When a company aligns with customer values, is it serving, or pandering?

customer values

By Mark Schaefer

Over the past few years, more and more companies are taking a values-based approach to its marketing.

A few examples:

  • H&M’s “Conscious Collection” of eco-friendly clothing features 100 percent reclaimed nylon fiber from fishnets and other nylon waste. H&M was one of the first fashion retailers to make its supply chain transparent, and it constantly monitors the working conditions of the factories where its products are produced.
  • Airbnb aired an ad during the coveted Super Bowl spot to protest U.S. immigration policies. The ad, called “We Accept,” showed a montage of people of different nationalities along with the words: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” The ads drew both praise and howls.
  • P&G launched “We See Equal” – an award-winning campaign designed to fight gender bias and workplace inequality.
  • American Eagle has aggressively supported LGBTQ issues and gun control.

And of course the most explosive example is the Nike association with polarizing activist Colin Kaepernick.

There is a solid business reason for this. Research shows aligning with customer values is one of the few ways left to truly ignite customer loyalty.

Here is my question to you — and it is a real question as I am doing research for my new book — as customer values change over time and coalesce into trends, if a company changes its core mission to match the customers, is this smart business, or is this pandering?

Ideally, company-customer values should align naturally, but I can see examples where this is not always the case.

Should the company match the customers, or should it find the right customers to match the company?

Customer values: Behind the curtain

I think this is a very important issue and an increasing number of companies may be facing a decision like this in coming months and years.

A few things to consider:

  • A company must be congruent in its stated values and its actions. In the case of Nike, for example, it is promoting the civil rights agenda of Kaepernick, but has also been criticized for its own poor pay policies in developing countries. It has to get its act together.
  • A company is made up of people. Does a company have values or do the people within (leading?) the company have the values that determine the corporate culture? What if the consumer values don’t match the values of the employees? An example: Delta Airlines took a stance against the NRA and supported gun control. Many of its employees don’t share this view.
  • There could be dire consequences if a company does not take a values-based stand and a competitor does. This is emerging as a new competitive battlefield.

Your view?

So, if a company adjusts its “purpose” to the changing customer values of its core customer base, is this opportunistic pandering, or a smart business strategy?

Leaving your comments below will help provide clarity and flesh out the issue. There are no right or wrong opinion. All views are welcomed.

PS — There has been some misunderstanding that my forthcoming book Marketing Rebellion (Feb 2019) is entirely about this values-based marketing subject. It is not — this is just one chapter. The book will cover a number of critical areas where current business practices are out of step with dramatically changing consumer expectations.

I promise you the book will completely rock your views of the business world. The experience of writing the book has made me wonder what it even means to be a marketer today.

Thanks for your help. — Mark

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com

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