One of the best ways to determine your brand voice is to start with your core values—also known as guiding principles.
You’ve likely heard the quote, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”, and I’d argue it’s true in branding, too.
When your voice and messaging are tied to authentic and deeply held values as a business owner, you’re able to create a much stronger, and more purposeful foundation to work with.
Core values don’t have to be cut and dry either. We often see core values expressed with words like “Integrity”, “Customer Service”, or “Passion”.
There’s nothing wrong with those values/descriptions, but there’s no need to put yourself in a one-word-only box when it comes to determining your own.
It could be more of a short phrase or a feeling. Really, it can be anything that carries weight for you.
While working on a client’s brand messaging, we landed on “Brutal Honesty” for one of her core values. It was in her own words and felt more authentic and meaningful than if we’d loosely said “Transparency” or “Communication.”
With “Brutal Honesty” as a core value, we knew her copy needed to have an approachable, friendly tone with a touch of sass that let you know, This girl’s a straight-shooter. Fluffy, super elegant copy just wouldn’t conjure an impression of someone who’s brutally honest.
See how this works?
You may have an immediate sense of what your core values / guiding principles are, or it may require a bit more reflection.
Here are a few prompts to help you do just that:
Now create a list of contenders to review further.
You may end up with a list a mile long – after all, trust, integrity, communication, service, quality, knowledge…they’re all super important, right? So how on earth are you supposed to choose??
It’s hard, I know, but we like to keep core values to 3 or 4 max. That’s because, if you list out more, it becomes difficult for your team (and even for you) to remember. Which obviously defeats the purpose of having them in the first place.
So let’s say some of your values are knowledge, intellect, reason, and science/data — and you feel like you can’t cut it down. Well, look at it this way: Each of those are within the realm of ‘information’ and practically serve as synonyms for one another. So pick the one that you’re drawn to the most, or that feels like an ‘umbrella’ description, and use the others to create your own definition of the primary word.
After all, we’re not looking for dictionary definitions when describing your core values. We’re looking for your perspective on it – this is your definition with application to your business and the people you serve.
i.e. Core Value 1 / KNOWLEDGE – We lean on data and science to make decisions and pass it through the filter of our lived, human experiences. We extensively test everything first, are committed to always learning, and then sharing that knowledge with others.
Then, Core Value 2 could be something totally different like ‘Play’ or ‘Fun’. This gives your brand a bit of juxtaposition that creates approachability, freedom, and balance. Ya know, if those are core values of yours and all…;)
In December, I reviewed our Copy Uncorked core values (as I tend to do each year) and landed on the following:
01 – Steadfast – We work with dedication and resilience, follow our intuition, and remain resolute in both word and deed.
02 – Fun – We strive to make fun a part of the equation—never sacrificing joy for achievement, and believe that a glass of wine is always better when it’s shared in good company.
03 – Innovative – We bring a fresh angle to each industry and project. By nurturing our creativity, furthering our knowledge, and replacing the mundane with something more imaginative, our work stands out and achieves enduring results.
04 – Thoughtful – We write with empathy and consideration; wit and poise—always putting the reader’s needs first. We care about the client experience, building relationships, and generally being good stewards of all that we’re entrusted with.
Are things like quality, integrity, service, connection, etc. critically important to us, too? You bet. But we like to think of some of those things as a given to running an honorable business. And each of the above values has a way of encompassing those foundational attributes for me, too.
There will also be some things you do naturally, and others you almost need to be reminded of—which, in my opinion, are the things you want to select as your guiding principles. For example, I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my work so by nature, I strive for the utmost quality and professionalism in each deliverable.
But something I often need to be reminded of? Having fun in the process. Not taking things so seriously. Taking a breather and a quick break.
That’s why “Fun” is a core value. I need the reminder – because it’s important to me. It balances me and it creates a better experience for myself, our team, and our clients.
We’re then able to take these values and determine exactly what it all sounds like in writing. Rather than arbitrarily trying to sound a certain way or being tempted to imitate a post we love that’s written in someone else’s voice, we’re able to come back to the principles that guide, distinguish, and move us forward as a brand.
Okay, now it’s your turn! I’d love to hear what you come up with.
Have questions? Drop them below! Curious to learn more? We’ll be covering this topic more extensively in our course on brand voice + branding messaging, launching in late March 2021. Learn more and get on the waitlist here.
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