Strategy6 Jul 2022Simon Druery

What is the difference between Corporate Values and a Value Proposition?

Quite a bit! Although these terms can sometimes be confused. That's because Corporate Values and Value Propositions both act as a guiding light to support a business's aspirations. One guides employee behaviour to drive performance towards business goals. The other guides messaging to support brand and marketing objectives.

Corporate Values are the guiding principles of a business. On the other hand, a Value Proposition is a marketing message expressing what uniquely sets you apart to attract your ideal target audience.
Simon Druery

Brand Strategist

What are Corporate Values?

Corporate Values are your beliefs, or guiding standards, as a business. They unite how your employees work together towards a common mission. Think of them as your business’s moral compass; how your people are expected to behave day-to-day.

Typical examples of Corporate Values might be;

• Innovation
• Integrity
• Passion
• Customer-focussed

They all sound a bit like they could apply to any business, right?

What sets successful values apart from the more generic ones?

The results of a comprehensive study, conducted in 2019 on over 500 US businesses, by Donald Sull, Stefano Turconi, and Charles Sull, found that ‘most businesses have generic, vanilla values' (see statistical graph to the left) and 'that there was no correlation between official values and corporate culture’. Hmm – so what’s the point?

Indeed some businesses decide at an executive level what their corporate values should be, without consulting the wider employee base, then bang them up on the office wall as a poster. Tick – job done.

However if done right, the research suggested the opportunity to build an exceptional culture WAS achievable through delivering values that are:
Actionable – provided through behavioural guidelines
Distinctive – articulate what makes your organisation different
Linked to Results – explain why your values matter

Developing your Corporate Values

So how do you identify your core values and the underlying behaviours required to help you achieve your business mission or goals? You go to Mars!

Designed by Jim Collins, the Mars Group exercise has been widely used by corporates to help them develop their core values. The article, Building Your Company’s Vision, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, published in the Harvard Business Review in 1996, proposed that companies who enjoyed ‘enduring success’ do indeed have core values centred around a fixed purpose. And around this, business strategies could continuously adapt to meet the fluctuating needs of the external environment. 

The premise of the Mars Group exercise is to;

“Imagine that you’ve been asked to re-create the very best attributes of your organization on another planet but you have seats on the rocket ship for only five to seven people. Whom should you send? Most likely, you’ll choose the people who have a gut-level understanding of your core values, the highest level of credibility with their peers, and the highest levels of competence.”

The HBR article included questions to ‘roadtest’ your new Corporate Values:

  • If you awoke tomorrow morning with enough money to retire for the rest of your life, would you continue to live those core values?
  • Can you envision them being as valid for you 100 years from now as they are today?
  • Would you want to hold those core values, even if at some point one or more of them became a competitive disadvantage?
  • If you were to start a new organisation tomorrow in a different line of work, what core values would you build into the new organisation regardless of its industry?
What about embedding your Corporate Values?

So now you’ve got your Corporate Values, beyond sticking up a poster on the wall for employees to corral around, what’s next?

Look for opportunities to embed your Corporate Values into all your systems and processes, helping you to;

• Choose the right partners to work with that align with your values
• Guide your Environmental, Social and Governance (EGS) strategy
• Hire and exit the right employees
• Recognise and reward your people for what truly matters
• Engage employees with clearer alignment with their personal values
• Tailor your learning and development programs
• Nurture the desired culture to drive superior performance

Recommended Reading

If you’re about to embark on a Corporate Values exercise, I recommend you readDelivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose’ by Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos).

After debuting as the highest-ranking newcomer in Fortune magazine's annual ‘Best Companies to Work For’ list in 2009, Zappos was acquired by Amazon in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion on the day of closing. The book demonstrates how a unique set of values can play a powerful role in building a customer-focused culture and drive profitable outcomes.

For a quick snapshot, here’s a blog article with an excerpt from the book that speaks to the power of Zappos’s unique values.

What is a Value Proposition?

A value proposition, more simply put, is your marketing message. It defines why a person would choose your business, product or service over another and therefore attracts the right customer, employee or investor.

At a high-level, a typical Customer Value Proposition (CVP) might be around themes such as:

• Fast delivery
• Durable
• Customisable
• Quality materials 

While a typical Employee Value Proposition (EVP) might be anchored around:

• Flexibility
• Friendly culture
• Financial stability
• Customer impact

Successful Value Propositions work on 3 strategic principles.

By expressing 'what is the value proposition' more easily and quickly, brands can create a greater sense of belonging. Value Propositions can be crafted around 3 strategic principles; Authenticity (a promise you can deliver on), Differentiation (sets you apart from competitors) and Relevancy (resonates with your ideal customer/employee/investor).

A business will have a different Value Proposition for each key target audience. That’s because their needs, values and desires are very different. For example, put yourself in the shoes of an investor; who thinks primarily in terms of financial returns. A customer; who thinks in terms of a purchase’s quality, price, status and experience. Or an employee; who is willing to share their expertise and dedicate a huge amount of time in return for growth, benefits, rewards and camaraderie. All one business, yet vastly different expectations of the value exchange. That’s why every Value Proposition is written to appeal to a specific audience.

That’s not to say your IVP, EVP and CVP shouldn’t be aligned.
In fact, it’s critical.

For example, if your CVP speaks to innovation, your EVP should talk about embracing failure in order to attract thinkers who want to be empowered to take risks and try new things.

Think of your different Value Propositions as a brother and sister from the same family. So complementing, not fighting (although there's bound to be sibling rivalries – hahaha – maybe from a budget/priority point of view!)

How to create your Value Proposition?

So now you know what a VP is, how do you go about creating one?

Always start with research. Knowing what your ideal target audience values about your business, product or service are the key foundation to your Value Proposition. Research should cover qualitative methods (such as focus groups with representatives of your audience) and once insights are developed, validate these statistically via quantitative methods such as surveys. 

Additionally, it’s important to also research the market. What are your competitors claiming as their Value Proposition? How can you be different to them, while still being true to your offering?

Next, you want to align your Value Propositions across the business. Will your EVP attract, engage and retain the RIGHT talent to deliver your CVP? Will your CVP attract the RIGHT customers to deliver your business goals and attract the right investors? 

Once you have sign-off on your Value Proposition themes/pillars at a strategic level, you will need to craft them into a narrative that uses your brand’s tone of voice and speaks directly to your ideal audience. Sometimes if your research goes deep enough, you can even have sub-VPs to attract and engage different segments of your audience – making it even more relevant to them. The more easily and quickly you can express why your offer matters to an audience the more effective your marketing dollars will be. 

So next time you're having conversations with your colleagues in brand, marketing, HR or briefing external agencies, you can set them straight as to the difference between Corporate Values and a Value Proposition.

Article by Simon Druery

Simon Druery is Director and Brand Strategist at Belong Creative. What gets him jumping out of bed each day is helping business owners and marketers craft brands that people want to belong to. When he’s not working you can find him travelling Australia in the family caravan and enjoying a tawny port by the fire.