Getting consumers to feel that a brand “shares their values” seems to be among marketers’ top priorities these days. But people have many values. Which of these values should the brand share? Some of them are no-brainers; the “Green” revolution of 1990’s prompted many brands to become eco-friendly; emphasis on good corporate citizenship and brands as responsible social players, was a natural result of greater consumer awareness of and sensitivity to corporate malfeasance. There were no downside risks here; but what about other types of values? Economic and political values? Religious Values? Cultural and educational values? Clearly it is not possible for a single brand to share all of the contrasting values in these spheres; either choices have to be made, or brands have to spin off variants with different values – progressive and traditional, conventional and free-thinking, humanistic and materialistic, etc.
All this effort, prompts us to ask is it worth it? What exactly can be gained by all this value sharing? What reasonable expectations can we have about translating “shared” brand values into financial brand value?
At BlackBar, we have looked for some answers to these questions:
• Brands that “share my values” attract no more new users than brands that are characterized by other types of brand experience or attitudes, such as “excites me”, “appreciates my business” or “inspires me”
• Brands that “simplify my life”, “are recommended by people I care about” or “help me express myself” – and several other types brand experiences and attitudes – are twice as likely to be users’ preferred brands than those that simply “share my values”
The fact that these same findings were replicated in two separate surveys conducted in the USA and Mexico, leads us to conclude that getting consumers to feel that a brand shares their values is definitely not a direct route to a stronger brand franchise. However, this leaves open the possibility that “shares my values” could be a motivator of other types consumer behavior – such as brand-related social activity – that in turn positively influence the brand’s bottom line. If for example brands that “share my values” were more likely to be the brands that consumers look for online, post about or “like” on social media, or recommend to their friends, that would surely lead in the longer term to these brands having more users, more loyal users and higher financial returns.
We looked again to the BlackBar surveys to see if in fact “shares my values” has this kind of indirect influence on brand value. Although there are many different types of brand-related social activity, according to our surveys in the USA and Mexico, they can be broadly grouped into three categories:
1. “Advocacy” – Posting or blogging positively about the brand, and writing to the company to say good things about the brand.
2. “Community” – Searching for the brand on line, and recommending it to other people
3. “Involvement” – activities such as entering a competition, signing up for a newsletter or downloading an app.
In our surveys, we found that brands that “share my values” are more likely to be associated only with the first type of activity, which we have called “Advocacy”. But, we also found that a number of other brand experiences and attitudes are also associated with the same higher level of brand “Advocacy” as “shares my values”. This broader group of brand experiences includes “ challenges me to think differently”, “excites me” and “inspires me”. Brands that are felt to project more than one of these experiences are associated with a substantially higher level of “Advocacy” than those that project just one of them.
So “shares my values” is best considered as part of a broader group of brand experiences that we call “Mentoring” – partly the experience of shared values, more inspiration and challenge. Together they do create a higher probability of engaging in this one type of brand-related social activity.
It is BlackBar’s data-supported view that marketers are chasing moonbeams when their goal is to make their brands’ value conform to customer values. First this is an elusive goal. Which class of values? What specific value? Which different values are relevant for my brand? And which ones are held in common by different customers segments?
Sorting this out is a headache, but secondly – and of more importance – is that the supposed returns on “shares my values” (SMV) are significantly overstated. SMV is at best a second tier factor in building consumer consideration and preference. And there are many factors more important than SMV in encouraging different types of social brand behavior.
So, we say stop making your brand into a schizophrenic. And, start saving money on those shrinks (consultants) that collect the fees.

Ed Lebar is a Founding Partner at BlackBar Consulting as well as a Legends & Leaders mentor in the USA.

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