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A lot of people have asked, “Why do I have to know the deeper meaning behind what I do? Can’t I just make cool stuff?” The answer is simple: without goals, drive, and a clear understanding of what your brand is, it’s next to impossible to stand out in a saturated world of noise.
Your values are what guide and steer your brand to establish consistency and promote trust. Your mission is the culmination of your values to declare what you’re all about. Your purpose is your philosophy, the reason behind what you’re doing.
In this episode, Cory and Kyle outline examples of values, provide clarity to what a brand’s mission is, and help to uncover the real meaning behind why your brand exists. You’ll learn why having a foundational understanding of what your brand is doing, why it exists, and what it stands for is crucial to success.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- Your personal values are going to bleed over into the way you approach your business as a whole.
- Values need to be something that your brand lives, not just words that sound nice.
- The most successful brands understand that what you do is never as important as who you do it for.
- The easiest way to determine if your values and your practices are aligning is to ask questions of your audience and your customers.
- People need a reason to care about your mission—they need to know you have purpose.
- Words are cheap—actions carry weight.
- Your values are what steer your brand to establish consistency and promote trust.
- Your mission is the culmination of your values to declare what you’re all about.
- Your purpose is your philosophy—what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for.
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- 03:04 Cory: Very simply put, values are the building blocks of our actions. These are what we will do and we will not do, personally or as a brand. As you start to establish what your brand values are, it might be helpful to take a step back and look at your personal values. What are the things I will do and won’t do as a person? That’s where we can begin to have a better definition of what our brand values can be and how it all works together. Our values as people are either engrained in us from upbringing or developed from our current experiences—nurture vs. nature.
- 04:06 Kyle: These values shape and mold the direction you’re going when it comes to the other things we’re going to talk about—mission and purpose. Starting with your personal values is great to think about because you can’t have your business values in place if your personal values are completely different.
Your personal values are going to bleed over into the way you approach your business as a whole.
- 04:59 The way you think about money, how focused you are on value to people vs. income to you, the products you’re making, etc. are all things that bleed over from your person values. If your personal values aren’t in line with a way of thinking you want your business to aline with, there may be some exercises to go through to shift how you’re approaching things. For example, you can’t really say you’re people-centric if you’re not paying attention to your audience. Why are you not doing that? What doesn’t interest you about learning about peoples’ struggles? Mix your personal values with your business values together in the beginning, then start building some values that are specific to the brand you want to build.
- 06:03 Cory: Something you said earlier when we were discussing this topic was great: values need to be something that your brand lives, not just words that sound nice. If one of my values is to provide exceptional customer support, but the only way I have customer support is through a really laggy chat on my website that’s only up a couple hours a day, that’s not actually connecting with the values I’ve stated. I can’t just say, “I’m really dedicated to customer support and experience,” and then not follow through on that. Values have to be something you can act on or something you strive to.
- 07:02 Kyle: How do you start transforming that chat system if you’ve already come to that place?
The easiest way to determine if your values and your practices are aligning is to ask questions of your audience and your customers.
- 07:19 Cory: I know a lot of companies do this. For instance, I had some issues with my iPhone the other day so I went to the technical support on the Apple website. I went through this whole process of trying to figure out what the problem was and at the end, they emailed me a survey that said, “We’d like to know how your experience was so we can evaluate it and ensure we’re providing the best service.” As a customer, that made me feel valued and heard. The number one way you can determine if your values are aligning with your practices are to ask people questions who are on the other side of that. You can say, “I have these values and I want to do my business in this way,” but if that’s not what’s being communicated to your customer or audience, then there’s something wrong.
- 08:53 Kyle: You can even look internally and ask yourself, “Am I making compromises?” Maybe Scarcity Mindset is a big thing for you right now and one of your business values is not to go into debt in order to grow the business, which is actually one of my own business values. If I’m starting to go into debt and I’m not adhering to that value, I need to realize not only am I not setting this up the right way, but I’m putting myself in a position that my values say I should not be in. You could ask your audience how they feel their experience is with you, but there’s some values that are internal. Take some time to evaluate yourself and maybe even schedule that time on the calendar.
