Want Happy Customers? Consider Their Values.


You wouldn’t try to sell World Series tickets to someone who doesn’t like baseball, so why try to motivate your customers with a message about, say, innovation, when their values markers indicate that they tend to favor the status quo? Most businesses understand that it is critical to target the right customer types with their product or service. However, in order to reach today’s more informed, media savvy consumer, businesses must go beyond traditional demographic segmentation and speak to what truly motivates people – their core values. In this post, I will discuss why understanding your customers’ values is more important, and more possible, than ever.

In the field of psychology, values are thought of as goals and beliefs that serve as a guide for the actions and behavior of an individual or group. Leading values theorist Shalom Schwartz defines values as “desirable trans-situational goals, varying in importance, that serve as guiding principles in the life of a person or other social entity”1 (italics mine). A key aspect of Schwartz’ definition is that values can and do vary across people and social groups, and can even change according to the existing social situation and environment.

Zenzi’s Values Marketing practice seeks to pinpoint the values of an audience segment or employee base in order to determine how to best motivate them. To a certain degree, all of the core values in Zenzi’s Values Marketing taxonomy carry some importance for everyone. For example, even though Zenzi’s Security Seekers and Freedom Seekers are thought to have opposing value priorities, everyone generally wants to feel safe in their life, and most everyone wants to do a little exploration now and then. However, research confirms that people vary significantly in the way they prioritize these values, the key to understanding what influences your consumers’ decisions.

If variety is indeed the spice of life, then values are the best way to predict which spices your audience will prefer. Some prefer a hot and spicy life, such as pleasure seekers, while others prefer a life with more muted, earthy flavors, such as purpose seekers.

The way people prioritize their values speaks to the heart of their identity, as these desired values will direct all of a person’s behavior, whether consciously or not. Just because something is a hot new buzzword, or trending on Twitter, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to resonate with your audience. Knowing the values of your customers and employees is essential to reaching them on an emotional level, and empowering them to make decisions that make them happy and satisfy their psychological needs. And our research shows that happy, satisfied customers are repeat customers that will share your brand with others as well.

Businesses must deal with competing organizational values all the time, and will at times need to favor one value over another. But at base, most organizations have a set of core values that guide broader organizational decisions. People are the same way. Sometimes an environmental advocate may buy something made of plastic that is not BPA-free, for convenience sake. Sometimes a person with traditional values will indulge in a pleasure filled weekend that may not align completely with their morals. But when forming long-term relationships with brands, consumers overall are far more likely to be motivated by messaging that respects and aligns with the deeper principles they stand for and always return to.

To make the kind of value-based connection that is increasingly important to the modern consumer, a brand must understand these root motivations of their customers. The consumer is speaking louder than ever, and to stay competitive in today’s climate of media saturation and overload, brands need to listen.

Zenzi’s Social Values practice combines marketing expertise, academic research, and data science to help businesses create meaningful, value-based connections with their customers and employees.

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1Schwartz, S. H. (1994). Are there universal aspects of the structure and contents of
human values? Journal of Social Issues, 50, 19–45.

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