40,000 Respondents Confirm Values Matter More Than Product

Is it possible what your brand stands for will be more important than the product you make?

Yes. Read on.

Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Advertising Report confirms a cultural sea change has taken place. The comprehensive survey advances new guidance that brands and retailers should reconsider their traditional single-minded devotion to product-centric communications strategies. The report signals emergence of a different roadmap to credibly and effectively secure consumer attention. A more enlightened path that is paved with higher purpose, mission and values ahead of glossy product features and benefits.

The rise of interest in more human-centric values reflects consumers’ need for trust in a marketing environment they believe lacks credibility and validation.

Don’t underestimate the importance of cultivating trust to brand communication effectiveness

For five years, Emergent has tracked the steady decline in brand and corporate trust alongside the parallel rise in why businesses must put the consumer and their requirement for trusted relationships at the center of strategic planning. Is this a feature in your marketing plan?

  • A recent sustainability trends report published by Mintel concluded one of the greatest barriers businesses face in getting credit for sustainability readiness is the consumer’s dramatic shortage of trust in their claims of performance. People find it harder to believe assertions made by companies on their commitment to sustainability standards and mitigation policies. (Hence the need for credible validation).

Nielsen’s study verified that consumers are placing greater importance on values, beliefs, inspiration, deeper meaning, humor and family. According to Cathy Heeley, Nielsen Media Analytics Lead, “People are much more interested in how a brand is going to help the world, not just what benefits a product has to offer. Consumers are looking at what brand values actually mean, what they stand for and their practical application.” Actions always speak louder and more believably than words alone.

Leaders across the globe should be asking: how do we propel and harness the power of our brand as a force for purpose that creates deeper meaning and societal benefit?

  • Brands should declare a clear point of view and create inclusive spaces of belonging.
  • They should also provide an opportunity for people to make a difference, while securing the greatest opportunity to generate impactful meaning in the world.
  • This commitment acts to galvanize both users and employees.
  • Now more than ever, leaders and decision-makers should cultivate a workforce while serving consumers in a way that requires the brand to stand for more than just profit.

The oldest millennials are entering their 40s, while Gen Z is carving its own unique space in the working population. The traditional hierarchical structures — two-week vacation policies and in-office incentives that are linked to growth — are no longer motivating enough to join an organization. The new generation of workers values higher purpose before profit.

Why are brand mission and values rising in importance to people?

Cultural change sits at the foundation of how these changes manifest and how consumers think — an important consideration when deciding how best to frame marketing strategy and communications effectiveness.

We are witnessing a cultural evolution. It first started in the early aughts following 9/11 when the disruptive shock to the nation caused people to re-evaluate their priorities and focus on relationships, family and values over other lifestyle and career considerations. Simultaneously control in the brand-to-consumer relationship was shifting entirely away from companies.

The Internet served as a fantastic enabler of consumer awareness and learning that also exposed the weaknesses of conspicuous consumption.

Dawn of the relationship economy

Underneath these cultural moves came a transformational change in the brand to consumer relationship, now taking on the characteristics of what we treasure in our human relationships — trust, meaning, reciprocity, values, investment, care and consideration for others.

Simply said, people want to be part of something greater than themselves. The search for deeper meaning was fully underway and with it came the initial priority placed on health and wellness and how choices will impact their quality of life.

Brands today must act as guide, coach, trusted advisor and enabler to consumers on their life journey. Yet more often than not, we find marketing strategies still anchored in self-promotion of product feature to benefit, embedding the brand communication with a systemic disconnect due to the weakness in consumer relevance.

The next evolution coming in 2022 — societal change and sustainability

Meanwhile trust in government as a catalyst for societal change has also diminished. Consumers now believe that companies are in a unique and better position — and have an inherent responsibility — to enact positive societal improvement.

Chief among these concerns is the hyper-focus on sustainability that has morphed into more specific questions about how companies source materials, ingredients and how they operate in a way that mitigates carbon footprint rather than contributing to the emerging chaos of climate change.

What should you do?

  1. First and foremost, refine and optimize your brand’s higher purpose platform. Profit is not a purpose. A human relevant and meaningful purpose is a purpose. This isn’t a call for philanthropy. Instead, it is about anchoring the business in a mission reflected through how the entire organization operates that is centered on the consumer and the changing world around us.
  2. Insight research will be required to better understand the specific details of what your best users care about, what areas of sustainable performance matter most, what needs they prioritize on their life journey and what barriers stand in the way of their success and achievement.
  3. Operationalize your policies, sourcing, behaviors, standards and commitments to achieve alignment with your stated mission and your commitments to sustainability readiness.
  4. Reconsider the entire brand message map to optimize the focus on your consumers’ needs, their desires, how you can help and support them, ahead of a linear trip into feature/benefit selling. The product message can be woven into the narrative. But it should be crafted within the coaching and guidance paradigm rather than straight self-promotion.
  5. Bring social channel strategies into clear alignment with this strategic approach. Social is exactly that — an area for users to share experiences, ideas, concerns and success stories. Too often we find social treated as a monologue of outbound product selling rather than a community founded on conversation. Your social content platform should be built around engagement not just selling. This is harder to do than it appears.
  6. Looking ahead, recognize the significance and importance of cultural change and the related dynamics of consumer attitude shifts that will be reflected in behavior changes. Things are evolving at a faster pace now and staying on top of this is vital. There is no such thing as resting on your laurels.

Evolution. Change. Transformation. Speed and Humanity should all be held close.

What do you think 2022 will bring in changes and shifts to strategy? Use this link to share your views. We will publish the observations and comments in an upcoming post on 2022 marketing best practices, as envisioned by you, our valued readers.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report. Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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Robert Wheatley

Robert Wheatley

CEO of firm focused on helping brands understand, navigate and engage the consumer's growing passion for healthy living. Author, blogger, speaker. Home chef.