- 10:14 Cory: Evaluation is key when it comes to values, mission, purpose, business structure, employees, client process, social media output, etc. You can do self-evaluation for sure, but it’s also helpful to have outside eyes come in and tell you what’s happening.
Does Asking for Feedback Look Unprofessional?
- 10:48 Kyle: Wouter asked, “Does it come across as unprofessional when you’re asking your client what you could do better?” Maybe it’s not your audience, but it’s a client you work with, how do you ask them if you’re doing ok? I don’t feel like that’s an issue. That’s part of helping you realize if your values are in tact or not, because it’s someone you’re working closely with, having one-on-one meetings with. Ask them, “These are the things I’m trying to do, do you think I’m doing those well? Do you feel like I could improve in any areas?” To me, it shows them that you care and you’re prepared to shift or change if you’re not on the right track.
- 11:52 Cory: Communication is less about what you say and more about what’s perceived when you say it. I think there’s a lot of value in allowing people you’ve worked for to speak into your business. I could say something I think is great, but if someone else perceives it the wrong way, the words are less about what I said and more about what was communicated in the end. Especially when you’re working with clients, how do I make sure my values are benefiting them?
Values are less for you and more for the benefit of your audience, customers, or clients.
- 12:58 Kyle: That’s another thing to think about: what would you want people to approach you with? Let’s say you go somewhere and you have an okay experience, but you overlook the bad things because overall, the experience was good. There might be some underlying things that made you feel uncomfortable or like the person wasn’t being professional. If that person came to you and said, “I hope your experience was great. It seems like everything went really well, I just want to make sure everything seemed ok for you,” then that’s huge. I would go to that person next time, because even if there were a few issues, they were trying to make it better. Even though my experience wasn’t great, the fact that they wanted feedback from me and they acknowledged they may not be perfect makes me want to go back to them.
- 14:02 Cory: There’s also a lot of power in getting feedback like that from someone who is objective and not someone who is really close to you. For instance, if I have a business online I want to evaluate, I probably shouldn’t go to my mom and ask her how she thinks my business is doing, because your mom is almost always going to validate you, in most cases. It can be helpful to your future to go to someone who has first-hand experience and can be objective. You have to take all of that in with humility and not be defensive. If you go into an evaluation defensive, nothing is ever going to happen.
- 14:55 Kyle: Even the people who have really bad feedback for you—they had a bad experience for some reason or maybe you declined taking on a project with them—are great to talk to. How big of an impact does it have when you get frustrated with someone and you talk through it with the other person? Maybe it’s so bad of a situation that you won’t work together, but at least talk with them about what went wrong. Why do they feel it was a bad situation? Those things are huge in starting to shape your values because you realize some areas on paper seem great, but when you put them into practice, maybe they aren’t coming across the right way. to people or you’re not communicating them the right way.
Wording Your Value, Mission, and Purpose Statements
- 16:13 Cory: I wanted to talk about some examples of values. Kyle mentioned earlier that not going into debt to drive the business forward was one for him. Another example is, “Quality will always be more important than quantity.” In other words, you could say the quality of your products is worth more than the amount of profit you bring in. From a business standpoint, there are a lot people who say, “The reason we’re in business is to make money,” and I get that, but if all you’re doing is outputting quantity, cutting corners, and not outputting the kind of quality you say you want to output, it’s going to break down. Another example of a value is, “A commitment to innovation and excellence.” This is saying you want to be a company or brand that innovates, does new things, and tries out things that haven’t been tried out before.
- 17:13 Kyle: Something important to keep in mind with these values is that words are extremely important—even little words can make a big difference. You mentioned people who are focused on the business making money, and that makes sense because you’re not in business to make no money, but:
There’s a big difference between being in business to make a lot of money and wanting to make money so you can stay in business.
