November 16, 2022
At the Design Lab, we’re big on branding being a multi-faceted approach to your business — we’re not just focused on the visuals.
We’ve now walked through several installments of the Intersection of Design series with expert interviews on copy, marketing, and client experience — and we’re back with another very important piece of that brand puzzle…values. Values guide everything we do in business, which is why you need to have them in check before you start working on the creative elements of your brand.
Today, we’re sharing a chat with Megan Dowd, a brand therapist and business coach, where we go deep and talk about why values are so important to your brand.
Megan is a self-titled brand therapist, storyteller, and strategist who helps feminist small business owners and entrepreneurs to build out-of-the-box business models and offer suites that create real connections with their audiences (aka community). She helps folks dig into their band values and what it means to work from a place of those values.
Founder of Human First, Biz Second® and the original Spicy Soapbox™, she also has her coaching certification through the Institute for Equity-Centered Coaching!
Follow along with our chat by watching the video below OR you can read a summary of our Q&A.
Megan and I have known each other for a handful of years now, and she’s been a tremendous help in helping me work through my ideas and what they truly mean to me. She’s the first business coach I’ve ever seen who used the term “brand therapist” (and that’s exactly what she is), but in her own words, here’s what that means:
“I work with small business owners to curate and cultivate their exceptional presence. I
love diving into how their values inform a human-first, biz second mentality, and how they are legitimately carrying that out.
Small business owners are resourceful as fuck, but that can get messy when we start to confuse personal problems with business problems. I don’t mean not mixing the two, I mean that we have to find out the difference between them because sometimes the root of a problem is something that needs to be solved in actual therapy.
When we’re so invested in what we do, it’s hard to find the line between business and personal and to set boundaries accordingly. Because I can help you with the business problems! But I am not actually a licensed therapist. So we need to figure out the distinction to see what we can ‘easily’ work through as business owners.
And that’s where values come in. Values lead our business decisions and can better define the messy middle (of determining a therapy problem versus a business problem).”
Megan and I also talked about what values really mean. Because let’s be honest: They sound pretty “fluffy” in a world where strategy is everything. But Megan has a great definition for values in business:
“Values are our compass for what you do when shit hits the fan — and it always will as a small business owner — that’s what it means to be a mere mortal.
But the more you lead with values, the more bulletproof your business becomes because you’re building flexibility into your business plan.
Values are how you make decisions. They’re the combination of strength, experience, and skills and they develop into human language you can feel throughout the body. Really, they’re your internal language. For example, if a word bothers you (like ambition), it doesn’t matter what others think about it, whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If it bothers you, it bothers you! It’s going against that internal language.
Folks want to spend their money where it matters to them. It’s all the rage. If you’ve noticed, consumers are starting to pick their purchases based on businesses that align with their own personal values too.
Which means consumers are getting pickier about where they’re spending their money — and why it’s so important that you lead your business with YOUR values. This requires you to do the groundwork for finding that internal language and executing all else from that.
Because the second you start with an external language, you’re pandering to your audience, which is never cool. Plus, without the work to find that internal language, the external isn’t as juicy and delicious as it could be. It becomes kind of…bland…and just like everybody else.”
And naturally, value talk leads us to talk about capitalism fatigue — something we can’t forget as small business owners looking to practice business ethically.
“Not all of our values have to be altruistic. They can be, but they don’t have to be.
We’re all tired. Capitalism fatigue is decision fatigue. We’re concerned about not buying from businesses like Amazon, for obvious reasons, but not realizing that those quick and cost-effective purchases might be fulfilling a brand value at the moment.
And we don’t all have access to the same resources, so that might be what needs to happen to get something done. We’re all constantly trying to balance American individualism with liberatory practices with our true personalities…and it is exhausting.
But the thing is, values aren’t here to help you be your best self, but your favorite self.”
While it make seem like “fluff work” to talk about values before getting into the nitty-gritty of your branding, it’s actually an important part of how your brand will look, sound, and feel. I love how Megan explains the way brand values impact operations and visuals.
“You can use values to describe values — that’s where holistic branding comes in and all the stages, like copy, marketing, client experience, visuals — make the whole experience. Think of branding as the pool of water, and values as some food coloring. You can add a few drops and then the pool becomes magenta, and you recognize it as such.
Those values then start to inform the more abstract pieces of branding.
And you have to turn down the volume on everything else to get there. You have to get quiet so you know what note you’re playing, and then create your symphony from there.
There’s a reason why DIY and outsourcing don’t always work. It’s because there’s a dissonance in values. And your audience can see that. The graphic may be cute, but it’s not hitting like it should. That means there’s a disconnect.
When you do values work, everything is going to change, but also nothing is going to change because you’re no longer fighting against yourself. You’re in your zone of genius. It can be complicated work but you’re doing it with ease because it’s clear. All of that comes out of values work.
And if you feel like you keep hitting your head against a wall it’s probably because the values work hasn’t been done or it hasn’t been integrated yet.”
Values do more than just show off what we do to the world, they also inform important decisions we make about our businesses and lives.
“Brand values take time to marinate into your business. But patience and time aren’t always luxuries we have in this economic system. It’s not always a ‘mindset’ shift that needs to happen.
There are very cold stark realities in the world we live in that no amount of mindset coaching can change. We can, however, change the relationship we have with these realities.
Which means that our values ultimately inform what we do with our time and money.
For example, me personally, I’m not striving to make money to build a trust for my future children. I could one day, but right now, it’s so I can go to the boutiques and buy the fancy soaps.
Our goal, why we work so hard, isn’t to just make money, it’s about what we’re going to do with it once we reach that monetary goal. Reaching those goals for the sake of reaching them doesn’t do shit.”
For example, here at the Design Lab, we talk about where our clients’ money goes and what we do with our profits.
We also touched on what certain values shouldn’t look like:
“Capitalism wasn’t designed to exploit labor, but here we are. You have people paying $2 for a VA overseas because ‘It’s a lot of money to them,’ and these business owners were told that this was a savvy business move. It’s not. It’s labor exploitation.
If you can’t pay someone the going rate in YOUR area, then you can’t afford to hire them. And values are never an excuse for exploiting labor. I just cannot fathom a business that is truly mission or values-driven exploiting labor like that.
And if they are, I’d think they may need to do a little more digging about their ‘values’.”
Values work isn’t something that’s one-and-done, nor is it a quick fix for larger problems. Megan and I talked about the ways in which values change — and how to let them “marinate” for ultimate impact.
“Again, it takes time to let the values marinate into your business. And that could change throughout the seasons you’re in. But if you’re scared of that change, it’s important to tap into why you’re scared of it.
Are you scared because you realize you’re not the person to get it done? Are you clinging to ideas because you love them? Or because you know you’re the person for the job?
Seasons change, our wants change, and our businesses change. And that’s okay. And it’s okay if your values change with it. Meaning, sometimes you have to change the hierarchy of those values, not scrap them completely. But what that looks like will depend on your unique values and business goals.”
“Aside from getting to know yourself, it comes down to knowing your audience. Everything works together to create that brand symphony, every single note. So if you’re dragging your feet on doing something, there’s usually a reason why (aka it’s not aligning with your values).
Sometimes you have to get your mind out of the way and let the internal work do the talking. And also, cut yourself some slack. It’s hard to just exist right now. You’re doing great!”
If you want more about the intersection of design and other elements inside your business, stay tuned. If you enjoyed this spicy convo about values, then you’ll love our other Intersection of Design series interviews with Latasha Doyle, a content and copywriter, and Amber Housley, a marketing expert.