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How our customers’ values define them and their choices

Technology & Data

How our customers’ values define them and their choices


Graham Plant investigates to what extent the values that define people actually influence their shopping behaviour.

graham plant Values – as marketers they sit at the core of everything we do, although sometimes we don’t recognise how important they are in defining our success.

One of the modern day marketing geniuses, the late Steve Jobs, said, “Marketing is about values.” And it is…

  • Creating value propositions that will appeal to our target markets,
  • developing products that deliver value to our customers, and
  • understanding the difference in value between our offer and that of a competitor.

value-theme-badgeWe all know Jobs as a visionary when it comes to marketing, and Apple can claim it has produced some of the most innovative and successful campaigns and products in recent history.

There are very few brands that have been able to capture the imagination and devotion of their customers. Could it be that Apple’s success as a company is because of its values and the alignment with its customers? I think so.

But when we say ‘values’, what do we really mean? For the purposes of this article, we’re looking at the values of consumers – our customers. Values are the things that we believe are important in the way we live and work.

They’re what make us cringe when we see someone behaving badly in a public place.

They’re what make us angry when we see an injustice. They’re what inspire us to donate to charity. They’re what make us happy and content with the world. They’re what influence us to choose one brand over another for exactly the same product. As marketers, I accept that we can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that our values are shared equally by our customers, and not appreciate the diversity that is the human race – but we shouldn’t.

Now I can hear you saying, “My customers are all segmented and profiled by demographics and information from their account – so I know who they are.” And that information is extremely important, but values are not just demographic attributes, they are behavioural insights linked to our core DNA – they are what define us.

Whether they are ignored because they don’t fit into nicely formatted metrics on a report or not, values exist and play a big part in how successful you will be as a marketer.

I love a saying by sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer: “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things being not quite equal, people still want to do business with their friends.” And that’s what values mean to business.

According to a global study by GfK about ethical shopping, half of Australian shoppers only buy products that appeal to their beliefs, values or ideals. The reports also suggests, however, that Australians place less importance on companies’ values than do people in other countries. In fact, we fall a long way behind in comparison to other countries.

Feeling mildly offended? Or looking across the office at that weird creepy guy from accounts and thinking he’d probably choose price over being environmentally friendly?

As I read through the study, I found it insightful, but also a challenge to my own views on what is important to consumers. I thought automatically that values would trump most considerations for purchases. Obviously not.

So when I saw the theme for this issue of Marketing magazine I figured this subject could do with some more analysis. I started to wonder, ‘At what point would a consumer compromise their values for a price benefit?’

To determine this, we kicked off a small study while also reviewing the work of GfK on the influence of values on buying behaviours.

In the GfK study it was also reported that, of the 23 countries surveyed, Australia ranked third last for the need for environmental responsibility, fifth last for guilt, and also fifth last for shopping according to beliefs and ideals.

In addition, Australian shoppers’ need for companies to be environmentally responsible was not being evidenced by what they did with their wallets. There was an 18% gap between the need for corporate environmental responsibility versus those actually buying according to their beliefs and ideals – oh, the shame!

Now armed with these findings about an apparent propensity to compromise values, we decided to tackle the values question from a slightly different perspective.

Our study was designed to identify if price was a factor in purchasing decisions over quality and then ascertain whether social values could change a consumer’s preference.

First we asked:

“Would you prefer to buy a sofa that was made in Italy or China (assuming they are both the same price)?”

It was no great surprise that the Italian made sofa was the higher preference, but that it was 99% was surprising. The perception that Italian made is better (or maybe it was that ‘Made in China’ means lower quality) was a clear driver in consumer selection preferences.

Then we asked: “If the sofa from Italy was $1000 because it was better quality and the sofa from China was $500, which would you prefer to buy?”

A 50% saving is a pretty good incentive, and sufficient enough to see 20% of the survey base change their mind and select the sofa made in China, with 79% selecting Italian made and 21% choosing China made.

Obviously, economics come into play in this situation and the financial situation and available discretionary spend each consumer can accommodate may be a greater driver in this response. In this situation, demographics could be a very good indicator.

We then asked:

“If China were paying its workers less than what is needed to survive and Italy workers were paid sufficient to live comfortably, which country would you prefer to buy from?”

Through this question, we were aiming to get to the core values of the consumer and determine whether concerns about the exploitation of employees or if poor corporate behaviour would influence behaviours.

What we found was that 6% of the survey base shifted their choice back to the Italian made sofa and elected to pay more, with 85% now choosing Italian made and 15% China made sofas. So, clearly, the values of some of the survey group were not prepared to support a business that appears to be exploiting its employees. Others were totally ambivalent to the poor underpaid overworked employee. Interesting, huh?

Regardless of what any statistics say, we are all consumers and, as consumers, we know that we respond better to people or companies that show us they know us. And in knowing us, are like us, or at least share our values.

Understanding a consumer’s personal beliefs and values creates greater opportunities for personal engagement and can uncover amazing insights. Respecting them is even more important.

Alignment with values won’t guarantee a sale, as it is but one piece of the consumer’s DNA, but it will certainly improve your chances. Understanding your customer’s values will also enable you to deliver a more rewarding experience for them and improve campaign performance.

Groucho Marx is reported to have said that, “Sincerity is the key to success. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Maybe so, but – and it’s a big but – pretending your values are the same as your customer is a dangerous game. If you are found not to be genuine, you will damage your brand and, more importantly, lose the relationship with your customer – the most valuable thing of all.


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Graham Plant

Graham is founder of Pearl Business Solutions, providing strategic and board advisory services that turn ideas into successful ventures. He works with start-ups launching new businesses, larger companies introducing new products or looking to open new markets, navigating businesses through the martech space or understanding the business value and applications of customer data.

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