What is Values-Based Marketing?
Whether a company is selling products or services, values-based marketing is appealing to a customer’s values and ethics. Rather than marketing from a product-centric (or service-centric) approach, values-based marketing is customer-centric. A values-based marketing approach builds advertising and promotions to customers based on a company’s core brand values and message.
Why Values-Based Marketing?
Consumers are more informed every day, with greater purchasing choice than ever. This means consumers not only can choose where they spend their money based on a company’s values, but they actively seek out brands that match their values and ethics. Beyond consumer products and services, businesses are also increasingly aware of how the vendors they choose reflect on their company. Partnering with other businesses with similar values not only supports both the buyer and seller, but increases the impact of the values themselves.
What Does Values-Based Marketing Look Like?
From a consumer (B2C) perspective, a brand’s messaging should be easily accessible and clear. For example, if a consumer is eco-conscious and strives to minimize their personal environmental impact and carbon-footprint, they will look for brands and companies that do the same.
The consumer might expect to see messaging on the company’s website and social media channels expressing:
- Commitment to a carbon-neutral impact
- Minimal or sustainable packaging
- Environmentally-friendly packaging and shipping options
- Sustainable products
- Mission and Vision Statements that reflect eco-conscious attitudes and values
- Values clearly outlined on a brand’s website
- Donations or support of a non-profit organization actively working on environmental projects
Business-to-business (B2B) relationships are largely analogous to B2C in this regard: businesses look for similarities in their partner or vendor values, or specific attributes, such as locally-owned, minority or woman-owned, or carbon neutral. At the end of the day, a business should be confident that partners or vendors will not produce any contradictory or problematic PR because they operate on similar values.
These common values can be general:
- Customer-first business practices
- Service over profit
- Commitment to supporting small and local businesses
Or they can be more specific:
- Partnering with Minority and Women-Owned businesses
- Promoting Gender and Racial Equity through hiring practices, internal policies, and companies with whom they work
- LGBTQIA+ friendly
- Recognizing Climate Change science
- Antiracist and pro-racial justice
- Anti-police brutality
Moving Beyond Traditional Values-Based Marketing
General values like “honesty” are no longer at the heart of Values-Based Marketing. Consumers and businesses alike want to know exactly what and who their dollars support. The political persuasion of leadership and executive members are fair game (don’t forget: political donations are public record), as are social justice issues and how a company has (or has not) directly addressed them. If a member of a company’s leadership team has donated to or publicly expressed support of a political party or candidate, that endorsement reflects back onto the company.
Internal culture problems? They rarely stay internal: if a business has a patchy (or outright problematic) history of its treatment of women, LGBTQIA+ and non-binary people, People of Color, neurodivergent people, or others, it will get out. Consumers and business prospects will respond accordingly.
So, How Do We Take a Values-Based Marketing Approach?
It starts with company culture. If your employees don’t buy your publicly-espoused values and brand message, neither with your target market. Take care of your own house first, as it were, before engaging your prospects. This isn’t just about managing your brand’s image and PR: your company values need to be more than lip service. You can produce viral ad campaigns supporting amazing causes, touting powerful values, but if your products are produced through exploitative labor practices, you’ve hoodwinked some new customers, at best; discerning customers who are more likely to develop long-term brand loyalty won’t buy the fluff.
Again: you cannot build a values-based marketing program and strategy on a shaky foundation. Either your company is genuinely built around and operates on its values, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, clean your house first.
Trust, but verify. Do your due diligence with your business partners and vendors. Ask upfront questions and do a review of their website and social media.
- Would your target market be turned off by a vendor’s social media output? Or would their loyalty to your brand be reinforced?
- Do their production and manufacturing practices align with your company’s? (e.g. Labor practices, production location, sustainability, environmental impact, subcontractors and vendors)
- Are any of their leadership known for shooting from the hip when it comes to their social media profiles?
- Has the company or any of their leadership donated to or endorsed a political party/candidate? (Does it align with your company?)
- Have the company and leadership publicly addressed social justice issues in a way that aligns with your company’s values?
- Are the company’s practices and values aligned, or are there inconsistencies between their messaging and how they really do business?
The Future of Marketing
Whether you offer B2C or B2B services and products, values-based marketing should be a fundamental part of your business plan.
Identity-based marketing is the way of the future, and if your company is truly aligned with its values, it should matter whose dollars you take--just as it matters to your customers who receives their dollars.