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Posted on Dec 15, 2016

The Difference That Differentiating Values Can Make

The Difference That Differentiating Values Can Make

What do customers value the most from your business? Maybe you think it’s the great service you provide. You might feel strongly that it’s your product quality. Or maybe it’s simply price.

Based on my research, it’s often something else.

volvo_logoI suspect you can easily guess the #1 response when I ask the question, “Which automotive company owns the value of SAFETY in the minds of consumers?” Almost everyone responds with Volvo. Why? Because that’s one of the two values the company founders started the business in 1927, and have continued to define the company ever since.

walmart-logo-300x87I bet you can also guess the #1 response to the question, “When you think of Walmart, describe in one word what the brand of Walmart means to you.” Most people quickly respond with CHEAP! Because that’s the value the company “owns” in the mind of consumers. Now, from a marketer’s perspective, a better way to state this value would be “Frugality” as this would be more inspiring and empowering to employees.

Side note: I wish Walmart would state “Frugality” as one of their core values, instead of perpetuating the belief that “Service” is core to the business. Yes, service mattered to Sam Walton when he started the business in 1962. But since Walton’s death, being frugal has become the primary company trait in every part of Walmart’s business. This is the company’s true differentiator.

When I talk about values in business, I find it interesting that most of us immediately think of the few words or statements hanging on a company’s wall – if the company has any values all. Values are often something corporate executives create to appease themselves that they’re doing the right thing.

It’s not surprising, then, that most of us associate values with ethics. We evaluate the decisions and behaviors of company leaders – and their employees – on the basis of whether they’re ethical and doing what is morally right. We limit values to only being applied when someone does something wrong or unethical.

Yet, companies that make a difference use values to mean SO much more.

The Difference With Differentiating Values

Differentiation-conceptImagine when a company clearly identifies what it is that sets it apart from competitors, and that truly makes a difference. Customers know what it is. Employees know what it is. Even investors know what it is.

It’s what I call Differentiating Values.

(Ok, I know that sounds like a fancy phrase. Or something only marketers would talk about. But consider what it means…)

What I’ve discovered is that companies that make a difference, have values that make a difference.

  • Differentiating Values define what makes a company unique in its industry, what is relevant to customers, and is easily sustainable over time.
  • Differentiating values provide strategic direction; help everyone understand what is produced or provided, how it gets done, who is involved, where it belongs, and when and why it matters.
  • Differentiating Values set strategic direction and create competitive advantage; they define a meaningful purpose; and ultimately increase overall brand value.

In addition, when a company differentiates itself from its industry peers, research has proven it has a positive effect on company performance (as highlighted in a previous post).

What kinds of companies understand and have applied this powerful concept? Here are a few examples that are (or were) listed on the Fortune 500:

  • Amgen and the value of BE SCIENCE-BASED.
  • Delta Air Lines and the value of PERSEVERANCE.
  • Hormel Foods and the value of HERITAGE.
  • Mattel and the value of PLAY.
  • SpartanNash and the value of PATRIOTISM.
  • Stanley Black & Decker and the value of BOUNDARYLESSNESS.
  • Starbucks and the value of OUR COFFEE.

Do these companies always live up to their differentiating values? Of course not. But in the mind of their customers, they own these values. That’s what gives these companies their competitive advantage.

How can differentiating values help make a difference for your company?