Sunday 23 March 2014

Principles and Values of Successful Brands

William J. McDonald

Refining Principles and Values Into Plain Language

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Ideas to help you move your business to new levels of success.

Have you created a set of principles and values for your company? Have you shared them with your team? It doesn't have to be brain science. In fact, there are powerful examples that have stood the test of time.

What are values and principles? They are guidelines that shape how you and your team act, conduct business, how to treat customers and live out your mission

They define who you are. They define your brand. And whether your company or personal brand, your brand is what others think it is!

Sometimes we overthink explaining why we do what we do. We complicate describing who we are and what we want to be known for. 

The Four Way Test
As a Rotarian, I live by Four-Way Test. The test is adhered to by Rotarians around the world who are business people, educators, politicians, financial leaders, community leaders and other professionals. Many companies and organizations have adopted the principles as their own.

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
The 24 words are as simple as they are profound and encompassing. To fully understand it, you need to know the story behind it. 


In 1932 Herbert J. Taylor was a young executive and rising star in corporate America. Herbert was asked to rescue a near-bankrupt cookware company called the Club Aluminum Company. 

The firm made a series of unwise business decisions and was doomed for failure. Most importantly, they had broken trust with their customers and seriously damaged the firm's reputation. 

Many of Taylor's friends warned him that saving the company was impossible and would be a career killer. They pointed to other available C.E.O. opportunities that were safer and offered greater potential for success. Fortunately, he didn't listen. 

The Four-Way Plan

Taylor took on the project. The first thing he and his executive team decided to do was to restructure based on hiring quality people. The company would be driven by the character, dependability, and service attitude of the team.

The next part is important. They took care to hire personnel who they felt would live up to those principles. They hired men and women who wanted to grow as people as they grew their careers within the company.

He stated, "We believed that “In right there is might” and we determined to do our best to always be right."

He continued, "Our industry, as was true of scores of other industries, had a code of ethics that was long, almost impossible to memorize and therefore impractical. We felt that we needed a code that was easy to internalize and remember. 

We also believed that the proposed test should not tell our people what they must do, but ask them questions that would make it possible for them to find out whether their proposed plans, policies, statements or actions were right or wrong."

Taylor searched for an ethics statement that would signal the new direction the company was taking. He believed if employees “would think right, they would do right.”

Refining the Gold
He began by writing a statement of about 100 words. Deciding that was too long, he reduced it to seven points. He narrowed those to the four searching questions that form the test today.

Mr. Taylor asked four department heads for input; a Roman Catholic, a Christian Scientist, an Orthodox Jew, and a Presbyterian. They all agreed the test not only coincided with their religious beliefs but provided a superb guide for any personal and business life.

When he became the 50th President of Rotary International, he championed the adoption of the test by the organization. The rest is history.

The Forgettable Mission Statement
In the 1990’s and early 2000’s business and communications consultants made a lot of money helping clients develop mission, vision and value statements. I know I did.

We would spend weeks, sometimes months interviewing clients, facilitating focus groups, and seeking input from key staff before writing a three-sentence reason-to-be for them. That would be followed by 4-5 bullet points listing core values.

The statement would be mounted in brass lettering in the reception lobby. It was repeated on letterhead, company trucks, marketing material and wherever else was possible.

There was only one problem. All too often they failed to resonate at a basic level. Within months, few company employees and fewer customers could remember them. All of the work, analysis, and creative brilliance had little meaning.

We had done our part, but by the time they were edited, re-edited, and then re-edited again by the leadership teams, the final statements were shadows of the original work.

Developing a shortlist of principles written in clear, plain language that all employees, suppliers, and customers could understand would have served the companies better.  

Eight Principles To Guide You
So, while doing research for a mechanical contracting client, I came across the website for construction giant Black & McDonald Limited. I discovered something in the history section that intrigued me. Before you ask, our company, UnimarkCreative did not design their website.

Black& McDonald is an integrated building contracting company that provides mechanical, electrical, utility and maintenance services to various commercial, institutional and government clients. Headquartered in Toronto, the company operates in Canada and the USA.

In 1921, William J. McDonald and William R. Black formed the company to do residential wiring. The company is still a family-owned business that maintains an uncompromising commitment to the founder's principle of delivering on promises and providing fairness to all. Sound familiar?  

Driven ‘Till His Dying Day
In August 1991, in his 104th year, WJ McDonald was interviewed about his career and asked to provide insight into his business success. He repeated the beliefs and values he and his partner had founded their company on.

I could edit them into the language of 2014, but I feel there is greater meaning in reading them as they were originally written. They have stood the test of time.
1.     Do the job right - regardless
2.     Talk to the customer regularly, confirm his satisfaction
3.     Make the price fair and reasonable
4.     A deal is a good one only when it is good for both parties
5.     Live up to your promises
6.     Treat employees with respect
7.     Complete jobs promptly
8.     Invoice promptly, fairly, and in detail
Robyn T. Braley is a writer, speaker and music composer. He is the President of UniMark Creative which focuses on website design, video production, media services (editorial and advertising), and graphic design. Follow him on twitter at @robyntbraley

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