Brand values don’t have any real significance until they are put into practice.
While it may feel like hard work to sit down with your team and create a set of values that the brand – and its people – will stand for, they’re just words on a screen or a bit of paper. Brands have to believe in their values enough to live them and make them part of every business process.
Brands that live their values have an easier time creating a relationship of trust with consumers because they tend to communicate honestly. From my experience, these brands know that they aren’t perfect and strive to be better at everything they do.
A high-level of consumer trust bolsters the brand’s ability to manage a crisis well, and experience a rapid recovery.
But how do brands continue to live their values – and use them to support the brand through a crisis – when the world seems to be against them? They do this in three ways.
1.Everyone in the business knows, understands and supports the values
Managing a crisis draws in people from across the business, so it is essential that it’s not just those on the frontline of public communications that are well versed in the brand’s values.
It’s not just knowledge that’s important. People have to believe that decision-makers in the business know, support and live the values themselves. If one of the brand’s values is supporting diversity, what does leadership do to show this? Do they advocate in this area? Does the brand have schemes to bolster the diversity of its leadership team? Or is this value simply aspirational, and no real action is ever taken?
If employees don’t see the brand acting in accordance with the values it professes, they will have a more difficult time convincing others that these values are genuine.
But when values are set by the leadership and lived every day, employees can be confident in their messaging. They know what they can and cannot say, and they know that the brand will support their words with action.
2. The public can see that the brand, and its employees, follow these values
Does the brand have a history of acting to support the things it says it values? It’s an important way of demonstrating to the public that they can trust the brand to keep its word.
If people can look back and see that a brand often says one thing, but then fails to make real change, why should they believe the brand’s words during a crisis?
A crisis is always unwelcome and best avoided, but it does offer brands the chance to remind customers about its values and show them that it can be trusted to do what it says. If a mistake has been made, it will be rectified. People can hear that message and believe it.
3. All crisis communication is designed to reinforce these values and communicates them in a way that makes people want to listen
Ideally, employees should take the values and messages that the brand wants to communicate during a crisis and adapt them – not just to each channel, but to each individual that they decide to respond to.
It may save time to copy and paste the exact same message to multiple people, or to post “see our policy on X” and link to a page of corporate policy, but the message won’t get through.
Empathy helps messages resonate with people – especially during a crisis situation.
Often, we find that legal teams encourage the brand to shy away from apologising (lest they admit liability), but expressing empathy doesn’t have to mean apologising and admitting fault. It can be a simple expression of understanding; showing that you hear what people are saying, that you understand why they are upset and can sympathise with them. But this should be followed by action.
A brand’s values can help support the brand through a crisis, but only if these values are lived throughout the brand, every day. Values can’t be enforced, but when employees and leaders believe in the brand’s values – and are committed to making a positive change to reflect them – they can help foster understanding during a crisis and help to temper hostility and misunderstanding.