Summary: Brand-Building Basics: Vision, Values, Voice

Speaker: Mike Atherton (@MikeAtherton)

Brand is not your logo. It is an idea. A small idea that sticks in our minds. It is a promise to our customers about what to expect. It is a mental association we make when thinking about a product or company.

Mike Atherton explained that brand is about instinct – it starts on a personal level and can be fairly primal. We tend to base our product choices on trust, so brand builds loyalty, preference and price premium.

In this workshop, Mike examined some of the aspects of building a brand, focussing on vision, values and voice.


“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”

A brand aligns people to your cause and creates not only customers, but ambassadors for the brand.

Mike discussed how the UX-based approach of “the five whys” can help people to establish the core purpose of their business by working backwards from any action and asking “why?” five times.


Workshop participants were given five minutes to work backwards from an activity of a fictitious company to their core purpose by using the five whys principle to develop a best guess about what the core purpose of that company ought to be.

They were then challenged to set a big, hairy audacious goal for the company that speaks to that purpose.


Generic company values often seem vague and useless, or do not represent a company as we see it.

However, core values are the qualities and virtues we care most deeply about. They’re not what we want to be – they are what we actually are. Mike discussed several examples of company values that are visible in the way a company works, including Zappos, and Etsy.

So how do you find values?

Mike suggested a technique where you have to recreate your organisation on Mars. Who would you pick to go? Consider who best embodies the company spirit, the values they have and why should they go. Things that sound more like genuine, recognisable core values usually emerge from this process.

“A distinctive value is a fork in the road… something where you can’t say ‘who wouldn’t want to be like that?'”


Mike argued that a brand is a personification of a company, so it has a name, a voice and a personality.

If we are trying to express our company’s true personality, then our brand voice must be:

  • Talkable
  • Authentic
  • Unique

He stressed that the brand voice has to be an accurate reflection of your brand – the over-familiar, ‘matey’ approach is not the only voice available and may not be appropriate.

To practice developing a brand voice, workshop participants were invited to take some dry service statements and re-write these in a voice based on personality traits that best match their fictitious company from the earlier exercise.

Mike suggested using a brand personality scale to pick two traits that represent the brand and one that does not in order to get a clear picture of what the brand is, i.e.

We are…playful and daring, but never wholesome.

Mike noted that there is currently a trend towards having an over-familiar brand voice, but you can only really pull that off if you that really reflects your company. It is ok to be more corporate if that truly represents your company culture and identify. It is important to be authentic.


Brand is an idea, driven by a purpose that genuinely comes from the individuals in an organisation.

Brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.