Why brand values should affect everything from product flows to performance reviews
The goal of branding isn’t solely customer-facing. Defining your brand values and practicing them internally can have a huge impact on your business.
Novarize was still only a twinkle in our eyes when we decided to brand. Since branding is a labor-intensive process that involves hard decisions, most company leaders—and especially technical founders—tend to put it off for as long as possible. Often, it becomes a necessity only when a company needs to produce its first customer-facing presence: a website, pitch deck or an event appearance, for example. But branding also has a huge internal impact on the company, one that may be just as important as its external effect. For us, branding early helped reap all these internal benefits, and thensome.
We started defining our brand 18 months ago, when our team was 10 strong and our product was just starting to conceptually come together. The product has since gone through dramatic rebuilds and redesigns, and now, with a working beta and a launch date on the calendar, we can really gauge the value of our early branding decisions—and how they affected our trajectory.
A shared code of principles
The pillars of branding are your brand values. Traditionally, these are divided into three key areas: product values, internal values, and personality values. A brand’s core value (or values) is derived out of those core areas. We spent days carving out our values and injecting them with meaning. We had honest conversations about who we are as individuals and as a team, the kind of company we want to build and the kind of impact we’re aiming to make with our product.
Defining your values at the get go and sticking to them as you grow helps center everyone around a shared code of principles, attitudes and ethics that ripple throughout the operation. Nothing should be immune to good branding: it should be perceived as the company’s bonfire, guiding everything from how blog covers are chosen to how performance reviews are conducted. Here are some key areas that were shaped by our branding decisions:
Even after creating the prototype, outlining the roadmap, and putting everyone on the same page, building a product is a process that’s rife with opportunities for getting lost. Eventually, a product is the sum total of thousands of decisions made by dozens of team members. In order for everything to come together in a coherent and effective way, you should opt for either strong, well-defined values—or a miracle.
Novarize’s Product Values are Impactful (Our products create a fundamental change in the ways businesses connect with their prospects and consumers by breaking down technological and market-induced barriers); Customer-Focused (We always start with our customer’s unique perspective and provide tailored data and insights because we believe it’s the only way to consistently deliver value); and Simple (Our products are simple and intuitive because we believe that ease of use drives agility, agility drives clarity, and clarity drives results).
In all stages of ideation and production, we stripped the product of all functionality that wasn’t directly geared at helping our customers make an impact for their brand. Decisions were made around this focus, for example the decision to put our users’ goals front and center by starting the product flow with defining the user’s objectives, and building towards that objective.
It’s relatively easy to get waysided and discover that you’ve built a solution that you’ve dreamed up, but that doesn’t actually solve anything for your customer. Being aware of that critical pitfall, we worked closely with design partners who helped us see through their eyes. By understanding their market, pain points, struggles and goals, we were able to produce a technology that delivers real value, because it’s customer-focused not only in its value proposition, but inside and out.
Simple is harder than you’d think. It’s much simpler to make something complex then to get to the purity of concept that defines simple. But we kept at it. We got rid of redundancies, we streamlined, we clarified, we disentangled. We used simple language and broke down elaborate steps. We made sure that 100% of our users’ time on our platform will be dedicated to driving results, rather then figuring out what needs to be done or which functionality to use now.
A well-bonded team is crucial for a startup that’s trying to mold a technology, a product and a business around concepts that are in a state of constant flux. That’s why we found our values so helpful while growing the company and hiring for positions across the board, from development to product to marketing.
Novarize’s Internal Values are Love What You Do (If you find meaning in what you do, you’ll love it. And if you love it, you will succeed); Win Together (We look out for one another. We can’t do any of this alone. We collaborate to find simple solutions to complex problems); and Move Fast (Be ambitious. Be kinetic. Work relentlessly to get stuff done).
Gauging professional or “hard” skills is usually the easier part of recruitment, as these abilities are more malleable to quantification and assessment. However, even an extremely skillful employee will have a hard time shining in a concrete work setting if his soft skills, often referred to as “cultural fit”, are inconsistent or even at a conflict with the rest of the company's.
Having our internal values in front of us turned out to be indispensable in helping us keep our focus on the kind of soft skills we were looking for, and the work environment we were aiming to engender through them. We are looking to share our journey with people who are passionate about what they do, agile team players who can also take the lead and stand for their ideas. As our team is growing, it’s amazing to see the kind of impact that can be made when a group of like-minded, cooperative and driven professionals are up to the task.
But that’s only the beginning. Product values point us to the kind of product we want to build. Internal values tell us who we are. The personality values tell us how we’re going to get there. Novarize’s Personality Values are Be Open & Bold (We freely share our information and opinions in order to enable the bold decisions that spell change); Be Helpful (We’re approachable, supportive, and practical. We’re emphatic. We’re here to solve the problem); and Stay Fresh (New. Distinct. Invigorating. Cool. Because stale and boring are already taken).
It’s not enough to define your values and then save then to the company drive. Even putting them up on the wall won’t do the trick. In order for them to become the life and blood of the company they need to be actively woven into the day-to-day, until they become the de-facto work ethos of every employee.
At Novarize, we go about doing this by evaluating our progress in light of our values, for example, when we’re conducting performance reviews. Each and every one of us needs to justify not only our value for the business, but also the fact that we’re creating that value by implementing our shared values. So, it’s not enough that the development team completed all their tasks on schedule. Everyone also needs to question, Are we delivering impact? Are we moving fast? Are we bold and open? Are we transparent and helpful? And, not less important, are we having fun?
Our values are the glue that ties everything together—the team, the product, the destination and the way for us to get there. They are what we want our company to stand for, they are what we want our customers to feel when they use our product, get our emails, see us on social media. But that can only be achieved if we ingrain these values into our workflows, thought processes, and office dynamics. This kind of coherence creates the kind of company that constantly improves its products and services, attracts top talent, and engenders true customer loyalty.
A version of this article has been previously published on business2community.com.