Ethical spectacle? Case study on building a value-based brand

Q&A with Justine (branding expert) and Karl (branding beginner) on their project together to create an ethical brand for Karl's new independent optician's in Sheffield.

Justine first

Q You have worked for corporates for many years, but also in the not for profit sector too. Can you tell us a bit about some of the work you've done in for the not-for-profit sector?

A After leaving Sheffield branding agency The Workshop, I ran my own social enterprise, Silent Cities for several years, which really made me appreciate the challenges that not-for-profits face. 

During this time I regularly supported emerging social entrepreneurs with their branding, both through my time as Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Sheffield (out of which came the first student housing co-op in the UK, and the Shalesmoor, Kelham and Neepsend Network); and through our own Social Enterprise Incubator. 

I ran campaigns for many local not-for-profits such as Neighbours Can Help and South Yorkshire Housing Association. Our Age Better campaign contributed to securing £6m for the city.

I also regularly run branding workshops for the School for Social Entrepreneurs, helping them define their vision and values and exploring the pro's and cons of putting values at the heart of their story.

Q At the start of the project with Eyeye, you spent a fair amount of time with the team getting to understand how they run the business, and what the values are which underpin their approach. Why do you think this is such an important first step, before going on to work with them on their brand?

A Don't tell anyone, but the nuts and bolts of branding and marketing are actually pretty straightforward - be clear about what your core values are and what gets you out of bed every morning; and understand your customers, their values and what's most important to them. 

Branding is really about making your values visible, and the marketing magic happens when there's a genuine connection between your values and those of your chosen tribes. 

That's why I love working with Eyeye so much - their business is genuinely driven by their values as passionate (and narky;-) human beings, and so making these values visible to specific tribes who care about the same things was a dream brief.

Q Big businesses recognise that value based branding is powerful - and they invest heavily in it. What can cash-strapped small non-profits do?

A From what started out as a tokenist nod to 'Corporate Social Responsibility', 'Big Business' was pretty quick to catch on that 'ethical' 'do-the-right-thing' values-based branding can also bring in the big bucks. 

I remember this shift starting years ago, when brands like Nike started shifting huge chunks of their advertising budgets to invest in 'experiences' such as community football teams etc. It's what an increasing number of consumers now simply expect from our brands. 

This means many corporates are muscling into our not-for-profit space. Not only is there a lot that we can learn from them, but we have a huge secret advantage that big business will rarely have in the ethical marketing space - we actually mean it - and we do good with ALL our profits.

The only upside to our current hugely disturbing political and cultural sh*tstorm, is the shift towards a need for authenticity and 'truth', so there has never been a better time to think about your brand as a social movement and to put your values unashamedly at the heart of your marketing strategy. 

During the café workshop, we'll explore some of the principles of building a social movement and values-based marketing, and how you can leverage your values to help sustain your organisation, so that as a sector, we can all do more, with more.

Q&A with Karl, a branding beginner, on his perspective on building a brand based on ethics for his independent opticians.

Q Small, start-up independent business do not usually have a lot of cash to spare when they launch. You already had a website and a social media presence: why did you feel you needed to do more, and what did you hope you’d achieve by working with Justine on your branding?

I didn’t have any cash. Like lots of organisations I knew I needed a website and knew I needed to do social media, but not necessarily what I was going to do with them. Before Justine I was working hard, but perhaps not very smartly. I hoped working with Justine would help me make better use of my time and also, calm me down, so I didn’t feel so panicked and overwhelmed trying to do the day job, manage cash flow, staff and marketing. I also think I was in danger of doing the marketing I felt comfortable doing, as oppose to the marketing that will have the effect we wanted.

Q What difference do you think your work on branding has already made for Eyeye? How do you feel about your decision now?

Well, I feel calmer about it. People compliment our “brand” and I sort of blink a second and think, oh yes, we have a brand. Most importantly I feel the branding reflects my/our values. Justine saying it was good to be up front about our value was quite a big thing, I wasn’t sure we could do that. She has also provided structure so we know who we want to talk to, how we want to get to them, what to say to them and when.

Q You have now got lots of ideas for ways that Eyeye, a small independent business, can use values-based branding to help it grow and attracting customers with similar values. Do you think that small, not for profit organisations could also use values based branding to build an audience of people who share their values too? What would you recommend they could do to make a start?

Oh yes, it is perfect. I’ve worked in public private and 3rd sector organisations and if the people care about what they do and who they do it for – as they obviously do – it’s perfect for them. So, instead of marketing being a burden, it is something that helps re-enforce what you do and why, and helps you communicate that to everyone. Selling ethics, trust and values is very exciting. You could say The Only Way Is Ethics.

On 21st June, 9.30 - 11.30 am, Justine and Karl are running a workshop together to share their experience in creating an ethical brand at Eyeye Optician. This will be of interest to any independent business, or not for profit, that wants to harness the 'magic' of branding to build their own tribe(s). Tickets can be booked here.