detailed research into individual customer needs.

You Neglect Indirect Communication Channels

Brand values are communicated through many different channels, not just advertising and marketing media. Customers' attitudes and perceptions are shaped by many indirect communications channels as well, including packaging, customer service, distribution, and the products themselves. Ensure that every aspect of your business reflects the brand values that are important to your customers.

You Neglect to Monitor Customer Attitudes

Tracking research is critical. It is essential to gauge how customers perceive you so that you can plan and fine-tune your brand communications. It is also important to track changes in perception, to measure the effectiveness of communications and to refocus campaigns when necessary.

Where to Learn MoreBook:

Cowley, Don, ed. Understanding Brands. Milford, CT: Kogan Page, 1997.

Web Site:

American Marketing Association: www.marketingpower.com