- 17:56 Even saying, “We strive to make quality products,” instead of, “We make quality products,” can make a difference. Maybe at the beginning your products aren’t as high quality as they will be in five years. Instead of trying to eventually get a product out that’s the best quality possible, you’re striving to get to the point where you can release things that are of the highest quality.
- 18:27 Cory: It’s important to remember that your values are something you’re striving to and that you want to be part of your brand. When people see that you have a commitment to something greater, something beneficial to them, they resonate with that. I looked up some values of some well-known brands I’d like to share. One of Google’s values is, “Focus on the user and all else will follow,” which is a catchy phrase that makes them sound cool, but what they’re really saying is the user is the most important thing. When they focus on the user, everything else falls into place—brand strategy, future plans, etc.
- 19:34 Kyle: Think about when Gmail came around. That was born from someone thinking that people needed a better experience with email. They’re reflecting a lot of these things through what they actually do, not just what they’re saying.
- 19:56 Cory: Another brand I looked up was Whole Foods, a health food grocery store chain here in the United States. One of their top values is, “We sell the highest quality natural and organic products available,” and, “We support team member excellence and happiness.” As you start to establish what your brand values are—the things you will do, the things you won’t do, what you want to place higher on the totem pole of focus, etc.—a lot of clarity comes from seeing these examples. The purpose of talking about values, mission, and purpose is to provide clarity, it’s not to create an anchor that can’t be moved. There has to be evaluation, evolution, and clarity of what your brand is doing. Talking about these things helps people to resonate with you a little bit more.
Aligning Values With Practices
- 22:10 I think we should talk about Volkswagen because I think it ties into values specifically. Volkswagen recently announced that 11 million cars of theirs were under investigation because they were purposefully bypassing emissions tests and we’re going to set aside $7.3 Billion for the recall to fix the issue. They had actually programmed software into the cars that would determine if an emissions test was being administered and they would change the outputs to trick the tests. This wasn’t just a mistake, this was a very intentional bypassing of these tests. Right after all of this, the CEO resigned and I tried to Google their values, but couldn’t find anything.
- 24:08 Kyle: I even looked for a mission from them and they don’t really have a mission statement, but from 2013 their site says their goal is, “To offer attractive, safe, and environmentally sound vehicles, which can compete in an increasingly tough market and set world standards in their respective class.”
- 25:00 Cory: It’s not the fact their cars put out all these emissions. I’m sure other vehicles have worse pollution, the point is that Volkswagen put profit above their customers and the environment. They purposefully cheated so they could get ahead. That’s what frustrates me. The board is saying, “We have a dedication to our customers and we put them first,” but they don’t.
A brand may say they have a certain value, but their practices actually show where their values are.
- 26:15 Kyle: Let’s be really clear here: the focus is not that we want to talk about Volkswagen, it’s that their values weren’t in place. Their values were on paper, but they weren’t really there. It’s a much bigger issue than this one company. How are you running things? If you’re running things in a way that says, “I hope I don’t get caught with this because it’s going good now,” those aren’t values. Those are things you’re hoping people will be blinded by so you can do things in a way that helps you.
- 26:54 Cory: A lot of companies put profit above anything else, but that’s not the point. The point isn’t that it’s a company trying to make a profit, the point is that this was a brand that stated one thing, but they acted on something else. What I want to bring that down to is, when you’re developing your brand, you have to make sure your values align with your actual practices.
- 27:42 Otherwise, they’re not true values and the things you actually do prove what you actually value. It’s not that Volkswagen had a scandal and there’s media buzz about it. People are upset because Volkswagen intentionally cheating. People don’t like being cheated—they don’t like feeling like a company doesn’t have their best interest at heart. I can guarantee you any company that comes across as, “We have our customers’ best interest at heart,” are the companies people resonate with.
The most successful brands understand that what you do is never as important as who you do it for.
- 28:44 The ones who compromise on their values are not the successful ones. As we can see with Volkswagen, they’re taking a huge hit because their values and practices didn’t align.
- 29:06 Kyle: That’s a great transition into mission and why you should have a mission attached with your values—it’s putting those values into practice to move forward. You can have all these values, but what is your company or business actually doing? How does that shape your brand?
