There is a never-ending supply of questions when starting a business. Who is your target consumer? How does your product improve lives? What is the best way to showcase your value to buyers? While the questions are many, your core values should never be floating around with these unknowns.
After all, your mission or philosophy is the reason you took the financial and emotional risks of putting yourself and your new venture out there. And, no matter how difficult things get, your core values are akin to the North Star, guiding you in running and growing your business.
Retaining these core values is easier said than done, though. Temptation to let moral priorities slide can come up when you’re under pressure — either from investors or a depleted bank account. As you look high and low for opportunities to make waves in the marketplace, keep in mind that not all sales are equal.
For example, a few years back, one of my firm’s clients was struggling to gain traction when it was approached by a wealthy celebrity who wanted to invest millions and back the brand. Financially, this was a home run, but there was one glaring issue: The would-be investor didn’t embody the values the brand was founded upon.
After a long discussion, we unanimously agreed to decline the offer, preferring to look for funding elsewhere rather than change the client’s core values overnight and alienate the loyal customers who had gravitated toward them. Our decision would have been much more difficult if our client’s values weren’t clearly defined.
Luckily, the whole team was onboard and felt a strong need to stand its ground — enough so to walk away from millions of dollars.
Today, we have no regrets, and the client is scaling at a healthy rate without the help of off-brand celebrity backing. Are you looking to grow, but worried about how to keep your values intact?
Here are three steps to help you make wise scaling decisions while keeping moral beliefs top of mind:
For a young brand, it’s important to identify what you’re not, and the best place to find these answers is within the company. Sit down with your team members and figure out what attracted them to your brand and why they find your company an appealing place to work.
Then, brainstorm things the company should never do. Ask employees to provide one scenario that would make them lose passion for their work.
Passion is rare — according to a study from Deloitte, a mere 13 percent of U.S. workers are passionate about their jobs. So when you find passion within yourself or in your team members, it’s crucial to foster it throughout every part of your company.
In addition, strive to encourage honesty in these conversations. You may not always like the feedback, but your team will feel heard, and it will help you avoid problems down the road. There is nothing worse for a brand than making a decision that causes important people in the company to disengage.
Gather as much information as possible about your early followers. Call, email, and organize in-person events where you can interact with this foundational group. However, as you reach out, avoid spamming customers with unnecessary surveys.
According to customer intelligence software provider Vision Critical, customers will be more eager to participate in surveys that aim to inform the future direction of your company.
Send out these feelers with the goal to find out how your first 100 customers fell in love and identified with your brand’s story. Then, take a step back and focus on them.
Investigate the same group of early adopters to find common threads. Where else do they shop? What are their hobbies? What TV shows do they watch?
Commonalities will help you find out how they perceive your brand, and in turn, they’ll help you find new customers to engage with.
Overall, don’t be the brand that tries to provide something for everyone. In the end, you’ll be outdone by other companies that narrow their scope and stay true to their identity.
Study brands you respect, regardless of the industry. Don’t just take the easy route by relying on Google.
Instead, find people on the inside and learn about the mistakes they’ve made and how things actually unfolded. In a perfect world, you’d hear things from the CEO or CMO, but don’t underestimate the value of learning from people lower down the tier who have been there for the long haul.
Of course, a company’s second or third employee might not be running the place, but he or she still has valuable insights about the company’s journey — the real, unedited version. These are the stories that contain the most important lessons.
Social media makes finding these people fairly easy. Send a message and see whether they’re open to a quick phone call or a casual coffee meetup. Most of the time, people want to tell their story — the worst that could happen is a “no.”
Sticking to your core values probably sounds like a no-brainer, because it is. In the real world, however, you’ll be surprised at how quickly brand leaders are ready to compromise and fit into a new mold when there’s a significant amount of money on the table.
In the long run, this practice will alienate more people than it will attract. To avoid a negative stir up among your consumers, remember your core values and set them in stone once and for all.
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Dustin White is the CEO and founder of Made Brand Management and a partner in The Mulholland Group. After spending 20 years building and investing in marketing and advertising businesses, Dustin saw the need for an investment and management company to assist brands in transitioning their strategy to direct-to-consumer.