Workshop: Discovering the Ethos that Powers your Brand

A company’s vision, mission, and values - collectively defined as a company’s ethos - are inextricably linked to its brand. Your company’s values help define codes of conduct, your mission keeps employees focused, and your vision keeps them inspired. In the aggregate, the mission, vision, and values all help employees validate why they show up to work every morning and guide their decision-making. It’s these decisions that ultimately determine how your brand comes to life. 

Since these terms are often used casually and interchangeably, let’s take the time to define them explicitly:

Mission: Your mission statement must answer the question: What is the company driving to accomplish in the next 5 years? This is a more tactical statement than a vision statement and serves to give your internal team direction and focus. As an example, Airbnb's mission is: 

To help create a world where you can belong anywhere and where people can live in a place, instead of just traveling to it.

Vision: Your vision statement answers the questions: What’s the essence of what you are trying to do? What’s the ultimate impact of the company’s efforts? What’s the driving force? The vision inspires your team and informs your strategic direction. Airbnb’s vision is: 

To belong anywhere.

While a mission statement guides the actions that your team takes each day, a vision statement guides your strategic direction.

Values: Values are the operating philosophies that guide internal conduct and the company’s relationships with customers and partners. For reference, below are Airbnb’s values:

1. Champion the mission (by living the mission)

2. Be a Host

3. Simplify

4. Every frame matters

5. Be a “Cereal” Entrepreneur

6. Embrace the adventure

The value of ethos-setting:

Johnson & Johnson provides a quintessential example of how a strong corporate ethos can have a direct impact on a brand. Crafted in the 1940s by a member of the founding family, J&J’s Credo is the company’s moral compass. The Credo explicitly defines the company’s priorities and operating philosophies and sets clear guardrails for how to interact with customers, fellow employees, and the broader community. With all these principles clearly defined, the Credo has been instrumental in defining the J&J brand - guiding how J&J shows up in the world each and every time.


The Credo also ensures consistency - in particular, consistency in internal decision-making. As mentioned in the post “What’s a brand, and how can you get one?,” a brand is nothing if it’s not consistent, particularly in the early days. Consistency breeds authenticity and authenticity breeds connection and loyalty among customers - the building blocks of a revered brand.  

A strong brand is built upon a clearly defined and articulated mission, vision, and values system. It’s critical that the components of a company’s ethos be cemented at the company’s earliest stages. It’s the company’s ethos that powers so many aspects of the company - from the brand to how decisions are made to how you engage with employees and partners. It’s the ethos that determines how the brand shows up in the world. 

A step-by-step guide to your first visioning workshop: 

So, how do you go about formalizing your company ethos? A visioning workshop is my tried and tested approach. While a 4-hour workshop may sound daunting and frivolous for a young company, there’s incredible ROI. The result of this exercise will: 1) Provide direction and inspiration to the team in the form of the mission and vision statement; and 2) Serve as the foundation for all branding work.    

Here’s how to approach the visioning workshop:

  1. It’s important that the founder or CEO drive this process to signal the importance of the work. I also suggest bringing in an objective third-party to facilitate the workshop itself. (If you are interested in having Fuel arrange a facilitated session with your team, email jamie@fuelcapital.com.) 

  2. Limit the working team to 5-6 executives or members of the founding team. While this team will do most of the heavy lifting, it’s important to provide transparency to the rest of the organization so they have some insight into the process. You may want to solicit feedback from the team to ensure buy-in from the broader team. 

  3. Start with a half-day workshop (best done off-site to limit distractions) to run the team through a series of exercises, individually and as a group. This should be an interactive workshop where all members are actively participating.  

  4. The goal of the workshop is to start to define themes and commonalities among team members. Does there seem to be consensus around certain aspects of the ethos? The generative exercises provided below will surface the language, discussions, and ideas that will eventually lead to your ethos. 

  5. After the workshop, the facilitator or someone designated by the team should develop a draft of the mission, vision, and values based on the themes that came out of the workshop. 

  6. The draft should then be shared with the working team via a Google doc or similar format. The team should then react and provide feedback. There should be a few rounds of edits and discussions with the working team. 

  7. Once the ethos are fully defined, I recommend rolling them out formally to educate other employees. Finding highly visible real estate for your mission, vision, and values is a great way to provide a constant reminder of your new operating philosophies. At TaskRabbit, we had our four values displayed prominently on the walls of our office.

My go-to exercises for generating your brand ethos: 

Exercise #1: Deceivingly difficult, this one’s great to start with as it tends to inspire productive conversation. Ask the team to complete the sentences below using five words or less (that is, five words in addition to the words already in the statement). I suggest having each team member work individually on this exercise. Give them 10 minutes to develop their responses and then come together as a group to discuss for another 20 minutes. The intent of this exercise is two-fold: The first phrase (“Your company is…”) helps derive your company’s mission or potentially positioning, depending on where people take it. The second phrase (“Your company will…”) helps derive your company’s vision - the ultimate impact you’re trying to achieve.

Working individually, complete each sentence adding 5 words or less:

My company is…. 

My company will… 

Exercise #2:  Good news: There are no word restrictions with this exercise. I suggest that the team work individually on this exercise. Give them 10 minutes to develop their responses and then come together as a group to discuss for another 20 minutes. This exercise focuses on your company’s vision. What’s the ultimate impact you hope to have on the world? You’re looking for consistency and themes between this exercise and what was derived in Exercise #1. 

What would the desired end state be when your company is successful?

A world with… (Ex: “A world with more opportunities for students to learn.”)

A world without… (Ex: “A world without hunger.”)

Exercise #3: This exercise is intended to derive the company’s values. What are the operating philosophies that guide the employees’ interactions with customers, partners, and the wider world? Have the team go through the five questions below and answer them in turn. I suggest that the team work in groups of two for 20 minutes. Then, have the group come together to share their answers.  

  1. Think of a large company you personally spend money with - what characteristics do you admire about that company? Think of a large company you won’t spend money with - what don’t you admire about them?

  2. Think of the last time you had a true win - what factors or traits did you bring to the table to contribute to that win? Think of your last true loss - why’d it happen?

  3. Think of the most competent, capable person you’ve ever worked with - what qualities did you admire about them? Think of the least capable person - what qualities didn’t you admire?

  4. Think of a leader you admire, what qualities do you admire most about her or him? Think of a leader you don’t admire - why not?

  5. Think of a fictional person you admire, what qualities do you admire most about her or him? Think of a fictional person you don’t admire - why not?

Exercise #4: Remember Mad Libs? Well, this exercise is very reminiscent of that game. Have the team go through the paragraph below and complete the sentences using strong, declarative language. I suggest that the team work in groups of two for 20 minutes. Then, have the group come together to share their answers. I like to end with this exercise since it incorporates all aspects of the company’s ethos - vision, mission, and values. Hopefully, you’ll hear some of the themes you heard in earlier exercises. 

Here’s what we know for sure ___________; We believe __________; We believe ___________; We believe__________; We are committed to ___________; We will always ____________; We will never ____________; We want to live in a world where____________; We want to show the world _________________; We are fueled by: ______________; We intend to _______________; We want _____________; We are___________.

If you’re interested in having Fuel arrange a facilitated visioning session with your team, feel free to email me at jamie@fuelcapital.com. As always, I'm available to chat about your company’s ethos and its impact on your brand or anything marketing related.