(originally published in Entrepreneur.com)
Some of this year’s Super Bowl commercials focused on tugging at viewers’ heartstrings, challenging stereotypes and trying to make the world a better place — and for good reason. Some companies know that to build an enduring business, they should stand by core values.
Few companies are quite as adept at maintaining and communicating their values as Volkswagen. Beginning in the 1930s, Volkswagen (whose name literally means “people’s car” in German) aimed to empower the everyman to own and drive a car. This idea was radically nonconformist in an age when companies only produced luxury cars for the elite. But VW’s message of inclusivity and openness to change resonated with consumers.
Because Volkswagen has held on to those values for decades, it has built a passionate following. Now three of the top 10 bestselling cars of all time, according to AutoGuide.com, are VWs. Some of the manufacturer’s classic models — the Beetle and the Type 2 bus — have become icons. (People still love features like odd heater handles on the floor, the clatter and rattle of the air-cooled engine and the aesthetic in these cars that virtually everyone could afford to buy.)
A strong brand message can communicate your company’s values, differentiate it from competitors’ and make your target audience take notice. Here are some tips for establishing values that resonate with your target audience:
1. Determine your values as a founder.
Figure out where your values lie so you can build a brand that will always be in alignment. Are you resistant to change or determined to save the world one person at a time? What you stand for as an entrepreneur and your organization’s brand message will determine which consumers connect with the company.
L.L.Bean was founded on traditionalism and transparency while In-N-Out Burger is rooted in uncompromised quality and consistency. These brands have maintained loyal followings by standing by these values.
2. Analyze the target market’s leanings.
Even though your market can encompass different audiences, determine the core values the majority of your audience holds dear. If that majority’s preferences are out of alignment with your company’s values, pick a different market. Don’t compromise your company’s values just to fit in.
3. Team up with those with similar values.
Maintain a cohesive team and minimize turnover by only hiring people who share your core values. For instance, if you’re the type of person who wants to reward employees for their attitude and work but hires people who just want to climb the corporate ladder, they won’t be a good long-term fit.
The same rule applies for potential company partners. No matter how talented the applicant or valuable the potential partner, if someone doesn’t align with what your brand stands for, you don’t want him or her representing your company.
4. Monitor the market regularly.
During every stage of your business, keep an eye out for trends among members of your target audience. Are they staying consistent or changing? Staying up-to-date will let you adjust production or marketing accordingly.
In the early days, Apple’s branding was extremely nonconformist. But as the company captured a sizeable portion of the computer market, it became more focused on products that looked good and made people look good while using them.
VW’s core values have remained the same but it has branched out to create vehicles and messaging aimed at at more conservative (the Passat) and safety-focused consumers (Jetta) and environmentally minded individuals (the e-Golf and Jetta Hybrid).
Throughout the years, Volkswagen has proved that designing a company around thoughtful values, effectively communicating them to a target audience and maintaining them over time can drive long-term brand loyalty and growth. So take a page from the VW playbook and prioritize your startup’s brand values.