Straight to the Heart

As promised last week, this week I’m going to outline a process to define the values that sit at the heart of your brand/business. This process is packaged up by …

17th May 2007 at 4:55 pm

As promised last week, this week I’m going to outline a process to define the values that sit at the heart of your brand/business. This process is packaged up by marketing agencies in various ways as part of their proprietary toolkits. The raw format I’m suggesting here is one that I used at my last agency so credit is due. BUT the foundations of their brand value generator was underpinned by a branding model used by Diageo for blockbuster brands like Guinness and Harp . . . so have a go with it and you’ll be in good company!

Data Collection

There are two routes to capturing the data you need. By far the superior route is to sit down with a handful of your customers (regardless of whether they’re strong advocates of yours, or not), and ask them the questions outlined below. You’re looking for an exhaustive list of simple, one word answers for each question.

Alternatively, you can ask the same questions of yourself and your staff. The results you get using this approach will give you a skewed, inside-out perspective which I would strongly recommend you sense check at some point, by repeating the exercise with customers. If they don’t perceive what you perceive, there’s major work to do. But let’s face it, you might not be in a position just yet to go canvassing customer opinion.

The Principle

Every brand has a set of rational (head) and emotional (heart) associations that go along with it. This exercise is designed to unearth those associations and distil them into a set of core values. The rational associations tend to be the benefits of the product or service that we lean on heavily when we’re pitching ourselves. Unfortunately they’re easily copied and so can fail to provide the much needed differentiation you need for sustained success. The emotional associations are the golden ticket, as far as brands are concerned because this is how your product or service makes your customers feel. It’s a much more complex equation, based on your communications, your customers experiences and the way your offer resonates with them on a personal and individual basis. If the emotional bond is strong, customers will favour you over others, the connection will be hard for another business to replicate and you have the key to a loyalty that will serve your business, long-term.

And the Questions?

Split clearly into two categories, the rational and emotional, but it may serve you better to ask the questions by alternating between the two lists, to stop you or your customers (or yourself) getting stuck in a rut.


  • What are the benefits of your product/service?
  • How would you describe the product/service?
  • What symbols or images do you associate with the product/service?
  • What are the key differentiators for the product/service? What clearly makes it stand out from the competition?


  • Under what circumstances does the customer buy the product/service?
  • How does using this product or service make the customer feel?
  • What are the disadvantages of using the product/service
  • What’s the product/service personality? If it was a person, what kind of person would it be?

Not all of your answers are going to be positive. Don’t worry about this too much, but make a mental note of any negatives – your long term challenge is to turn these around.

So what now?

This is the fun bit. Get a big piece of paper and draw a saucer sized circle. By big I’m talking at least two pieces of flip chart paper. Create eight sections radiating out from your circle.

You have one section per question, so either write your answers directly on the paper, or put each answer on it’s own post it and pop it in the right section – this has the advantage that you can move them about and cluster themes in each section.

Now what you’re looking for is common words or themes that connect a lot of the words you see across the various sections. You’re looking for the 3 or 4 words that hold the most resonance across the full spread of data you have. These words should feel absolutely right to you. If the language is a bit off kilter, interpret it into words that feel right for you, maybe even check the thesaurus. But don’t alter the baseline meeting to suit your purpose, or your ego. That’s simply not the point.

The words that you are left with should be your core values, the absolute cornerstones of your brand identity and a fundamental component of any communications messaging. Try the process and try the words out for size. Next week I’ll give you some practical applications for how you might use them. Core blimey!!

Sara Scott

Sara is a marketing specialist with a wealth of on-line and traditional experience. With award winning credentials as an advertising writer, her career also spans the disciplines of planning and strategy for both B2B and consumer clients. Having worked for one of the the UK's biggest non-London agencies, Sara now works on a consultancy basis for clients large and small.

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