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Values-Based Marketing: Reframing Your Direct-to-Consumer Strategy to Win Hearts and Minds


By definition, values-based marketing is an appeal to consumer values and ethics. It is a shift from product-centric to consumer-centric marketing, meaning your company’s branding, advertising and promotional messages should be reframed to emphasize how your company’s and/or your product’s value-based benefits align with the ideal-based values of your potential consumers and existing customers.

Consider this––do you think Wal-Mart’s store design, with its often disheveled aisleways and poor lighting, is an afterthought? It is not. Why? Because its customers do not value the experience above access to product variety at low costs. Couple this with their slogan, “Save money. Live Better,” and you have but one such example of a values-based marketing strategy.    

Today, companies are operating in the era of empathy––of the necessity to identify consumer need states and values; of leveraging these as motivators to influence shopping behaviors and encourage purchasing decisions; of being a business, which in some way enhances consumers’ lives for not only consuming but aligning with its products. There are numerous ways to provide, deliver, integrate or even assign value. The key ingredients in the formula for success, however, are specific to your brand. To identify these, you must willingly and proactively embark on an investigative journey, the result of which is the identification of your unique value proposition, and moreover, the context for appealing to consumer values through your marketing strategies.  

As famed business consultant Peter Drucker so eloquently and succinctly stated, “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” If this is our intent, then values-based marketing is the strategic foundation for doing so.

Where to Begin?

Define your purpose. Every company needs one––a reason for being. Without it, you are void of aspirational let alone operational direction, nor do you have the capacity to develop or communicate an empathy-based value proposition to your intended customers. According to Simon Sinek, best-selling author of Start With Why, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy WHY you do it.” For this reason, developing a values-based marketing strategy begins internally.

Ask yourself, why do you do what you do? What is your purpose? If your answers pertain to making money, try again. Profit is an outcome, not a purpose. According to TEDx speaker and CEO of Idea Couture Idris Mootee,“In any organization, purpose needs to engage all levels of employees and stakeholders. They need a ‘Mega Transformative Purpose’ to drive a new level of human performance that goes beyond seeking profit.”

Think about your customers––do they know what you stand for? Are they loyal? Is your customer base growing, or is it merely transient? Today’s consumers desire, even demand, more than utility––they seek value alignment. They want to know and see more––more about the origins of your company, its operating principles and philosophies; more about your products, how you grow, produce, package and distribute them; and they want to know in what ways you are giving back to the communities in which you operate, or how you are helping to address issues on a global scale.

Being capable and willing to provide this level of transparency illuminates your authenticity. It gives rise to the creation of emotional connections between you and your customers, and between you and consumers who could be your customers. It is a direct linkage between your purpose and their like-minded ideals. It is universal human nature to desire to be a part of something greater than the self, just as it has become characteristic in consumer behavior to search for and become devoted to altruistic brands, for example.

This convergence is exactly what you should be seeking to achieve, so think of value alignment as a bridge that connects your company’s values to those of your customers and potential customers. How do you build the bridge? With value mapping.

Building the Bridge

In value mapping, the objectives are to uncover, define and memorialize information, insights, statements and complementing factors, the aggregate sum of which constructs the bridge that connects your brand to your customers or desired customers. These components are the inputs you need to provide for your brand, as well as those you need to solicit from your customers and mine from consumers who are your potential customers (being internally to externally investigative).

In all instances, it is imperative to be inclusive––to include various stakeholders from within your organization’s operational ecosystem, such as your executive leadership team, employees, board members, even strategic partners when conducting the inward-facing work. And while you can certainly attempt to answer on your customers’ or potential customers’ behalfs, on gut instinct or from information your salespeople, distributors or retailers provide for example, the integrity of the bridge you are building will be significantly weakened from the outset if you opt to exclude external participants from the process.  

Once you have identified and committed to your purpose—your why, define your how—the specific actions you will take to actualize your purpose, and then define your what—the specific products you make to prove your purpose.

Be idealistic when defining your purpose. Be mindful of the process or strategy you will employ to actualize your purpose when defining your how. And, be as literal as you can be when defining your what. Each input should build on and correlate to one another, like plot points in a narrative. From here move on to your values, your beliefs, and ultimately to your brand value proposition. As you move through this process, be sure to consider everything from operations and customer experience to social responsibility. When complete, transition outward.

At this point, the span that exists between you and your potential customers is the marketplace itself. Comprised of your competitors, distribution channels, marketing, and of course the consumers themselves, affected by economics, by supply and demand, and by many other factors––it is a complicated and often convoluted space. But does it have to be? Do you fight for a percentage of highly contested consumer attention and activation, or do you circumvent the competition and create your own unique market space?

Evaluate the competitive landscape. By what means are your competitors competing? Is it on price? Is it on look-alike products with similar feature sets? Is it customer experience? Look at their strengths and weaknesses. Be attentive to what they say, and take note of what they do not say. Opportunities for differentiation abound, and especially where values are concerned––yours and those of your ideal customers are not the same as your competitors and their customers, so why attempt to directly compete with and for them? To compete is to choose what is likely to be the costliest endeavor in anticipation of the least significant incremental returns. Why not make the competition irrelevant?

Now, think about your existing customers. What do you know about them? Do you know who they are? Do you know what interests them? Do you know what motivates them? Do you know what they need? Do you know what they expect? Do you know what they value? Do you think of them in terms of lifetime value or merely as transactions? Are they in fact the right customers?

These inputs are critical to the identification of your ideal target markets, your optimal customers and potential consumers. To acquire them, you can leverage phone or web-based surveys, in-person interviews, focus groups, etc. There are numerous methods and platforms to enable this; you merely need to determine which is best suited for your customers and your needs. Once you have your answers, you can aggregate, synthesize and map your values to theirs, and not only create the synergistic connections you both seek, but entrusted relationships that extend well beyond marketplace dynamics.  

Key Takeaway

To build successful relationships with today’s customers, companies must inwardly and outwardly express and demonstrate, with authenticity, what they stand for and why. In so doing, you will not only attract and retain better customers, but a community of loyalists who advocate on your behalf will form as a result. By prioritizing your values and those of your consumers above price or utilitarian features, you will win consumer hearts and minds.

Looking Ahead

Next month, we will be covering values-based marketing activation, from the supply chain to the shelf. Get started today by downloading and completing this first resource in our series on values-based marketing—our value mapping and brand purpose tool: