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  • Oscar Park

What exactly are brand values, principles and ethos?

In branding, the terms 'brand values', 'principles' and 'ethos' are often muddled up, used interchangeably or misunderstood, but do they mean the same thing? As a creative director, I’ve heard this question asked time and time again (you can read more about brand jargon in one of my previous posts). So let's brea down what these terms mean and how they shape a brand's identity.

First off, let's talk about brand values.

These are the fundamental beliefs that can guide an organisations actions and decisions. They define what a brand stands for and what it believes in. Think of them as the moral compass of a brand. For example, if a company values sustainability, their actions will reflect that through initiatives like reducing waste or using eco-friendly materials.

Now, onto brand principles.

These are the rules or guidelines that a brand follows to uphold its values. They're the practical application of those values in everyday operations. If a brand values transparency, for instance, their principles might include being honest with customers about their products and pricing, or openly addressing any issues or controversies.

Where does ethos fit into all of this?

Ethos is essentially the character or personality of a brand. It's the vibe that a brand gives off, the feeling that audiences get when they interact with it. Ethos is shaped by a brand's values and principles, but it's more about how those values and principles are expressed outwardly. For example, a brand that values creativity might have an ethos that's quirky and spirited, while a brand that values reliability might have an ethos that's more serious and dependable.

To sum it up: brand values are the beliefs, brand principles are the actions, and brand ethos is the personality. They're all interconnected and essential for building a strong brand identity. But why does any of this matter?

For starters, if you want to get stuff done it helps if everyone agrees on what they are talking about. Having clearly defined brand values, principles and ethos also helps to differentiate a brand from its competitors. In today's crowded marketplace, audiences have endless options, so standing out is crucial. When a brand has a distinct set of values and principles that it consistently adheres to, it becomes more memorable and meaningful to the audience. Sticking in the audiences’ mind.

Additionally, having a strong brand identity builds trust and loyalty with audiences. When people know what a brand stands for and can rely on it to consistently deliver its promises, they're more likely to become repeat customers or supporters and brand advocates. This leads to long-term success and sustainability for the brand.

So, how can you ensure that your brand is effectively communicating your values, principles, and ethos?

First and foremost, it's essential to have alignment across all levels of the organisation. Everyone from the CEO to the frontline staff should be on the same page when it comes to what the brand stands for and how it behaves. This ensures consistency in messaging and actions, which is key to building trust with your audience.

Directors and CEOs should also work closely with their marketing and communications teams to develop strategies for simple, clear, effective ways of conveying the brand's values, principles and ethos to audiences. This will involve creating compelling storytelling campaigns, designing visually engaging brand assets, or leveraging social media platforms to create meaningful connections with audiences.

Finally, it's crucial to remember brands change and they need to be regularly evaluated. Brand's values, principles and ethos evolve as the company, audience and even societies views and values change. The world is constantly evolving, and brands need to adapt to stay relevant. By staying true to their values, principals and ethos while remaining flexible and open to change, brands can continue to adapt whilst without alienating their audience in an ever-changing world.

We’ve been thinking about this a lot at Osch. Throughout our projects, we make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to definitions and purposefully build this understanding into our approach. We're also creating a series of blogs and glossary documents to demystify brand terminology. If you'd like to be kept in the loop, sign up to our newsletter.


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