- 29:45 Cory: Your mission is, like Kyle said, what you’re doing. It’s sitting down and asking yourself what you’re doing. These are your goals, what niche your brand resides in, what you’re doing now and in the future. This isn’t a short-term goal or, “Our mission is to raise $500 million.” That’s not what a mission is. Your mission is your direction—it’s, “We are doing X to provide this target audience with this kind of solution.”
- 30:30 I don’t actually have their mission statement in hand, but for a company like Apple, I would assume their mission statement would be to provide exceptional customer service, exceptional products, and exceptional value to their customers. They do have those values of quality, but the mission statement is to say, “This is what we’re doing and this is where we’re going,” and to have a little bit more forward motion. It’s not the end of the tracks; it’s, “We’re going this way and we aren’t going to deviate from it.”
- 31:30 Kyle: I would actually assume that Apple’s mission is more to make really great technology for people to use. In the chat room, Sean said, “According to the Economist, Steve Jobs’ mission statement for Apple in 1980 was, ‘To make a contribution to the world, by making tools for the mind that advance human kind.” They’re going beyond the values of just making high quality products. It’s great to say that, but the mission is to do that for a reason.
- 32:27 If you’re making products, what are you doing? This is where purpose intersects here—why would you do this? But mission is how we’re going to get there. If you’re wanting to make high quality products, how are you going to get to a place where people undertand that you’re making high quality products? You need to have goals on how you want to achieve that, beyond something you just want to do.
Mission is getting from point A to point B.
How are you doing the things you want to do?
- 33:08 Cory: I have a couple other mission statements from companies here. Amazon’s is, “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.” That’s easy to understand.
- 33:33 Kyle: I’m sure behind the scenes there are a lot of values going on there, but I’m sure essentially it’s, “What do we want to deliver?” and it’s from an outside perspective. There’s some internal moral there because it’s what you’re striving for, but it’s also an outward statement of, “This is what I want to do for you. This is what my brand should be doing for you.”
- 34:08 Cory: If you’re running a brand that has employees or other people working for it, you also have to make sure that the people working with you understand the mission. There’s nothing that takes away the drive of working and wanting to be involved in something bigger more than not knowing where anything is going. There are so many companies that startup and they’re great and they have all this capital from investors, but then they die out. Nine times out of 10, I would guess that it was all because nobody knew where the company was going. Nobody knew what they were fighting for, and that’s what mission is.
- 35:06 Mission is what you’re doing for your audience and wanting to make their lives, experience, and their world a better place. Once you determine why you’re doing it and how you’re going to do it, turn your mission as a brand into a single statement or sentence and that will provide you with clarity. Another example is Trader Joe’s, another organic grocery store chain here in the US. They say, “The mission of Trader Joe’s is to give our customers the best food and beverage values they can find anywhere and to provide them with the information required to make informed buying decisions. We provide these with dedication to the highest quality of customer satisfaction delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, fun, individual price, and company spirit.” I love that!
- 36:15 Evaluate yourself: what are you doing, and how are you going to accomplish that? Put that together in a sentence or a couple of sentences and that’s your direction.
- 36:26 Kyle: A lot of where my story with building my own personal brand started was with saying, “Here’s what I want to do.” I do icon design. I realized there wasn’t a lot of quality icons out there and there weren’t a lot of people focusing on that, so my mission was to make higher quality icons and to help people get there. I think this is a good time to go into purpose, because for me, that purpose took a little while to understand. A lot of this is organic. Maybe it starts with, “I like icons,” or there’s something you enjoy, but then you start going deeper and you realize why you want to make this the thing you do. It’s figuring out why, out of everything else you could be projecting through your brand, this thing is what you want other people to know about you.
- 37:42 Once you get that mission down and start going into purpose, the purpose could take a little while. Purpose is why you’re doing something—it’s the reason to even wake up in the morning. It’s great to have that purpose in place from the beginning, but a lot of the time it might just grow with you. Honestly, it took several months for me to define and articulate for other people why I was doing what I was doing, because I was focused on the mission.
