The Science Behind Values Marketing


When you think of values, most people think of words like trust, integrity, honesty, loyalty, or other qualities or ideals they live by. You may associate values with political concepts. Depending on you worldview, you may conceive of them in terms of family, religion, personal freedom, service to others, concern for the environment. All of these are accurate to a certain degree, but they don’t tell the full story.

Zenzi’s research is based on leading values theorist Shalom Schwartz, who defines them as “guiding principles in the life of a person or other social entity.” From a psychological perspective, values are the driving force behind the vast majority of human thought, emotion, and behavior.

Want a simpler way to look at it? For all the “True Detective” fans out there, it was well said by the enigmatic Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey): “We craft our identities by making value judgments."

You can think of values as the “who, what, when, where and why” behind our decision-making. All of our thoughts, actions, and behaviors, as human beings, are motivated by our desire to realize them. They are the lens through which we see the world, and they offer meaningful clues to what we want out of life. Often this takes place below the level of consciousness, and we don’t even realize the role they are playing.

Through observation and experience at a young age, you begin to develop ideas about what is right and wrong, what you do and do not like, what you think the world should look like, and how it should function. Over time, these ideas become synthesized into higher order concepts, which become our core values. These values then shape our attitudes about the world and determine how we feel about a given situation, decision, or occurrence. Our attitudes, in turn, will determine how we decide to behave in a given situation.

As values marketers, with the right data, we can pinpoint meaningful relationships between a person’s beliefs, behaviors, and inner motivators. This data allows us to optimize our marketing strategy to meet those higher order needs.

According to Abraham Maslow, who was a psychologist in the 1950s, we’re all striving for self-actualization, which is a person’s motivation to reach his or her full potential. You may be familiar with his “Heirarchy of Needs” chart.

The place where most marketers dwell is at the bottom, fulfilling a very basic and functional need. When all things are equal, the only place to compete is price. But, when you start moving up the pyramid and start moving to fulfill psychological needs, you are able to build greater trust and loyalty with your customers.

This is where people will go out of their way to do business with you, tell their friends about your company, write positive reviews, and become long-term, lasting advocates for your brand.

For marketers, the implications of using values to connect with customers are huge. Nowadays, people leave traces of their values in many things they do and say, whether it’s a status update on a social media site, an online review of a product or service, or a word-of-mouth recommendation of a product to a friend. By harnessing the vast amounts of data out there, meaningful insights can be gained to help companies best target specific customer segments.

In an age when customers are increasingly filtering out communications they deem irrelevant, values give brands the ability to speak authentically to people about what matters most to them. Values go beyond demographics, helping marketers to tailor strategy and craft personalized messages that will resonate on an individual level.

Think about yourself. When faced with a decision, what is more likely to guide your behavior, your personal beliefs or your demographics? I don’t know about you, but I don’t share an ideology with the 84 million other Generation Xers out there.

The time has come for marketers to start paying more attention to values, and recognizing they aren’t just abstract concepts developed for the benefit of psychologists. They are measurable, quantifiable and highly predictable. While often overlooked or misunderstood, they hold the power to turn an everyday customer into your biggest fan.

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