Ideas and insights to take your marketing to the highest level

March 23, 2015
Julie Lyons

Values-Based Marketing: A New Era of Understanding

“I want to market to moms.”

“Millennials are our target audience.”

“We’re interested in learning what motivates Gen Y customers.”

It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked in the marketing field for three years or 30. Chances are, at some point in your career, a client, customer or colleague has uttered some variation of the above phrases to you—a seemingly futile attempt to adequately describe and categorize an enormous target market. It’s those types of sweeping generalizations that can deal a fatal blow to any marketing plan, no matter how thorough.

The truth is, marketing to moms, millennials or any other demographics-based category is restricting. Defining your target audience cannot and should not be limited to sweeping generalizations. Knowing someone’s gender, age and family status can be helpful, but it is most effective when combined with the power of values-based insights. Demographics and psychographics are only part of the equation. When we understand the inner motivations and values of our customers, we gain a deeper understanding of what inspires their purchase decisions. Values don’t just tell us who is making the decision, but why they are making it.

Leveraging Values

When we hear the word “values,” many of us think about politically charged terms like “family values” or “liberal values,” but that’s only part of the story. In the field of psychology, values are defined as the goals and beliefs that guide our actions and behavior. Values motivate how each of us thinks, feels, reacts and communicates. For most of us, our values tend to stay constant over time, even through major life changes. Values are the “non-negotiables.”

Values are not just broad, abstract concepts. They can be tied to specific behaviors with the right analysis. Think of values as the drivers of people’s decisions. For example, when looking at the wall of yogurt in the dairy aisle, which one do we choose, and why? Do we choose one because it’s on sale? Or because it’s organic? Or maybe it’s the brand that our mom always bought?

Each individual varies significantly in the way that he or she prioritizes one value over another. Understanding how these priorities affect consumer decision-making is crucial to effectively market to different segments without diluting a brand’s message.

Why Demographics Aren’t Enough

In order to reach today’s more informed, media-savvy consumer, businesses must go beyond traditional demographic segmentations and speak to what truly motivates people.

Here’s a real-life application: Two moms—we’ll call them Deb and Sue—are friends. They even happen to be neighbors in the same suburban area. They each have a college education, net the same yearly household income and have similar political beliefs. Deb and Sue both are married, have three kids, and are between the ages of 25 and 35. They even shop at the same grocery store and practice the same faith. For all intents and purposes, Deb and Sue are the same, or at least they would be, according to traditional marketing via demographics.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. Deb and Sue both are looking to purchase new cars. Deb prefers safe and practical purchases. She’s cost-conscious and meticulous, conducting thorough research beforehand. She is more likely to be swayed by advertising, and once she embraces a brand, she is very loyal. Deb opts for a standard minivan—practical features, high safety rating and a price she’s comfortable paying.

Then there’s Sue. While the safety of Sue’s family is of the utmost importance to her, she has always had a taste for the finer things in life. She sees her material possessions as a representation of her success and achievement, and is willing to pay more for a car with an equally accomplished brand reputation. Sue decides on a high-end, luxury-edition SUV with all of the bells and whistles.

Knowing what you know now, would you choose to market to Deb and Sue using the same messages and same marketing strategy? Of course not. The reasoning behind their purchase decisions lives outside of the confines of demographics.

Transactions vs. Relationships

According to a 2013 study by Edelman, only 10% of customers think that brands conduct business in a way that aligns with their values. Today, a brand must understand their customers’ root motivators in order to make the kind of values-based connection that is increasingly important to the modern consumer. Plus, thanks to social media, customers are empowered to share the brand marketing that resonates with them most and least. It’s our job to listen.

Just because something is a hot, new buzzword or trending on Twitter doesn’t mean that it’s going to resonate with your audience. Interaction with your customers can’t just be about the communication transaction. It has to be about building a lasting relationship, connecting on an emotional level and satisfying their psychological needs. In the long run, people are far more likely to be motivated by a brand’s messaging if it respects, complements and aligns with their core principles.


Julie Lyons is president and COO of Encinitas, Calif.-based communications research agency Zenzi Communications.

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