I love Bear. Not a “bear,” as in the big, scary animal, but my friend’s little dog Bear. He’s cute, cuddly and super smart. Maybe that’s why I like Subaru car commercials so much—almost anything to do with dogs makes me smile. Interestingly, I’ve found myself feeling positive about Subaru, even though I’ve never owned one of its vehicles. It’s almost as though my good feelings about dogs had become good feelings about the company. This is a great example of values-based marketing (VBM) and why I believe it could be the perfect strategy to take your sales to the next level.
What Is Values-Based Marketing?
Years ago, a major manufacturer hired me as a marketing consultant for its new guitar line. What I didn’t know before taking the gig was the parent company was only lukewarm to the new brand, offering little in the way of a marketing budget or encouragement. But we had a secret weapon. Our division founder and creative director insisted that we promote our values, as much as (or more) than the products themselves. Using little more than social media, our messaging routinely celebrated women, promoted equality and spoke to the importance of caring for the environment. Note that this was long before values-based marketing became a big trend. The head of the new division didn’t bend our marketing message toward values and ethics to score points with customers. She did it because it’s what she believed in. Even business decisions were made through the lens of our division’s values. Intuitively, she thought our ethics would align with the people who’d be attracted to the new line. And was she ever right.
We began receiving emails from customers and fans unlike any I’d ever seen. There were baby pictures. Photos of our guitars in nature. Stories of strong, female musicians breaking barriers. Emails from customers telling us about their hopes and dreams. And they were referring their friends to us ... in droves. “The little engine that could” grew quickly from $600,000 annually to more than $6 million per year. That’s what values-based marketing is all about: the implementation of marketing strategies and messaging based on the shared values of companies and their audience.
Could Values-Based Marketing Work for You?
In today’s social climate, VBM is more relevant than ever. In a recent NAMM U session, I talked about how trustworthiness and empathy with regard to social issues had become a strong factor in how people determine where they shop. For businesses with many competitors, or that have marketing messages that no longer resonate with customers, VBM can cut through the clutter by helping customers see themselves in your story. Whether your focus is on giving back, supporting social or ethical issues, or other initiatives that reflect the ethics of your customers, employing a VBM strategy can help you connect with them in new, profoundly powerful ways.
Implementing a Values-Based Marketing Strategy
Here are four ways to get started with a VBM strategy. Consider the following:
1. What are your values? The foundation of this strategy starts with being clear on your company’s beliefs and ethics. I happen to value justice and equality. For other businesses, it could be the humane treatment of animals, for example. Whatever your ethics, the key is authenticity. A company’s stated values must reflect what they truly believe in—confirmed through the business decisions they make and a follow-through that proves their commitment.
2. What are your customers’ values, and do they reflect your own? Figuring this out can admittedly be tough, and I’m not sure there’s any one way to determine your customers’ deeply held beliefs. Conducting simple surveys about a topic or issue is one idea. Studying other businesses to see how they execute values-based marketing strategies is another. You might also look at more familiar, generally held values (peace, unity, equity, charity and so forth) to see if they resonate with customers and instinctively align with authentic positions you hold.
3. Once you’ve settled on a VBM marketing message, review it against your company values for authenticity. Is what you’re stating valid? Is the message clear, concise and honest? Will it resonate with key customers or your target market? Think about your current strategy and content. Fix any places where your messaging falls flat or hollow and start plugging in more messaging that reflects values-based marketing.
4. Adapt your strategy as you identify other core values that may connect with customers.
An effective values-based marketing strategy is multifaceted and often takes time to work. It will touch people in different ways. Some companies may lean toward simple messages that reflect the emotion behind their beliefs. Others will find that strong visual cues work best. Keep in mind that there may be bumps in the road. The message you thought would resonate with customers may fail miserably. Pay close attention to the market’s reactions, and replicate what works. And remember: Your audience is listening and watching your every move. Anything you like, comment on or say publicly needs to align with who you say you are and what you do.
Values-based marketing is a strategy I believe in at my own business. It’s a strategy that recognizes that it’s not just what you buy but whom you buy from. And when customers stop seeing you as only a seller and begin seeing you as an ally, you can take your sales to the next level.
Dennis Stafford is the founder and marketing director of Organiksol Marketing.