Values – shiny plaques or foundation stones?

the marjon valuesSix months ago we relaunched our Values, after a consultation lasting many months with staff. Shortly after this I got feedback from a member of staff along the lines of (and I shamefully paraphrase): “will you quit it with this Values lark and just focus on recruiting students please?”

It jolted me slightly. This was hard to hear but I knew it was worth me thinking about. The view, reading between the lines, was that all that Values stuff is just common sense – behaving decently to each other, and don’t we do that already around here? So I should shut up and get on with my “proper job”. It was clear they thought I was just faffing around.

It got me reflecting again on whether I was guilty of “plaques on the wall” Values, and how important it is to marketing. I am a massive fan of Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. I’ve watched the TED talk with many teams when thinking about the value of storytelling to a brand – trying to find the nub of what is really important so that we can do things differently to spread the marketing word.

Because I’m a creature of habit, we started with this TED talk when trying to get to the essence of Marjon. The subsequent work created some draft “Values” with which to brief a new campaign. It worked. Our marketing got more interesting; our engagement went up. Our results now show this worked, but it took a while to know that for sure – hence where the “please get on with recruitment” message came from.

Could we have rebuilt our brand without that values work? No. There’s no chance. We might have produced neater marketing, nicer colours, but nothing with any more depth. I’d guess the importance of brand values might depend on what you’re marketing; and perhaps you could get away without it. However the best and most memorable marketing campaigns do come from brand values; take Red Bull’s sponsorships, Always feminist campaigning, or Vauxhall’s pyjama mamas. These don’t come from product attributes – more awake, more absorbent, more acceleration – but from deeper values and beliefs.

We’ve only just started on the journey to share our values with the world, but it’s working, and I think without it we would simply be doing a disservice to the people who work here and the inspirational students who study here.

We value ambition and independence, we value humanity and curiosity; we encourage these traits in our staff and students and – most importantly – we need to know when we fall down on them, so that we can get better. We also need to use them to drive us to do things differently.

I’m glad I’ve been challenged on this question as to whether Values have any place in marketing. It’s been an interesting thought experiment for me but I come back to where I started. Until you find a common language for describing what you as an organisation hold dear, you can never find an authentic and interesting brand voice, especially when you’re marketing something as powerful as education.

So I’ll keep faffing around with Values for a while longer.

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