People need a reason to care about your mission—they need to know you have purpose.
- 38:39 You need to know you have purpose beyond just, “Here’s what I’m doing for people.” Why are you doing that? Why should people care? If you start a landscaping business and you’re passionate about aesthetically pleasing lawns, your mission is to make the world a better-looking place, but the purpose behind that is what people need in order to get behind your brand. To me, purpose is one of the biggest parts of this and you’re really going to have to sit down and think about it—and always think about it. You want to continually shift and mold that to make sure it’s in the right place.
- 39:41 Cory: Purpose is huge. It’s why you got started—literally. I think it requires a lot of introspection. What got you to where you are in the first place? Ask yourself what you’re doing—the answer is your mission. Why do you wake up in the morning to do this? Why are you trying to pursue your passion? Aaron Dowd works at seanwes with me, and he does a fantastic job editing podcasts. He gets paid to edit podcasts, and he’s really passionate about why he does what he does. He believes in podcasts, he loves them, and he wants to see people who make podcasts do better and have a great medium where they can communicate their message. That’s why he wakes up in the morning.
- 41:30 It has to be more than, “I’m doing this to make a lot of money,” otherwise it’s going to fizzle. In the long-run of life, money doesn’t matter. I’ve met business men on skid row in LA with zero dollars to their name saying that last month they were making seven figures a year and then everything went away so they were homeless within a month. The reason you’re doing what you do has got to be more than money.
- 42:15 Kyle: If other people came to you and said, “Cory, why do you do this? Why should I care? Why should I be behind this thing? Why should I see your brand as unique and something I should be a fan of? Why should I invest in this brand?” If that answer is that you want to make a lot of money, nobody will want to get behind that. Digging into the why is a process. I’ve personally had to go through that process and at first, I wanted to make high quality icons for other people. That’s great, but that’s not much of a purpose. After lots of iterating, it comes down to wanting to do this because it’s speaking to people. It’s telling you, “Here’s what’s going to happen when you click on this icon—this is how people are going to perceive you and how they’re going to relate to your brand when they see it.” Helping people go through a professional process of achieving actual goals is a huge purpose for me.
Purpose is the thing people can understand and take away, even more than your mission.
- 44:48 Cory: Ultimately, people want to know what you’re going to do for them. People are inherently selfish in that way. If you look at a story, every story has a hero or protagonist and as a brand, you’re not the hero of someone else’s story. They are the hero of their own story, and your purpose is what resonates with your audience and customers so that they say, “This is something I want to be a part of because it’s going to better my story.”
How Often Should You Reconsider Your Values?
- 45:33 Dane asks, “How often should you reconsider your values, mission, and purpose? Are they concrete things you should stick by no matter what, or are they things that are constantly evolving based on the context of your environment?”
- 45:54 Kyle: You should definitely be open to that. I think mission and purpose are a little more organic, because as you grow the business you learn things from people. You start to develop this idea of not only ,”Why do I want this to matter,” but, “Why do people think this matters?” Values are a little different, but the most important part for me is remembering that you’ve set expectations. If tomorrow I wake up and realize I should reconsider a value I have or my mission is a little off, I’ve already set expectations so I can’t just change everything. Realize you should always be considering changes, but you also need to lead people into the changes you make instead of suddenly flipping a switch.
Keep in mind that words are cheap—actions carry weight.
- 47:02 Cory: You can say anything you want, but if your actions don’t back it up, your words don’t matter. If you’re trying to keep an open mind and you’re always making sure your brand is moving forward, you’re going to have to be open to introspection and evaluation. It even goes back to the way we communicate with people. The way brands communicate to their audience 25 years ago is different than how they communicate now. You have to change and adjust to what your audience is doing. You have to have consistency and when you have your values, purpose, and mission defined, it provides a path for you to walk on. Realize that there’s room for deviation, but you can’t make those on a whim. There has to be evaluation.
- 48:43 Kyle: Let’s say you’ve had a podcast going for a while now and all your income is from sponsors. We’re part of the seanwes network and part of the values here is not having advertisers. We provide podcasts to the listeners that’s ad free and we’re able to do that from people joining the seanwes Community. Maybe you’re not familiar with that world—you’ve only heard people say you have to have advertisers because that’s how you pay for the podcast. Suddenly you come across the seanwes network, you realize you don’t have to do that, and you want to move your podcast in this different direction because you agree with the values here.
- 50:09 Well, you can’t just flip a switch tomorrow, change to no ads, and hope the listeners send in money so you can keep going. There’s a transition and you might take some hard hits during that as far as income goes. Maybe you need to shift and grow in the new direction you want to go, so you don’t ask anything of people for a while. You may find other sources of income and have an ad free show with no revenue behind it until you can shift into the point where you start asking people to pay into it so the show can keep going.
Personal Values vs. Brand Values
- 50:59 Cory: Eric asked, “What are some actionable steps for outlining and determining your values, and sticking to them if it doesn’t come naturally?” I had asked him to clarify that and we got down to, “When we have values set, how do we work to not cut corners or compromise on those things when it’s not natural to do those things?” One of the values you mentioned in the beginning was not going into debt to have a business. Maybe as a person, it’s natural for me to grab a credit card to pay for something, but I don’t want to do that for my business. You want to know how not to do it? Don’t do it.
- 51:54 You have to have discipline. This is why it’s so important to have your values set out and clarified. Understanding values, mission, and purpose is to provide clarity so you can weigh what you want to do against your values. You have to filter your actions through your values to come up with a solution. If you have values for you brand that don’t come naturally to you personally, write them down and anytime you go to make a decision in that category, filter it through your values. Get feedback. Don’t get so close to it that you can’t take input. It’s important to have accountability and input.
- 52:56 Kyle: To use an example: if one of those values is not to have sponsors, then that doesn’t mean suddenly you can’t talk about any other brand because that means they’re a sponsor. You simply need to start talking about the things you think your audience could benefit from and you don’t get revenue from that. That’s not something you sell your audience for, but you can point them in a direction and say, “I really enjoy using this type of pen.” We’ve talked a lot about Apple today and they’re not a sponsor. Dan was asking, “What if my values are X and Y, but what if I want to do something that conflicts with one, but makes complete sense for the other?” That doesn’t happen. Instead of having a sponsored post on your site to have people know about it, you can tell your audience about that thing freely and not get any revenue from it. There’s ways you can approach it and still provide value without the subject being forced by specific things because you have a sponsor.
- 54:48 Cory: You have to filter that all through what your values are and you need to make a decision based on that, because your actions are going to speak louder than what your words say.
- 54:59 Kyle: Some of those values are very internal and sometimes they conflict with how you might do things, but if you really want your brand to reflect a specific value, then you should move yourself toward having that value as well. Otherwise, they may not align with each other. If you think it’s important for the outward projection of your brand to have then it’s probably a really good thing for you to internalize. With a larger company, that’s not always possible. Not everyone is going to share the exact same values, but they can at least try to understand it. I think your values need to become engrained in what you do and who you are. If you don’t want your business to go into debt and you want that to be part of your brand, then the best way to get to practicing that constantly is to do that for yourself as well. I want Cory to talk about this, but I know he’s decided to get out of debt and I assume it’s because he wants it to be a value for him across the board.
- 57:23 Cory: I came out of college with debt and it took a while to pay off, so now my wife and I have established that we’re going to pay for things with cash. If I were to say that and then go get into debt, it would mean my values aren’t actually in place. Values, mission, and purpose provides clarity, a direction, and drive.
Your values are what steer your brand to establish consistency and promote trust.
Your mission is the culmination of your values to declare what you’re all about.
Your purpose is your philosophy—what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for.
- 58:31 All of that culminates into building and establishing trust. You want to connect with your audience. You want to bring this all together in a story that makes your audience resonate with you so you can accomplish what you’re setting out to do.