“Well-told stories can change the world.”
Every strong business or nonprofit has a strong set of core values that unify their team and set a standard for their work.
Typically you’ll find these core values simply listed on an ‘About Us’ page, or mentioned briefly by a founder in a sales video. However, a Values Story offers a much more concrete way to exemplify your brand values and a much more authentic way to connect your team or clients to them.
That’s because a Values Story is one that demonstrates a personal or brand value in action. It’s much more than a mere belief statement, which may come across as overused or devoid of true meaning and weight.
A Values Story shares how people have experienced those values in real ways, in their own lives.
And let's be honest: it's easy to declare that you embrace any value under the sun. Stating the value creates little to no connection. But a Values Story allows us to see the value and connect with you, or the brand, in a much deeper way.
Anybody can declare a value, but leaders and innovators embrace the Values Story to create a deeper connection and build trust.
Why Tell a Values Story?
In 1997 Steve Jobs took over as an interim CEO when Apple was in a bad state. Lagging significantly behind rivals like HP and Dell, it was not evident if Apple would survive the competition or continue "hemorrhaging,” as Rob Siltanen recalls Steve describing it.
Steve wanted, and needed, to make some changes.
So he started to look at new ways to approach the brand’s advertising—the narrative it was telling to the world about who Apple was and what the brand stood for.
This desire is what culminated in the iconic ‘Think Different’ commercial.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels…” The commercial begins. And it ends with, “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
The commercial was a declaration of Apple’s values for innovation and forward-thinking in order to make the best product possible. And it was this narrative that, quite literally, helped to reshape Apple’s direction and develop into the leading brand it’s evolved into today.
So what can we learn from Apple’s experience?
A brand’s core values are more than empty statements. When clearly defined and powerfully communicated, core values have the power to get employees behind a cause, unify teams, and connect customers or clients.
As Simon Sinek says, great leaders inspire action by sharing their values first—why they do what they do—before getting into what or how.
Now let's take a look at another example of a Values Story— but this time from Ivy, our resident anthropologist here at Muse.
Crafting Your Own Values Story
1. DEFINE THE VALUE
Start by defining your goal. Whether you want to express a personal value for a job interview, a brand value to a client, or a team value to employees, start by choosing one word that expresses the value you wish to communicate by the end of your story.
For Ivy’s story, her value was ‘perspective.’ She wanted to share her value, as the team’s resident anthropologist, to set aside assumptions and see the world from others’ perspectives.
It’s by setting this target first, that you can then find the best story with which to communicate it.
2. PINPOINT A SPECIFIC EXPERIENCE
You’ll find it easier to craft a Values Story when you have a personal experience to draw from that demonstrates that value in action. Consider the following prompts to help find your source of inspiration:
- What’s the first time that you encountered this value, or realized its significance in your work/life?
- What’s a time in which you received the best results by practicing that value?
- What’s a time in which the absence of this value contributed to a negative outcome?
- What’s does this value really mean to you? Can you give a specific example of an experience that epitomizes it?
If you’re working on a brand Values Story, you might also consider asking yourself if there is a unique process, project, or other approach to your work that’s different from your competition, and that really represents your outlined value.
In Ivy’s story, she pinpoints an early experience she had as a high schooler. It’s the first time when she came to terms with the limitations of her own perspective, and discovered what this value really means.
3. BREAK YOUR EXPERIENCE DOWN TO A CLEAR BEGINNING, MIDDLE, AND ENDING
A strong story structure has a clear beginning, middle, and ending. Consider the roles of each to help you in crafting your Values Story:
A. Set up your story in the beginning.
Quickly bring us in to your experience and set the direction for the rest of your story. The beginning is a great place to outline any goals or desires that you (or another person) had within that specific experience.
For example, in Ivy’s story, she quickly sets up that she was volunteering for the first time abroad. She also outlines a very simple desire: she wants to give extra bread to kids who were living on the street. And more than that, she wants to feel like she’s making a difference.
However, the beginning also should leave us wondering what’s going to happen next. So there also needs to be an element of uncertainty, doubt, or conflict in the face of that desire.
B. Build out a journey in the middle (including setbacks).
The middle is where you want to raise the stakes and build anticipation for what happens at the ending of your story.
Consider what events, milestones, or setbacks you can leverage to build out this journey.
C. Communicate the greater value in the ending.
The ending is a great place to tie in the result of the experience, and what it means in terms of a personal or brand value. Don’t hesitate to be direct with how you communicate the value realized in the end.
4. LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO SHOW WHAT A SCENE LOOKED LIKE
Finally, once you have the structure of your Values Story built, it’s also helpful to review your story again and see if there are any more details you can add that might help the audience to visualize a scene.
Even though Ivy’s story doesn’t have footage that we can use to show her story visually, when she describes 8 boys running at her full speed— the bag ripping, and pieces of baguette getting strewn on the ground around her— it helps us to really visualize what this scene looked like. It also helps us to feel the full weight of Ivy’s naïveté toward what would happen.
This is important because most of us understand, in theory, what a value like ‘perspective’ or ‘integrity’ or ‘innovation’ means. But we don’t always understand what these values look like concretely.
Simply reciting values can risk feeling abstract, detached— or worse, disingenuous.
But if you can communicate your brand values effectively, they can help you attract like-minded employees and clients, connect people to your work, and create consistency in the quality of work and direction your brand takes.
Consider embracing a Values Story in order to demonstrate, rather than tell, your brand or personal core values.