I’m updating a client’s tone of voice guidelines at the moment, based on their brand values. And to make sure they’ll work for everyone who’ll use them, I’ve been meeting all my client’s agencies and internal teams to find out what they all need.

This week I chatted with the ‘acquisition’ team, who send campaigns by email and post to attract new customers. They have these mailers down to a fine art – they know the response they can expect from certain approaches and they’re measured on that response.

Conflict between price and brand value messages?

The problem is, most of their messages only talk about good deals. So to my mind, they are all slightly different ways to say how cheap they are. Affordability is indeed crucial, but the other brand values don’t really get a look in.

This got me asking myself, is there a tension between price and brand value messages? And if there is, can brand values get in the way of making money?

The danger of price obsession

Businesses in some industries seem to be obsessed with price. And for certain groups of customers price is, indeed, the most important thing.

But price can only be a race to the bottom. You’re cheaper this month, a competitor is cheaper next month. If you keep chasing each other in circles, eventually no one’s making much profit, if any. And that’s not sustainable.

How to earn customers’ trust

A brand that’s just cheap, is just cheap. You also need to earn customers’ trust. To be known for something that customers value. If you’re not known for anything but price, you can only ever compete on price.

And that’s why brand values matter. They help you decide whether you believe in something other than price.

Lip service to brand values

I see many businesses pay lip service to brand values then carry on chasing the sales. It’s as if someone read about values in a textbook, came up with some, then forgot about them.

Brand values are what generate long-term, sustainable value in business.

Look at Apple for example. They make some of the most expensive products in their markets, yet fans buy regardless. They famously stand by values like being simple and are criticised when that impacts on products in ways that are inconvenient (like ditching USB ports on MacBooks).

Brand values increase margins

But by standing for something and being consistent, Apple are able to sell their products for much more than competitors and make massive margins, despite smaller volumes. They’ve successfully built one of the most valuable companies in history, not by being cheap, but by standing by what they believe.

So, yes, in the short term, values might get in the way of sales. But in the long run, values bring far more value.

What do you think?